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.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Post

1. People who don't read me regularly can skip to number 2. This is just the prologue. It's hard sometimes to remember what I've written and what I haven't, and even harder to figure out what I've revealed without intending to reveal it. Sometimes I think I've said something, and I get an e-mail that makes it pretty clear that my words came off differently from how I meant them to. Or that the subtext I thought was there just didn't come across. It's been nagging at me for a little while that I hadn't really ever explicitly said what this post is going to say. See, part of me feels like there's a good chance no one even realizes I didn't ever say it, because it's really obvious. But that part of me forgets sometimes that you don't live in my head, and all you get are the words I write. And even if I know exactly what I'm thinking when I write them, you don't. So part of me wonders if maybe this really isn't obvious at all. So if this is news, it is news. If it is not, I apologize for pretending it is. If you are new and reading this paragraph anyway, then, to you, it is news, and you can read the archives and figure out if it would have been news had you been reading all along. That said, I've now built up toward a very anticlimactic piece of non-news that will no doubt be a letdown for anyone who hasn't jumped ahead. Sorry. I didn't know how to else to frame it. I'm trying my best here.

2. I've turned down the opportunity to make having gone to law school make sense. No law firm. Didn't accept my offer. I know, you probably knew this already. But I'm almost positive I didn't say so explicitly. I didn't want to write it before the law firm knew for sure. And I hadn't really talked to the law firm, because I'd expressed ambivalence in my exit interview on the last day, when we got the offers, and it felt weird to call just to tell them I hadn't really changed my mind. But they called yesterday to check, and, yeah, it's just not the path I think I should take, despite that it's the path most of my classmates are taking, and that most people at places less fortunate than here would be thrilled to take.... So that's my non-news. No law firm.

3. But I want to write more than that, because this is my chance to say something. It seems weird to me that I didn't feel like writing about this, at least not explicitly, until now, when really nothing has changed. It's not like I've been agonizing over a decision. There was no agonizing. There really wasn't even a decision. I think most people started the summer from the default position that if they got an offer, they would take the offer, and something would actively have to happen to change that. I think I started from the other end. I think my default position was that this law firm thing wasn't for me, and to change that -- and I really do believe I was open to it being changed, so I'm not at all saying there was no chance for me to end up taking the offer -- something would have had to have happened. Whatever would have had to have happened didn't happen. For some period of time between the start of the summer and right now, I would have said that was the firm's fault. But they're smart to give us two months to make a decision, because right now I don't even know if it's the firm's fault. I don't think it's anyone's fault. It's not what I want to do with my life. How can I blame the firm for that? I can't. They weren't evil. They didn't torture me. If I was going to work at a firm, I'd work for them. I hate saying that, because it's meaningless. It's like saying (and here's a bizarre analogy) if I was going to live in house made of gelatin, I'd choose Jell-O brand. First, it's the only brand of gelatin I know, so I can't really make much of an informed comparison. Second, I'm not going to live in a house made of gelatin, so who am I to make judgments?

4. So they're smart to give us two months because in two months it's easy to forget that you spent all summer there and that didn't make you want to do this for a living, and you forget that, unfortunately, the work just didn't really excite you, and the people you met, while most of them were nice, and virtually all of them were well-intentioned, weren't living lives you want to be living. And you see that all of your friends and classmates have accepted their offers, and you start to wonder if maybe you've just convinced yourself out of it. That you've built up this image in your mind that is simply not the reality, but an exaggerated version of something that isn't true. That you've created a fiction to try and justify the decision you never really made, because some part of you has -- rationally, or, just maybe, completely irrationally -- decided you don't want to do this. You start to get scared. You start to fear (1) that no one in the world is happy with what they do for a living, and that's why it's called work, and any ridiculous notion you're clinging to that you can somehow be different, and you can find work that really makes you feel good about your life and makes you feel like there's a reason you're on this planet, and makes you feel valued and useful and content is just a stupid, childish fairy tale and everyone else has realized this so you probably should too, or (2) that even if some people are happy with what they do for a living, most people aren't, and what makes you think you're so special that you can be one of the lucky ones? And if you are one of the lucky ones, it'll work out eventually. But if you're not, then you're passing up an awful lot of security. So you'd better be confident you're one of the lucky ones, or (3) that in fact no one likes what they're doing at age 25, and it's not like you're going to find something better to do right away, so even if this isn't the long-term plan, what's wrong with taking the job for a few years and just seeing what happens? Or (4) that even if there are lots of ways to be happy, you don't know for sure that this isn't one of them, so you owe it to yourself to give it more than just a summer. Or (5) that everyone else must know something you don't. Or (6) that at least taking the offer would give you certainty, and certainty would feel an awful lot better than waking up every morning worried about what you're going to be doing come June, and fearing the possibility than 10 years from now, when you're serving fries at Wendy's, you will look back on this moment as the instant it all went wrong, that in this one momentous decision you cost yourself the chance at a comfortable upper-middle-class life with a respectable job and instead set yourself up for failure, regret, and disappointment for the rest of your days on the planet.

5. But that's the thing about fear. Fear is irrational. Intellectually, I know I'm probably not going to end up serving fries at Wendy's. I know that deciding not to take this job won't put me on an inexorable path toward failure. Worst case scenario, I feel pretty confident that with my law degree, someone would hire me to do something pretty easily. Perhaps not at the same salary the top law firms pay, but something reasonable, and decent, and probably, in lots of cases, doing work that's just as interesting and perhaps even more tailored to the things that motivate me more than legal work does. (Because I think that's part of the issue here -- the law doesn't inspire me, it's not what I enjoy thinking about, it's not the kind of work I most enjoy doing. So it's not the right fit. Doesn't make that anyone's fault. Not mine, certainly not the law firm's. It just is.) So the fear that I'm setting myself down an irreversible course toward rickets and scurvy, intellectually, I know, is silly.

6. And the other problem with fear is that fear blocks out the reality of what would happen if I caved into the fear. Look, I want to write. I don't know why, but I get a great deal of satisfaction out of expressing myself through the written word, I feel like I have things to say, and I consistently find myself looking for opportunities to write, for no reason. This weblog doesn't have to exist. No one is forcing me to write every day. I do it because I get something out of it. I do it because something inside of me is driven to do it. I can't tell you why. I can make something up, but I'd just be making something up. I don't find myself looking for opportunities to research provisions of the bankruptcy code. If I did, I would go work for a law firm and be happy about it. It's not my fault that this is what motivates me. But it's what I've discovered. And so if I went to work at a firm, from the very first day I'd still be looking for opportunities to write, only I'd have a really time-consuming job to balance on top of it. And I'd feel frustrated, and sad, and unfulfilled. Yes, I know there's writing involved in the law. From what I've seen -- and all I've seen is a summer at a big NY law firm -- that's not the kind of writing I want to do.

7. Anyone ever see the game show Greed when it was on Fox a few years back? I saw a rerun on the Game Show Network at some point over the summer. What happens on Greed is that the players answer questions for an increasing amount of money, and at any time, one player can say "Bank" to put the money away and start over, because if you don't say "Bank" before you get an answer wrong, you lose the money. This is an imperfect analogy, but I feel like saying "Bank." The law degree goes in the bank. It gives me permission and license to fail, because I know it will always be there, and it provides a safety net. So I don't end up living in the park. 3 years ago, before law school, I don't think I felt like I had the security to try and be "a writer," whatever that means. I think I was too scared, too afraid of uncertainty and failure, to do that. So law school was my best option. I needed to do this. (And I've enjoyed law school, but that's a topic for another day.) But now I've done this, and bought myself a little bit more time (at an excessively high price, but, again, that's a topic for another day), and gone from being pretty sure that no matter what I did, I was still going to be motivated to write to being awfully certain that's the case. Because no one's been making me write at law school, but yet... but yet I want to.

8. So I don't know. Maybe everyone else does know something I don't know, and maybe it's naive to think that in the 8 months until I graduate, and in the time after that, I will be able to plan for myself a path that, for me, is a more fulfilling path than I would be on if I took my law firm offer. But even if it's naive, I'd regret it if I didn't give myself the opportunity. So I didn't accept my offer. But this is not news. It's just a really long weblog post.

P.S. The two "that's a topic for another day"s in number seven will get their days soon. And so will a post that gets into more specifics about law firm stuff, because I realize this one is all about me, and not so much about law firm, when what you're really reading for is stuff about law firm, and not so much about me. But I'm trying my best here. I promise.