February 27, 2007

Assuming the worst

I really am enjoying my job. This is a good thing. It's an excellent starting point (okay, I'm not that young, jumping point) for a career, and one, that I am oh-so-well aware (both from friends who've made this trip before and those who are in the journey now), is not the norm.

So I am thankful each day when I find myself smiling because of something new I learned. Or something I know I did well. Or something I just love about my job.

But this passion comes with a down side. I haven't learned to leave my job be in peace. Despite my confidence. Despite the knowledge that I am very good at what I do. I still strive for excellence with a drive that is somewhat pathological. Even when I'm on deals with no time pressure, I dream about work. I wake up in the middle of the night fearful that I forgot to include an important clause. I check my email before my morning runs and become engrossed to the point where I have to cut my mileage for the day because, what-if-I-don't-respond-'til-I-show-up-at-the-office? I do email and work at night despite knowing that my hours are fine because, well... why not? There's stuff to do and... well...

Eventually, this crap will have to stop. Towards this end, slowly, I'm learning some tricks.

One of the best so far was an accident. One night, I left my phone/PDA in the office instead of charging it by my bedside and realized that I didn't wake at 3 and 4 and 5 AM when the random emails arrived from those to whom I owed a response by mid-day (the next day). So now, I put my phone in the other room while I sleep (unless I'm on a deal that has to close tomorrow, in which case, it wakes me and I groggily get up to check it, and go to the computer, and respond, if need be). Occasionally, I find myself sending ASAP emails in the night and then closing out the details by following up with one of those 3 or 4 or 5 AM emails requesting a mid-day the next-day response from the recipient that I generally attribute to insanity from my colleagues. Scary. Occasionally, fine, for me. But I believe it should be a choice. So I try to avoid it on a regular basis.

Another trick I'm learning is to have non-phone time. Just completely not available. I remember when my dad was ill. That's when I couldn't stand to have my phone off. That was a good reason to be attached to an electronic leash during a nice dinner. But a deal? One I'm not in charge of? One I've done enough work on thus far and they are happy with my work? Well... it can wait 'til after the wine from Manresa metabolizes and sleep clears the caloric indulgence fog. What's more, my knowledge that they need a response won't get it too them any faster if I see it after dinner. It'll just mess with my sleep. So, I'm learning to draw those lines, too. If it's truly a social time, then go big. Go home. And check your email when you wake up.

Is that so hard?

Yes. It is. Because I assume the worst. You want me as your lawyer because I'm a cynic. I read a contract and imagine the worst case scenario where the contract fucks you. But I also do this in my own life. I imagine scenarios where I don't check my email and deals don't close and I am to blame and everyone hates me and I'm doing a horrid job and, and, and...

Sad thing is: I'm not kidding here. And, after many frank discussions, I truly believe I have better self esteem than most first year lawyers. Most of 'em don't even realize that they have these doomsday complexes which simultaneously make them very good at what they do and very likely to under-bill, very likely to take shit from their superiors that they don't have to take, and very likely to have a terrible life, which, by the way, is probably somehow correlated with the statistics about the high levels of suicide, substance abuse, and depression in lawyers.

So, this post is basically just to let you know that at least 2 or 3 times a day I have the terror. The feeling that I'm fucking up. The feeling that someone has to know I'm just winging it. The oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit-should-I-really-hit-send paralysis.

I think, in part, the legal education is to blame. We are educated in a system that rewards perfect answers. We are then hired into a system that does not give us the time (because the clients can't afford it, or because we have too much work, or because it just doesn't make sense to spend that much money to mitigate a particular risk) to find perfect answers. Instead, it asks us to give answers that we know when we utter them are likely wrong. There is nothing wrong with this. We are just inequipped to handle it.

And it's very, very, stressful.

Especially because if you got here, you are likely a very successful and critical cynic.

And now, that cynicism is directed to yourself.

But, I would like to say that despite the negatives, I do love my job. And I look forward to finding more tricks, and more ways to balance, and more ways to do this well, for a long time.

Wish me luck!

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