Someone named Ash sends in this request:
I would like to read your thoughts about the compromises/sacrifices one has to make to achieve career satisfaction &/or lifestyle satisfaction.
Ash contrasts corporate lawyers, who s/he characterizes as "seduced by the cash/lifestyle" but unsatisfied by the work, with "poor public interest attorneys who love their work but can't afford a satisfying/mobile lifestyle." How to choose, indeed?
This question strikes me as a little bit tedious, because it's been treated so often and in so many places that I'm not sure what I can add. I'll start by pointing out that I think Ash is not looking at all the right factors. And is equating "cash" and "lifestyle" when there's more complexity than that. I get what you're chasing, Ash, but I think you're starting in the wrong place. Let's get a little more basic than that.
Let's list the features of a happy life. I can only speak for myself, of course.
1) It needs to be healthy. That means, you regularly get enough sleep. You can afford, both timewise and moneywise, to eat nourishing, flavorful food that you like. You get enough exercise.
2) You are able to make, keep, build and maintain significant relationships with people you admire and enjoy. These can include work and family, but also need to include people who you freely choose and who freely choose you back -- true, unforced and unrushed friendships beyond obligation.
3) You like where you live, and don't feel beaten down or depressed by your living space. You also don't have a feeling of battle or oppression in going from your home to your workplace or vice versa.
4) You do something that makes you feel good about yourself: you use your creativity or your brainpower or your soothing personality or all three. You think what you do makes the world a better place in a clear, demonstrable way. Your role requires something from you that not everyone could do to achieve it. In other words, you feel like your unique presence makes a difference to people or a system that you care about. You should care about it in not in an abstract sense ("we maintain liquidity in the capital markets, which is essential to a healthy economy") but more directly than that. In other words, you shouldn't have to get intellectual to explain why what you do is good for the world. It should feel obvious to you. (Even if it doesn't to other people: e.g. "I teach students at an elite college how to make small sailboats go faster.")
5) There's room for playful exploration in your life. This is about going beyond routine, by choice. It's about learning, but not a pressured kind of learning. Rather, there's room for you to pursue your interests and become better, more skilled or confident or knowledgeable about things that catch your attention. I think this is about self-directed growth.
I can't think of anything else you need to be happy. If you can get all five things, I posit that you won't care about how much money you have or what your job title is. And if you can't get all five things, I maintain that you won't care how much money you have or what your job title is. I think it's entirely possible to build a life where you get all 5 things.
Although it is reprehensible and baffling to me, there are some career paths that make it really unlikely that you'll get all 5 things. And there are some geographic places that make it tougher than others. I would avoid choosing a job that meant regular sleep deprivation, or the inability to exercise regularly and eat nutritiously. Unfortunately, I understand that many BIGLAW jobs are eliminated by requirement number 1. I would advise you not to choose those. Anything that pays so poorly that you can't live in a safe place nearby is something I wouldn't recommend. Anything that doesn't leave you time to pursue friendships and other interests should be forsaken. But this still leaves a world of choices. All I can say is, once you've eliminated the things that will make it hard to have all 5 things, you can't choose wrong.