2014

Happy New Year’s to everyone! Today I bring you reflections from the Ghosts of Christmas the New Year’s Past, Present, and Future.

I.    PAST

Obviously it’s been a while since I posted anything here — in fact, since just before I started my new job. In part, the silence is because that new job has been kicking my ass.

It’s interesting, and I’ve been learning a TON, and I think I like the job: I like the people a lot, and it’s fascinating to get a sense of how this part of our legal system actually works in practice. (Everything everyone has ever said about how law school doesn’t teach you to practice: completely, utterly, entirely true. It teaches you reasonably well how to be a law clerk, but not how to practice. I’m still not convinced it could really do so without turning into a co-op program – for instance, I have no idea how law school could be changed to better prepare someone to do my current job – but the gap is nonetheless breathtaking.)

But the amount of new information has been overwhelming, and I remember almost nothing about my first couple of weeks besides a blur of panic, not even knowing what questions to ask, and wandering the halls of the office trying to figure out where the hell I am.

(My workplace is seriously a maze. It keeps making me thinking of the way earlier cultures would build their towns/settlements to be hard to penetrate, to foil invading outsiders.)

I’ve absorbed enough by now to feel a little bit like I’m getting a handle on things, but mostly that’s shown me how simple and straightforward the case I’ve worked on so far are, and how much I have to learn.

Also, every time I think I’ve figured stuff out, I screw something up. Like a case I have a hearing on tomorrow – yesterday afternoon, so, New Year’s Eve afternoon, I suddenly blindingly realized there was a step I should have taken that I had not. ARGHH.

I mean, nothing they give me to do can be screwed up beyond repair if I make a mistake; the case isn’t going away or anything. But the mistakes make me feel stupid nonetheless. The panic of realizing I’ve erred, with its “oh, SHIT” feeling of recognizing my stupidity, is actually a good learning tool, in that I know I will never make this mistake again. But it doesn’t make learning fun.

What I’m not sure is to what extent this job is so overwhelming and terrifying, and to what extent I simply get overwhelmed and terrified at the prospect of Not Getting Things Right. (There’s another new person there, who started about six months before I did, who has talked about also experiencing the sheer terror of getting things wrong, but I still don’t know if it’s the job per se, or if we both suffer from the same Perfectionist Syndrome endemic among over-educated career-changing women, or a mix of both.)

The other thing that’s terrifying is that I don’t really have any idea how well I am (or am not) doing at this job. Here, there’s a bit of an identity crisis going on: from early on in law school I carved out a niche as a good writer and researcher. I cultivated that identity, hard, both as a means of getting judicial clerkships, and then by virtue of having had clerkships. That identity was what set me apart from other aspiring lawyers.

And of course, currently, my job involves almost no research and writing. So to be any good at it depends on other skills – general smarts, strategy, knowledge of areas of law that I didn’t spend much time on in school – about which I feel much less confident. Even simply being organized and responsible is important; and the irony is that while I felt like one of the more organized and responsible folk when I worked in academia, now that I’m out, I’ve absorbed enough of the popular perception of the ivory tower that I worry about being that absent-minded head-in-the-clouds academic type.

So anyway. A good experience; but stressful.

II.    PRESENT

This is just the opportunity for me to pause and whine that I’m sick; I have that sore throat/head clogged with gunk thing going on, and when I woke up this morning, I had to bolt out of bed because lying down made me feel like I was going to choke. Blech. Happy New Year, indeed.

III.     FUTURE

This is the first year in a long time where I’ve felt like the New Year is actually a time for reflection and setting goals. Perhaps this is because it’s gradually dawned on me that for the first time in a long time, I find myself rudderless: I have no major goal to accomplish.

When I decided to leave academia, my goal was to get into law school; after I got in, my goal was to survive each semester and accomplish as much as I could; and after I graduated, my goal was to get a permanent job. Which I did. So now… I’m done??

I mean, I certainly want to learn how to do this job, and to get good at it; that’s a goal, but it’s frustratingly amorphous right now. It’s also not a life-encompassing goal: I feel very strongly about not reproducing academia in my new profession, and try really hard to leave my job at work.

I’m paid to work 40 hours a week, and sure, there will be times when I will have to work more than that (e.g. when I’m preparing for trial and the like), and when I have work that actually has to get done, I will do it cheerfully. But especially now, while I don’t yet have a full caseload, I refuse to give time to my job that I’m not getting paid for, and that doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Spending my time off worrying about my job does not get anything more done, and steals time away from the rest of my life. I don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that worrying about stuff is someone the same as being productive, which seemed to govern my time in academia. (Maybe because “thinking” was an actual part of my job description in a way it isn’t now? I am no longer paid to Think Deep Thoughts in any way.)

So even though I’ve always vaguely wanted to get fit, be healthier, etc. etc., this is the first year where I really feel the need for specific goals, for which I can chart out a path to make myself better and happier. Without them, I tend to spend the time on weekends just….passing time, not actually DOING things.

I haven’t yet worked out entirely what those goals will be, but even figuring out what they are is in itself a purpose that’s providing some satisfaction. They will probably involve knitting, exercise/health, and possibly cats and/or continuing to study Spanish. But whatever they are, they will add meaning to my life that has nothing to do with what I get paid to do, 8:30-5, M-F, and I think that will be a good thing for 2014.

 

(Edited to add: this is apparently my 1066th post, which I think is kind of hysterical.)

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4 thoughts on “2014

  1. Happy New Year! Not surprising to hear that the job is fairly overwhelming; glad you’re hanging in there. I assume there will be an employment review of some sort, maybe six months in or a year in or whatever, that will give you a sense of whether you’re doing the job well or not?

    And in the meantime, I so hear you on not having a big goal to work toward! I’ve been dealing with that for a few years now, and I still haven’t figured out how this works, so I’ll be eager to hear what you come up with. And hurrah for leaving your job at work and not bringing it home with you!

  2. Your experience at your new law job mirrors my own, from the part where none of the skills I’ve developed feel useful (my firm regrettably lacks a substantial Critical Race Theory practice) to the part where I’m terrified of making mistakes. Like you I’m predominantly a research and writing guy, and while I’ve gotten to do some of that through some aggressive self-positioning, a lot of my practice so far has barely been legal, let alone traditional legal research & writing.

    I only spent a year in academia, but it is well known that the worst insult to a law professor is saying they write like a practitioner. When I started my clerkship, my judge’s go-to criticism was that I write too much like a professor. And at the law firm, I’ve been knocked for “writing like a clerk.” Go figure.

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