Jeremy Blachman has a post about the life sacrifices that are expected of associates at BIGLAW firms. It reminds me of a conversation I had while a summer associate at BIGLAW. I wasn't at all convinced that I wanted to be a lawyer or that I wanted to be one at a big firm, so I treated the whole summer as an extended interview where I was as interested in trying to find out whether I liked them as they were in trying to find out if they liked me. I figured, if I can't find out what I want to know now, or if they're uncomfortable with me asking the questions I really want to know the answers to, this isn't a good fit for either of us and I might as well learn it right away. So as a result I had a lot of pretty frank conversations with lawyers there. And concluded that a whole lot of lawyers are unhappy in their lives. I remember thinking that BIGLAW firms should be forced to publish their divorce rates as well as all the other statistics they give to the NALP each year.
Anyway, the part of the conversation I remember was that I'd asked about balance -- doing other things that are fun outside of work, and whether that was reasonably possible. The junior partner I was talking to said, "Well, work doesn't have to be your whole life. If you've got something -- maybe you want to tuck your kids in at night, or maybe you play the violin and you want to keep practicing it once a week, or maybe you get up early to swim -- and you are very careful and disciplined, you can make room to keep doing that one thing you're passionate about. You have to make accomodations to do it-- get up early, bring work home -- and nobody says it is easy, but you really can do it if you are committed. But you only get one thing."
I thought a lot about that conversation. I thought -- this work is pretty interesting, I like doing it. But is this work, plus only ONE THING in my outside life, interesting enough to keep me stimulated and happy and balanced, the kind of person I want to be? The answer was clear. The work wasn't interesting enough to take the place of the relationships, the books and sailing and being outdoors and exercising and writing and listening to music, all the stuff that makes me enjoy my life. Even if I got to pick one of those things and jealously set aside some special hours for it each week, it wouldn't be enough. I needed, and still need, a lot more than one thing outside of work.