Did I Really Say That?
Have you ever read an email you sent a long time ago and feel like it was written by someone else because it doesn’t sound at all like something you would say in the present day?
Recently I was searching through my emails to try to find a friend’s mailing address and I came across an email chain among my college friends and me from about 10 years ago. It was equal parts hilarious and cringe-worthy. While I knew I wrote the email, and I knew my friends wrote their replies, we never would say the things we said then, today!
In a way, it was someone else who wanted to do those things, go to those events and wear those clothes. While there are some things I did 10 years ago that I’d still love to do today, the subject of that email chain, an Atlantic City bachelorette party, is not one of them ;). All of this to say – people change. Your interests change, what you enjoy changes, who you want to be around changes, and what you find fulfilling at work changes, too.
Biglaw is such a large beast and old institution that it takes a long time to change anything within it. Aside from some technology advances, I don’t think my law firm was very different from the day I began to the day I left, but what did change was me.
Nothing illustrates this change more than an email I wrote to my dad in 2011, my feelings when I wrote it, and my feelings about that email when I re-read it just a few days ago.
Working All Night In Biglaw
A few days ago, my dad was going through his old emails and forwarded me one that I had sent him in 2011. Knowing all the details about how I feel about Biglaw (he’s my blog’s biggest reader ;)), he thought I might “enjoy” (his words, not mine) the little blast from the past.
I knew by the date of the email – September 11, 2011 – exactly what deal I would have been working on at the time. I was just finishing up my full first year as a Biglaw associate and had finally gotten settled in and used to the crazy schedule and demanding tasks.
I also knew by the time stamp on the email – 5:10 AM – that I was sending the email not because I was up bright and early after a restful night of sleep, but rather because I had not gone to bed that night.
Here’s the email in full:
September 15, 2011 at 5:10 AM
To: MY DAD
Never good to bill 12 hours starting at 5 pm! Are you awake? I figure you might still be on Barcelona time. Night 🙂
The email sums up everything Biglaw can be – you might sit around all day, not billing any hours (i.e., not getting credit for being at the office) when at 5pm, thinking your day is wrapping up, you get assigned something that keeps you at the office for the next 12 or so hours. So goes a day in Biglaw.
Working All Night In Biglaw Was…Fun?
When I re-read this email, I remembered exactly how I felt when I sent it. None of the feelings were the more recent ones of burnout, stress, anxiety and lack of interest in the work. Those feels all came much, much later.
At this time, I felt proud – proud that I was tough enough to pull an all-nighter working on such an “important” deal.
The deal was a giant M&A deal where I honestly had no idea what was going on, other than the hundreds of officer’s certificates and board of director’s resolutions that I was tasked with drafting, compiling and organizing. To anyone else other than the junior associates working on the deal, these documents were mere formalities and nothing more than an annoyance since they each required at least a few signatures from important officers of the companies or even worse, the Board of Directors.
Anyone who has worked in Biglaw knows how difficult it can be to track down important business people. And there is nothing worse than the feeling you get the moment you realize you are missing a signature page of someone important and you need to – gasp – ask them to sign another piece of paper.
(I’m hopeful that future generations won’t have to deal with this stress, since I’m assuming electronic or iPad signatures are becoming the norm, but even as of last year we were still having people sign physical copies and PDF us back the signed pages.)
But back to my feeling of pride. I know I was proud of what I was doing, as tedious and relatively insignificant as it was, both because I distinctly remember feeling that way at the time and because of that email I sent to my dad. I wanted him to know how hard I was working because I knew he’d be impressed and proud. I think a little part of me wanted the proof that I was really working until 5am, too.
I also was happy. I was probably delirious by the time I wrote the email, but I know I was happy because I wouldn’t have joked about billing 12 hours beginning at 5pm and I wouldn’t have ended the email with a smiley face if I wasn’t happy.
Being just one year into the job meant that I was still enjoying the free dinners for working late and black car rides home (even if those car rides home were at 5am). I was genuinely proud of the hard work I was doing, which in turn made me happy.
Things Change Over Time. And You Change Over Time.
Your job should give you a sense of pride and it should make you happy. If you had those feelings once, but things have changed, make sure you are self-aware enough to recognize the shift. And if present-day you doesn’t like where you’re at, just because the past you did, don’t get trapped into feeling like you are stuck and have no other career options.
Just because something was right for you once, doesn’t mean that it will be right forever and that’s ok. Whether your job has changed, your priorities have changed or you simply want to try something new, those are all valid reasons to look for something new. Keep your eyes open, you never know where the signs you should quit are hiding or where a new career idea will strike.
When you look back at the last couple of years, do you feel the same way about your job now as you did then? Is it getting worse? Better? Let us know your thoughts!