Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going?

Not content to wait until actual mid-life to have a mid-life crisis, I’ve decided to over-achieve in this area and have them every 10 years. If it’s good enough for the U.S. census, it’s good enough for me.

Let me sum up me in a few stark words: went to law school, worked in a law firm, worked at an international organization, went back to law firm, hated said work with a fiery passion–usually reserved for sin and injustice, am now unemployed, am now looking for jobs for which I am apparently not qualified, self-doubt and crazy schemes are hatching simultaneously. (Well, that first part was more descriptive, and the last part more mid-life crisis-ish.)

Here’s the thing. I think I’m going back to school. I, already over-educated and debt-laden, am seriously considering returning to get a Master’s degree in International Affairs/Security Studies, with the goal of an eventual Ph.d. nascently forming. Now, I’m not so crazy that I’m going to go to school full time. This will be strictly a night thing that will hopefully correspond to and complement the fascinating day job that I plan to have in the very near future–please God, the very near future…

So here are the existential questions: Who am I? Am I the gal who will not be happy with my career until I’m doing exactly the kind of work that fascinates me, and moreover will not be happy unless I can link my job directly to being socially beneficial? (Not in a “I’m helping the economy kind of way” but in a “I want to actually be writing the foreign policy” kind of way.) In law school I didn’t think that those things mattered to me, now I know they are essential. Is that selfish? Millions of people simply exist by doing jobs that they don’t necessarily like, but that pay the bills. Why should I be different? Because I have the luxury to do so? I’m not married, I’m not supporting children, therefore my happiness is paramount? Or should I be looking at this more in a law of consecration kind of way? I should develop whatever meager talents I’ve been given to the highest degree possible as a way of benefitting others.

Where did I come from? Well, educationally, and most recently, law school. My inspiration to “go for it” and get an ivy league education was much stronger than my inspiration to serve a mission. I knew that I should go to law school, mostly for that “law of consecration” reason mentioned above…yet, it turns out that was more of a stepping stone rather than an end. Am I turning my back on that inspiration? Rejecting it? Or is this new career plan, complete with the resulting financial and time cost, a refining of my original trajectory–a honing, rather than a correction? Further, I love being in school. Again, am I being selfish because I’m having a difficult time right now, and want the same kind of happiness that I remember from undergrad and law school? Partly, yes. I miss that kind of structured learning. I miss the atmosphere.

Where am I going? (Besides to the temple…for some serious introspection…) Apparently, back to school. Apparently to a place where I’m over-educated and under-financed. (Incidentally, very attractive traits to the single Mormon male population…) But also, apparently to a place where I’m happier, apparently to a place where I’m more qualified for jobs that I actually want (government and eventually teaching), and apparently a place where I’m finally satisfied with my career choices–in a great big existential sleep-at-night-and-look-at-myself-in-the-mirror-in-the-morning kind of way.


  1. Anonymous says:

    “It’s the journey, not the destination…”

    On the one hand, this seems so cliche, but on the other hand, I am finding that it is so true. I look at my own life and say, “Becoming a partner in a law firm would be a great achievement (i.e. destination), in certain ways (mainly financial), but the journey is truly dreadful. I want to be doing meaningful things NOW — not enduring mindless drudgery just so that I can eventually claim I “made it.””

    I used to make fun of people who talk this way. Now I’m one of them. Go figure.

    Aaron B

  2. john fowles says:

    (Not in a “I’m helping the economy kind of way” but in a “I want to actually be writing the foreign policy” kind of way.) In law school I didn’t think that those things mattered to me, now I know they are essential. Is that selfish?

    I really don’t think that is selfish at all. You are obviously a 5-talent-person. It seems like you are obligated to turn that into 10 talents, and even though the parable explicitly deals with money, the spirit of it is far from merely earning Mammon. Rather, with your talents, you should prepare yourself to help people the most effective way possible. If you felt that practicing law wasn’t achieving that, then you are perfectly justified in your existential crisis.

    I understand your query re fulfilling work vs. drudgery and also your worries about the fact that it is unfair that millions merely subsist through the only type of work that they can find to do while you have the luxury to pick and choose and to specialize to the point of thrilling fulfilment. Don’t feel guilty about it, just be grateful and turn your energy and training into something that will lift us all. I have no doubt you will achieve that once you attain your goal of creating foreign policy.

    As to Danithew’s comment that I don’t think consecration is automatically supposed to make a person miserable, I realize that it was made tongue-in-cheek, but my view is that if we can commit ourselves to such consecration out of pure motives, then it must be the opposite of misery and represent the ultimate fulfillment.

  3. By the way, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate bouncing ideas off a group of people that I admire so much. Thanks for your help.

    My pleasure. :)

  4. Aaron, if you get any leads on the forestry thing, please let me know.

  5. As someone who is woefully undereducated, and severely out of work, with financial disaster looming in the not too distant future, I envy you your freedom to pursue work that is meaningful.

    When I was employed at my most recent job, I complained to my brother about how the work was kind of boring and tedious, to the point of being real drudgery. He replied, “That’s why they call it work. If it was interesting and exciting, they’d call it ‘play’ or ‘fun’.”

    I think the percentage of people who can actually achieve self-actualization through employment is not large. If you have the opportunity to do so, go for it.

  6. Dan, I can’t believe you’ve seen through my facade. Plus, I just love me some snow cones.

    I think it’s interesting that the women that I’ve heard from have been uniformly enthusiastic about the school plans, and the men have been cautionary. And I really appreciate both points of view.

    JWL, Dave, and Stephen M., I think the main concern that you’re voicing is that further education would be superfluous. That is my main concern as well. Perhaps I’m delusional, but I’m thinking more that it’s a kind of specialization. An M.A. masquerading as an LLM. The Universities in the D.C. area (where I am) have some phenomenal securities studies programs–as subsets of the international affairs programs.

    I think that so many who are interested in social sciences end up in law school, perhaps thinking that it offers a more general education than other programs that prepare you for the business world. While that’s true, I feel like the world I prepared myself for was to be a law firm litigator, and I just don’t like it. I don’t like working in a law firm where profit is the most important value, and I don’t like the billable hours system (I think it can promote unethical behavior). Although I understand the necessity for having an advocacy based legal system, I don’t like being the advocate. I know that sounds naieve, but I’m just not a person that thrives in that environment. And I’m glad that I’ve realized that about myself–which mostly happened when I started my job search out at law firms, and would feel sick to my stomach every interview.

    I personally think more in terms of system wide themes. I’m more interested in coming up with solutions–even if they are of the abstract variety. Also, I’m just interested in the subject matter of international affairs/security studies–an idea reaffirmed to me when I was working in the Hague. (I was bored stiff with most–not all–of the cases I was working on at the firm.) So, I guess the point is, I really could make do with a firm job, but I want to specialize in a different area. I think anything I do in the policy/law making world is germane to my law degree, I’m not turning my back on it, I just want to focus in a non-traditional direction.

    So am I still being self-indulgent? Probably.

    By the way, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate bouncing ideas off a group of people that I admire so much. Thanks for your help.

  7. Did you enjoy law school? I ask because it seems that many lawyers are dissatisfied with their work and leave the profession. I am a 2nd year law student, and as sadistic as it sounds, I absolutely love law school. I sure hope that translates into enjoying the practice.

    I would not delay or put off getting on the path you long to enter. Regardless of the financial cost, it will not cost as much as regret.

  8. Aaron Brown says:

    Heidi? Heidi Parry? Is that you? You should use your last name (or at least your maiden name) so we know when it’s you. That way, I can feel so cool that I personally know so many denizens of the Bloggernacle.

    Aaorn B

  9. Hey Karen,

    Whatever you were doing, I’m sure it beat scanning documents and then editing the scans for mistakes made by the scanner. That’s about all I can remember doing at that place where we worked together years ago. :)

    Good luck with the studies. I don’t think consecration is automatically supposed to make a person miserable. So make sure you do something you enjoy and that you want to do.

    I doubt you’re really turning your back on past revelation. I’m sure your legal degree will be more than just a little handy on a resume along with whatever more education you’re now going to pursue. Good luck.

  10. I just wrote a long post that ended up turning into a rant against law firms so I’ve deleted it.

    I spent many hours considering many options and so far haven’t made it any farther out of the box than moving from a law firm to go in house.

    Speaking of the crowd I know that are posting here (Aaron, Karen, Heidi…)–our problem is we expect it all–an enjoyable job that pays well and has reasonable hours–now.

    My most recent conclusion on this topic is that I’m giving work a too important place in my life. So my current aim is to endure my new reduced work hours and focus my life entirely on fun (with family, hobbies etc.). I’m also trying to avoid getting released from my third calling in a row in the last year (I kept missing church because of work–they even gave up on me as the ward activities leader).

    I hope to build up a buffer of $ that will help me transfer to my dream job / life in time when I figure out what that is.

    I do have some Idaho sympathies for the idea that work sucks (comes from irrigating fields growing up) and there’s not much to be done about it. However, I get a great deal of satisfaction from peeling a scab and that’s not all that exciting so I figure I can sqeeze some satisfaction out of whatever job I’m doing. If not from the job from the people around me.

    I think I’d better stop here.

  11. I should clarify that the attorney I mention above wasn’t just trying to communicate sarcasm–he liked his job as far as it went, just thought that he could find more satisfaction if he took a pay cut.

  12. I was looking at my life today and thinking, why did I get married so young? I hate wiping butts and doing dishes. I should have gone to law school, had some ambition.

    kinda funny

  13. I’d have to agree with Mr. Ethesis on this occasion. It’s too easy to view a new degree and the new career path it promises (often falsely) to open up as a shortcut to a mythical state of “job happiness.” An alternative approach is to identify more desirable positions or firms building more directly on one’s present educational endowment. Law is so general it certainly doesn’t limit your options.

    On the other hand, one can also talk about university study as a utility-enhancing consumer good as opposed to costly investment in your own human capital. As an undergraduate, you pay to play. As a grad student, you about break even. As a faculty member, you get paid to play.

  14. If I recall correctly, you are in the DC area. Have you checked out law-related positions in government, foundations, NGOs, political organizations? Obviously, we don’t know enough to tell you what is right for you. However, you have invested so much in a legal education and are located in the city which probably has the highest number of interesting non-law firm law jobs in the country, it might be worthwhile to be sure there is no other interesting work you can get with a law degree before undertaking the expense and risk of a not always marketable humanities/social sciences PhD.

  15. It just occurred to me Karen that this post has the seed of another BCC: poll in it. The question would be simple:

    Do you hate your job?



  16. Karen – please email me if you would please. I got to tell you something.
    -Sid in Ann Arbor

  17. Karen et al,
    Be glad at what you have, and the factthat you can go outand get a job with the qualifications you all have. or you could find yourself in my spot, dealing with a brain tumor and all the other complications, half-crippled, my academic and career goals totally ruined, and looking at the possibility of having to work for the rest of my life at menial, minimum-wage, retail type of jobs.
    Count your blessings, my friends, y’all domt seem to realise how good you have it!!!
    End of rant.
    have a great weekend, folks.
    -Sid in Ann Arbor

  18. Karen,

    Stop kidding yourself with your declarations of love for all this legal intellectual mumbo-jumbo. We both know you’ve always wanted to own your own snow-cone stand and live on the beach. I say just go for it.

  19. D. Fletcher says:

    Karen, I think we should get married.

    Or, alternatively, I think we’re the same person.

    I feel like you have just written in my journal.

  20. Davis Bell says:


    As one who is currently pursuing an MA in International Affairs, I’d be happy to shed some light on any questions you have, although midterms probably aren’t the best time to ask me if you want an objective, fair answer. I’ll leave the more existential questions to wiser, better people.

  21. Nibley’s address is in the book “Approaching Zion”, published by FARMS

  22. Now I’m making dinner and I can’t stop thinking about this, and thinking something that is probably obvious to everyone else. It’s the journey, not the destination, becoming a lawyer wouldn’t solve my problems any more than it solved yours. And even if you do get the best most fulfilling job in the world, there will still be holes to fill. I think the challenge is just to always strive to make the journey as fulfilling as possible.

    I may hate wiping butts and doing dishes, but I don’t have to stop here, I can work to fill the holes. I have choices, I have goals, I can stive for more . . . just like you are. I may never get to that magic fulfilling happy place but that’s not really the point, it’s the striving to get there that matters.

  23. Aaron Brown says:

    Oh my gosh, Karen, your life is my life! Well, not exactly, but close enough. I’m married, no kids, LOATHE being a lawyer (it took me a long time to admit that, even though it’s been true for a while), and if I had the opportunity to become a forest ranger in Montana tomorrow, I’d probably do it. (And I say that as someone who is allergic to forests and would hate ranging, if you see what I mean).

    We should talk about this. For real. I think I’ll call you. Email me your phone #.

    Aaron B

  24. Ok, that was really funny. I was reading Aaron’s post and thinking, that’s so weird, I can’t really picture Aaron Brown irrigating fields in Idaho! Who knew?

    So, clearly that is Aaron Eddington . . . hi!

    Oh, and Karen, you can count me on the side of the cautionaries (perhaps the lone woman?). I just didn’t want to rain on your parade!

  25. Once in a while (like yesterday) when I look at the openings bulletin for university teachings jobs in my field I scratch my head and think “what I am doing here, really?” I must be crazy to still be playing around like this. I should have gone to law school so that I could support myself when I grow up.”

    But, then I have days like today when I teach Kant’s moral philosophy to students who seem like they are starving for instruction and who are really searching and have insightful things to say and who care about the questions that matter and then I get almost weepy with joy because I am here doing this.

    Go back to school, Karen. I may be singing a different song in a couple of years when no one offers me a job but for now I’m happy as a queen.

  26. Rain away Heidi….now I’ll just think of you as being excessively masculine.

    I would pay money to see Aaron Brown irrigating fields in Idaho.

    Aaron Eddington, I would love to hear your rant on law firms, mostly for my own entertainment, but understand that you’re probably using a firm computer, so don’t want to get you fired.

    Judy, you’re very right about possibly needing to take a job as a stop gap measure, but you’re also right that I won’t stop looking.

    Davis…how about I email when your midterms are over…I would like to hear your unstressed personal experience.

  27. Read “But what kind of work?” by Hugh Nibley. It should give you some ideas.

  28. Some thoughts, since I’ve thought about graduate schools of various kind a lot.

    First, visit http://invisibleadjunct.com/ and read the essays. Also visit chronicle.com

    Second, consider if you might possibly find a practice area you enjoy. I do commercial lines defense work right now (for the last three years) in house and really enjoy it.

    A blend of normal and unusual litigation, constant flow of new things, probably win about fifteen summary judgment motions a year, try a few cases. When things were a little slower I also handled some appeals and may again when we finish hiring some more people. Reasonable hours, short commute, a boss I like, fun people to work with. There is a lot to be said for a good staff counsel office.

    Appellate law may very well fit what you want, or an LLM program at Columbia or NYU (since New York attorneys appear not to go to Yale or Harvard for LLMs) with an eye to teaching law school.

    Anyway, PhDs are pretty much harsh dead ends in many areas, depending on what you want to do (I don’t see you getting one in Business, which is a great area for work).

  29. These comments remind me of the final line of a farewell email sent by an attorney leaving my firm to pursue philosophy at Oxford: This job has been as enjoyable as highly remunerative employment is likely to be.

    He was well regarded here and probably only a year away from partner, BTW, but decided that his intellectual life trumped money. Of course he was doing tax . . .

  30. Wow, Karen, as one of those lawyers simply slogging along, I’m not sure what to say. (That’s why I wasn’t able to give Sariah any guidance either . . .) Of course, I admire your ability to look law school debt in the face and laugh! : )

  31. Wow, leave for awhile and look what happens…

    D., be careful who you propose to on the internet, you might get an answer you didn’t expect! As I simply cannot play the organ–darn pedals!–I doubt we’re the same person…but thanks for empathizing.

    Aaron, email on the way.

    Ann, Heidi, Melissa, John, thanks for the kind words.

    Danithew, anything is better than scanning those books!

    Lisa, I think the joy is in the journey, which is a major reason to go back to school…Too bad we don’t live in the same city, or I’d come watch your kids for a couple hours… I don’t get enough diaper changing, baby tickling in my life….

    Ian, I loved law school. I don’t mean to throw cold water on you, because everyone is different, but I think the reason I didn’t like practicing in such a concrete, specific, advocacy focused environment is that I loved the intellectual adventure of law school–paying attention to macro-ideas and trends. Other lawyers want to chime in on this issue?

    JH, thanks, any idea where I can find Nibley’s article (book?)

    Sid, I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. Thank you for reminding us all of how important gratitude and perception is.

  32. judy brooks says:

    You should hold out as long as you can for the job that will make you the most happy and satisfied.

    As you know, your job is a HUGE part of your life, and you needn’t feel guilty for having the “luxury” of being able to wait, as opposed to others who have to have a job “right now!”

    But, you may find you have to take one of those lesser jobs one of these days—just to make ends meet. But don’t ever stop looking for the perfect job.

    There’s a saying that the gospel is the key to happiness, but a perfect job comes in a close second.

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