Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Something I heard someone say this summer has stuck in my head -- and not for any applicability at all toward a law firm job, because I don't think it has anything to do with being a lawyer at all, but as a way to look at life, and your career, and the road you're traveling on.

He said that being a lawyer probably wasn't what he saw himself doing permanently, but it was okay, because "everything you do is just practice until you turn 40. It doesn't count until then. Once you're 40, then you can start thinking about what you really want to be doing with your life." I'm paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it.

And I'm torn between thinking this is profoundly disturbing, and thinking it's strangely sensible. I think I sometimes get into a trap -- I'm certain most of us do -- of feeling like there's more weight on these life decisions than there really needs to be. Forgetting that things are reversible, and that there is a point at which "good enough" really is good enough, and it is not a horrible thing to take "good enough" and deal with it. I guess this is the argument Barry Schwartz was making in his book, "The Paradox of Choice," that I wrote about a couple of months ago. How some people "satisfice" and accept something that isn't the best but is good anyway, and some people look for perfection. But he talked a lot about clothes and jelly, and I don't know if the same reasoning applies to careers.

On the one hand, I want to be able to say that even if there's a "perfect" life out there somewhere -- and there may not be -- I should be happy with something that isn't terrible. That I can live with. But on the other hand, I *don't* want to be able to say that. I want to know if the perfect life for me is out there, I've at least given myself a chance to find it. If I buy the wrong jelly, I can buy a new one. I will run out of jelly and need more. Or I can just throw this one out if I really don't like it. But if I find myself living a life that isn't the life I want to live, it's hard to just trade for another one. You need to have the time to look for other options, the mental energy to realize you need to make a change, and the courage to take a risk and not just continue on a path that's very easy to continue on, but may not lead to the right end.

So the thought that this life is "practice" until you're 40 -- which, even ignoring all else, is an arbitrary age to pick, I think -- seems on the one hand like a disturbing way to justify living a life you don't really want to be living, but not taking any action to change it. But on the other hand, treating it as practice seems like it might give you the permission you need to take risks and see if you can find something better, without worrying that you can never turn back.

I suppose I mostly just worry that it's easy to get into a habit -- a rut -- of going to work, going home, going to sleep, and back to work the next day. In any job. And you run out of time for figuring out what the next step is. And the time starts passing and you forget about the ambitions you had, what it felt like not to be living whatever life you're living -- and the motivation to ever make a change starts to disappear.

I'm overdramatizing, for sure. Oh well.