“Wow! I thought you were going to be here forever!” [this one stung the most – when had I become someone who seemed like she would fit in and be at a law firm forever?]
“I’m so impressed!” [um, that I quit my job?]
“I’m so proud of you!” [again, for quitting my job?]
“How did you do that?” [I felt a little pity at this one – it was usually said with longing, accompanied by wide-eyes and an actual sense of wanting to know, step-by-step, how I did it, so they could do it too.]
“You just ripped the band-aid right off, didn’t you!” [Ha! That band-aid had been on for about five years and I’d been slowly tugging at it for four.]
These were just a few of the reactions I received from other associates when I told them I had given notice to the firm and my last day would be in two weeks. Almost universally (see below for the one outlier to this story) every associate I talked to had something positive to say.
Was I Gaining Something or Giving Up Something?
It was really inspiring to receive these reactions and to leave on such a positive note. During those last two weeks, if the other associates had all told me that I was crazy to leave or that I was going to regret my decision, I don’t know if I would have left with such a lightness in my heart or a pep in my step.
Maybe they talked about me behind my back and told each other how crazy they thought I was, but nobody ever said it to my face. Other, more senior people, had warned me that I would regret the decision. They said that I would miss working in the office setting and having a high-powered and high-paced job, and that I was giving something up.
The associates knew that what I was gaining was better than anything I was giving up. They were the ones in similar circumstances who had yet to be fully sucked into the partnership (most weren’t trapped by Golden Handcuffs…yet). Like me, most of them had not yet given up other options (or at least, the idea of other options) for their life/career.
(Although I’ll continue to argue that even partners can leave. It might be harder because of the lifestyle they’ve created and become accustomed to based on their high salaries, and the prestigious career they’ve worked hard and built for themselves, but one can always leave a job that is making him or her miserable, no matter what job that is.)
What do all of these reactions say about law firm life? Maybe it doesn’t mean anything more than the simple fact that people were happy for me that I was leaving if that was what was going to make me happy. But I think there was something more to it.
The effusive responses I got. The interest and fascination. Was it because I was doing something different and weird (it wasn’t that weird, was it?) or was it because they wish they were doing it too? Were other associates going to start doing it – leaving now too, in waves or hordes?
Beware a Mass Exodus
As I mentioned above, the only reaction I received from an associate that was vastly different from the positive and encouraging ones I listed out at the beginning of this post is the following. I ran into this particular associate at the coffee machine in the kitchen after word had gotten around that I had given notice earlier that day. She came up to me and said she’d heard that I was leaving and said that I should be “quarantined.”
She recognized that my leaving could spread like a wildfire – would my giving notice empower others to leave, too? She feared this would happen to the junior associates she was working with and, in a half-joking, half-serious way, made her opinion known.
But I knew a mass exodus was never going to happen. Even if everyone I told looked at me like they wanted nothing more than to do the same and give their notice that very day (which, to be fair, maybe I was projecting onto them because once I gave notice, I felt nothing but hope for the future and a sense of freedom I had not felt since college and couldn’t imagine being there for one day more), I knew this wasn’t really going to happen.
Lawyers are risk-adverse by nature, by training, or by both, and most Biglaw associates in particular are saddled with law school debt and the desire to be the best at everything they do. Quitting a prestigious Biglaw job without anything better lined up certainly does not fall into “being the best” lawyer.
Ripping Off the Band-Aid
Really, I knew that this chain reaction would never happen because the band-aid that I supposedly ripped off was not ripped off at all. It was peeled off, ever so painfully and slowly, exactly how they tell you not to take a band-aid off. I had known for years that a Biglaw career was not in my future forever, but I continued to plug away at it because it was my job and I felt like I had no other choice.
Until it became too unbearable to continue, I kept at it because I was afraid of what else was out there. I was risk adverse and not willing to give it up without having something “better” waiting for me. Something that people would approve of and would say “of course you’re leaving for that job!” or, “good luck, what an amazing opportunity!” or “wow, I’d love to work for XYZ bank one day, maybe you’ll hire me!”
Turns out, having people say “wow” and that they are “proud” of me for leaving to do something yet to be determined was a pretty good feeling too. I’d found my own version of something “better” even if I didn’t yet know what exactly it was.
What Are You Ready to Do?
Is there anything – career or otherwise – that has been nagging at you for a while that you need to “rip the band-aid off” of and go for? Have you ever done something and gotten a reaction entirely different than what you expected – either in a more positive or a more negative way? Sound off below!