Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Vacation as a career?

This morning on NPR there was a story that referenced the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, with respect to its determination of whether speculators had had any effect on the increasing price of oil. It seems odd to me now, but I worked at the CFTC the summer after my second year of law school; in the Division of Enforcement. I researched the law, wrote memos, and tried to befriend the real lawyers who worked there. But what sticks with me most about the experience is… how I barely remember it. I can conjure up a couple of blurry ovals with blonde or brown hair for the people I worked with, maybe a vague idea of the room, but I sure as hell can’t remember anything about the work I did. And the truth is, that applies to a lot of work I did before about my 3rd or 4th year of practicing law. In addition to the CFTC, during law school I worked in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, the U.S. Copyright Office, and interned for a D.C. judge. After law school I worked for a large D.C. firm doing M&A and securities work. I know I did a lot of work in those places, and that my employers were quite satisfied with my performance. So why is the substance of the work I did in those places so murky to me? It’s embarrassing when I think about it – does my brain have a higher proportion of Swiss cheese than most? I wonder if this has anything to do with why I’m not farther ahead in my career, even though realistically I know there are other, more important reasons why I’m kind of languishing right now.

This morning I was glancing through one of those silly rags that end up on lawyer’s desks: Super Lawyers. There were several profiles of successful women attorneys, each general counsel of a large company: TBS, Barnes and Noble, and I read the articles, and these women are clearly hard chargers. The articles made my stomach knot up and sink; I’m not like those women. I can’t even imagine sacrificing my life outside of work for the pursuit of interesting work and power, particularly now that I have a child. I wonder what it feels like inside to feel differently; to experience your job as so personally rewarding as to outrank being home for dinner with your husband and kids on a regular basis? I don’t feel guilty about my personal bent, even if I do have a $100,000 education that was presumably earned so I could rise to the top of something, but I do covet… well, the international travel. If I think about it, that’s actually the crux of it: it bothers me sometimes that I have such a “middle America” kind of job, with no opportunity to experience the world. As much as I disliked working for firms, I sure did like waiting in the SAS business class lounge at Heathrow for my flight to Stockholm (except that time I forgot my passport and had to go all the way back to my house to get it, thus missing my plane and my meeting), having dinner on a snowy night in the vaulted basement of a restaurant owned by the Swedish Academy, strolling through the Christmas markets

God, if I’m honest, it appears it’s indulging in the hotels, restaurants and city life of Europe on OPM that I like more than working. Maybe I should be in the legal department of some groovy hotel chain, except I don’t relish legal questions of what to do with the dead body in room 514.

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