Thursday, February 21, 2013

Why change careers?

I have done a fair amount of work. Am I sure I want to be a teacher? Why not a respiratory therapist or bank teller or cashier or .... just keep doing what I'm doing?
I work from home 15-25 hours a week. I pick my son up from school.  I'm able to make dinner for my family, no late nights, no weekends.

This is what dawned on me this week. Why the hell am I doing this?

Now I remember.

To start with, I dislike being a lawyer intensely. I don't hate it, because I do have moments of feeling like I'm actually contributing to the good of the world and society, and I love the feeling I get when a client says thank you and says that I'm the only lawyer they've ever known who didn't talk down to them and actually explained things to them so they understood the legal issues.

But the dark side of law is dark. If you're in litigation, which I was for 15 years, it's depressing as hell. I'm never in charge of my calendar because every aspect of a lawsuit is governed by the court rules which state when each pleading or action is due. The client is never happy because they are either accusing someone of wrongdoing that cost them money and/or stress, or they are being sued by someone for money.  I'm only hired once the  bad things have happened, and what I'm hired to do is to fight about whose fault the bad thing was, and who has to pay whom what amount of money, which is always too much and never enough.

I've been doing transactional work for a while, and it is better in some ways. I am part of creating something, helping a business to succeed, make sure it gets the most out of its relationships, and protects its employees. But it, too, has drawbacks. It lacks the human interaction that I have realized I crave. Not with clients, but with co workers. I work from home, by myself, with my chocolate lab for company. There really is no one to bounce ideas off of, commiserate with, joke with or complain to or about - and isn't that what a workplace is all about? The other thing is this: drafting contracts is boring. It's the opposite of the insane stress and sleepless nights of litigation.  It's monotony.

And finally, the thing about practicing law that few lawyers ever confess: there are so many ways to fuck it up. Do you know how many rules and statutes there are? How many cases interpreting those rules and statutes? How many things my client hasn't told me or is hiding from me or doesn't know that I should know? It's damnably stressful. 

Isn't there something in between? No. Not in the practice of law. Except maybe teaching law, at a law school. But my god, law students are worse than lawyers on the obnoxious scale.

So that leaves teaching high school students - which are about the same as law students - or younger kids.

But why teach at all? Because I like that. That's the one part of practicing law that I really like. I like having the answers and being able to explain the process of how to get the answers to my clients. I like seeing the dawn of realization when they get it and knowing that I was part of that process. I've taught clients how to testify, how to write, how to speak and think while on the witness stand. I've taught managers how to supervise their employees and not violate any number of federal employment laws. Here, too, though - I am often the bearer of bad news: I see that slight furrow of their brow as they realize they've probably already violated someone's rights or not done what they should have.

Teaching elementary school, it's the beginning, the dawn of that person becoming who they are. They aren't jaded like adults or teenagers, they aren't only looking out for themselves, they are vulnerable, and don't know it and don't know to close off and act a part. They are raw little humans with no real guile. As an elementary school teacher, I wouldn't be on the tail end of a bad contractual relationship and arguing over the million petty details involved in litigating. My actions would matter, would have a direct effect on wee humans, and hopefully help them to form into the dazzling, brilliant humans I think everyone can be.

So why work at all? Because I need money. We could make it on my husband's salary, but then we wouldn't be able to take vacations, or have a nice retirement, or help pay for the boys' college educations. And I get bored. I suck at cleaning house AND I hate doing it. And the boys will both be in school in 2 years full time, so why not now? The bonus, of course, is that I get 12-14 weeks off every year. I won't insult anyone by acting like that's not a motivating factor. My mother in law was a teacher for 20 years and never ever ONCE not even for a minute admitted having summers off and a month at Christmas AND a week in the spring was nice. The most I've ever taken off is 2 weeks. So yes, the thought of spending the summers with my sons is a lovely perk to this new life.

So I've been accepted to the grad school. The financial aid paperwork is in. Now I need to figure out how to pay for it. Cross your crossables that there is a way.

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