No Exit

I’ve come to accept the yearning and melancholy that arises whenever I wake up late and ride the El after 8 AM—that’s rush hour for all the girls with fun, interesting (and ostensibly low-paying) jobs.  They’re all so freaking happy and healthy looking, with their Equinox memberships that they actually use and the kind of tastefully applied makeup and deliberately chosen Yurman bracelets that bespeak never having to rush into work.  Did I forget to mention their endless parade of sparkly two-carat engagement rings in varietal platinum settings?

Needless to say, I didn’t board the El this morning until 8:20 and was already struggling antecedent to the existential crisis I received by a phone call that drove me deeper into my morose and introspective state.  Specifically, a law school girlfriend called to report that she’s contemplating an offer that would mean leaving the practice of law and following a long-deferred dream to work in fashion.

In keeping with our neurotic predilections, we fervently analyzed every aspect of the issue.  The dead horse didn’t get beat, it got dismembered, burned and buried. 

She made a spreadsheet establishing that she could weather the pay cut, we examined the health and long-term growth potential of her prospective employer and the position, constructed hypotheticals involving worst-case scenarios.  We realized none were insurmountable, and we defeated the entries on her “con” list because each led to a logical conclusion of invalidity or insignificance.  So if two of the highest-strung, most-risk-averse girls on the planet couldn’t sniff out any concrete threats, it must mean that my friend is hammering out the details of her new fashion job as I write this—right? 

Absolutely not.  When my phone battery died and the call ended, we were deadlocked.  Apparently there’s an almost intangible aspect to the golden handcuff that imprison us in the miserable world of BigLaw, and it’s more insidious and pervasive than the need for a Van Cleef Alhambra Vintage necklace, a midsize Cartier Tank Francaise, or even a 3BR condo along Lincoln Park West. 

For lack of a precise term of art, we referred to it during our conversation as a fear of “fake jobs.” We defined “fake jobs” as any that lack: (i) six-figure starting salaries; (ii) established and strictly adhered-to promotion paths; (iii) transparent, lockstep salary and bonus structures; (iv) objective means to measure aptitude and proficiency; and (v) any unpredictability whatsoever.  It goes without saying that careers of artistry, creativity or fun miss the prerequisites and are immediately disqualified.

Since we identified the fear, I figured I needed to know where it came from so I could help nudge my friend towards a new, better life.  Augusten Burroughs introduced the concept of using the Bible like a Magic Eight Ball (“Bible dips”) in his memoir Running with Scissors.  “[O]ne person held the Bible while another person thought of a question to ask God, like, ‘Should I get my hair cut short?’ Then the person holding the bible opened it at random, and the person asking the question dropped his or her finger on the page. Whatever word your finger landed on, this was your answer.”

Personally, I prefer Google dips.  The answers are much less cryptic. 

Coincidentally, a desperate Google dip last summer involving the search phrase “What should I do with my life?” led me to the Po Bronson book bearing the same name, which stirred up all sorts of “fake job” fantasies.  The stories of the people in the book left me with the impression that a fulfilling career begins with identifying an interest that stimulates you and then finding a way to make that how you make your living.  Of course, I distanced myself from the people in the book because, unlike me, I saw them as having a definable calling.

Now I understand that my complaint was misplaced.  I’ve always had a calling (photography and writing, if anyone’s keeping track), but I just haven’t embraced it as such because it is a calling that would lead to a “fake job.” My law school friend wasn’t the only one who had deferred a dream in order to secure something “real.” Ergo my crusade to identify the source of the “fake job” fear and thereby eradicate it became personal.

I returned to the almighty altar of Google and entered the following search phrase that seemed to sum up our “fake job” fear: “Pathological need for self-affirmation.”

I kid you not, the very first result linked me to Google books, which contained a page from a book called Paul Tillich and Psychology.  It could not have been more precisely on point.  It explained that “existential anxiety” can’t be eliminated and therefore “must be absorbed into the courage to be.” Attempting to avoid it causes it to resurface as pathological anxiety—which leads to “an insatiable need for security, an unrealistic expectation for perfection, and a misguided need for certainty.”

Whoa.  I felt like I was reading my bio.

I returned to our list of real job prerequisites and realized they were really just ultra-specific ways of saying that a “fake job” is anything that feels insecure, imperfect, and uncertain.  All of which I find intolerable—not because they are, but because of my demanding pathological anxiety. 

Thankfully, this Paul Tillich person also prescribed an antidote.  Rather than fixating on trivial concerns in order to avoid an encounter with full reality and the inevitable doubt built into the human condition, we just need to accept that existential anxiety can’t be eliminated.  Never mind that I have no freaking clue how to even begin to do that, but I was buoyed by the comforting legitimacy of locating both a cause and a cure.

Overcome with excitement, I redialed my friend.  I didn’t even let her finish saying hello. 

“YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT THE FASHION JOB,” I shouted. 

But she interrupted me before the words “existential anxiety” could even leave my mouth. 

“I just accepted!  I totally realized it was a no-brainer,” she squealed.

“Wait—WHAT? What was the deciding factor?  Tell me everything!”

“Well, right now I’ve got two options.  Either stay in law or pull the trigger on the fashion thing.  And all along I thought it was a choice between a ‘real job’ and a ‘fake job’—but then I stopped and thought about how bad the economy is right now and how it has practically shattered the legal market.  Think about it.  Half of our friends have been laid off, and, let’s be honest, there are more coming.  It’s just like in finance!  Investment banking used to be like the quintessential ‘real job,’ and now half of our banker friends are unemployed!  I mean, it finally dawned on me that being a lawyer isn’t even a ‘real job’ anymore! And if I’m picking between two ‘fake jobs,’ then it’s like the easiest decision I’ve ever made!”

So much for embracing the courage to be.  Looks like I won’t have a companion for my upcoming exploration.  I congratulated her and promised that we’d celebrate as soon as I could figure out a night when I’d be able to leave the office before 9:30.  Sighing, I returned to my laptop, Googled “existentialism,” and settled in for a lifetime. 

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Law Firm 10 may lack the dazzling, magnetic charisma of a girl from the hottest sorority in school, but she (arguably) makes up for that with her wit, humor, and low-maintenance-ness. Read more from Law Firm 10.

26 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    June 25, 2009 at 6:20 am

    they pay you, you hate it, it’s a real job.

  2. J

    June 25, 2009 at 6:27 am

    As a former BigLaw minion and currently unemployed soon to be nursing student or “quasi-real job” seeker, you have to toss all of that risk-averse bullshit out of the window and exploit your talents as a writer. Dude, you are a solid writer, no kidding, take it from a person who has explored existentialism through all of the works of Camus and Sartre. Pull the trigger and get out because all you have to choose from right now is a shit-load of “fake jobs!”

  3. Ashley

    June 25, 2009 at 7:47 am

    I agree with J that you are a solid writer.  I only explore this website for the purpose of reading anything new you might have written. 

    I disagree that you have to pull a proverbial trigger to further explore that talent.

  4. Alan

    June 25, 2009 at 8:35 am

    Not sure if you want to leave all of this great stuff behind, but good luck to you if you do.

  5. Anonymous

    June 25, 2009 at 8:51 am

    I wouldn’t quit in this market without a solid offer. But I wouldn’t mind getting a six-month severance.

  6. Bitter and Righteously Indignant

    June 25, 2009 at 9:06 am

    LF10, I’ve read a couple of your posts now. Some were vaguely humorous. Rarely did I identify with your deep seated neuroses.This post blew my mind though. “Fake jobs” are ones without a starting salary over 100k? You’ve got to be joking. You have to be the most stuck up, spoiled, ungrateful, neurotic, selfish, and myopic person I have ever come across.
    You complain about waking at 8 am for a high paying job that gives you a 5k bonus for finding typos in TPS reports! God forbid you should ever get up so early on the El to see the bedraggled women hauling sleepy children slung on their hip to overpriced daycare, hunched over in their clothes from Goodwill or Salvation Army already caked with sweat before even the backbracking work that they must endure has begun; they that get up at 5 am to get to work… the housekeepers, cooks, waitresses, maids and others in the invisible underclass.
    Stop complaing, you overpriviledged brat! At least you and your snotty friend get a ‘choice’ in what glamorous careers you pursue.

  7. Lawless

    June 25, 2009 at 9:13 am

    shouldn’t quit before you really have something solid lined up. fashion?

  8. Anon

    June 25, 2009 at 9:17 am

    There’s no risk-free way to chase your dreams!!!  QUIT!

  9. rolling eyes

    June 25, 2009 at 9:17 am

    bitter and righteously indignant – voted obama, yes?

  10. B&RI;

    June 25, 2009 at 9:54 am

    I’m sorry but if going to BigLaw means having to tolerate whiny princesses like this… I’d rather slit my throat and slowly bleed to death.
    RollingEye, why are you making this about Obama? Must everything be about Obama? Sheesh. You know I am right.

  11. B&RI;

    June 25, 2009 at 9:54 am

    I’m sorry but if going to BigLaw means having to tolerate whiny princesses like this… I’d rather slit my throat and slowly bleed to death.
    RollingEye, why are you making this about Obama? Must everything be about Obama? Sheesh. You know I am right.

  12. Cath

    June 25, 2009 at 10:18 am

    Great.  Writing.

  13. Craig

    June 25, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Nice article as usual. I would think that you writing on the side for bitter lawyer means you have already taken one step toward a new photography/writing career.  I’m not sure where you go from here, but you definitely have some fans, both men and women, who enjoy your writing. Of course, this is all anonymous and for all I know you are a stay at home mom who writes this piece of fiction in your free time.  For all your neurosis, you don’t seem to mind writing for free (I think, maybe you get paid), for someone else’s website where you can’t even take credit because you are anonymous.  I don’t think you are as neurotic as you claim.

  14. Jake

    June 25, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    sometimes it does feel like there is no exit

  15. Anon

    June 25, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    can relate.

  16. CK4L

    June 25, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    dude, wake the f*(& up.  as ferris bueller so memorably stated, “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” break the invisible chains, for that is what they are—invisible.  you made bank (even if just for a few years).  learn to live less like the high maintenance priss you are (or so it seems) and get on with living.

  17. Guano

    June 26, 2009 at 4:36 am

    This woman annoyes me, man.

  18. Robert Smith

    June 26, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Another “where is the princess treatment to which I am entitled?” woman.  Here’s some advice: (1) Marry someone older, with a steady, high-paying job so you can stay at home with kids and rip him off later for spousal support when you’re ‘too old” to work, (hint: you’ll have to settle for someone not that hot,since the hot ones won’t have anything to do with a whiner, but the non-hottie will be grateful and probably let you push him around); (2) Have an affair with your boss to get easier work and bonuses and maybe a lawsuit; (3), quit and work a min wage job to make you realize then how good you have it now; (4), keep working and complaining till they finally reach their annoyance limit and fire you; (5), ..kidding. There is no 5. So do let us know what you decide.

  19. Anon

    June 26, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    I think it will all work out for you LF10

  20. DipDill

    June 27, 2009 at 3:35 am

    “Robert Smith” says it right.  LF10 is a whiny loser who is long in the tooth.  While she may appear pretty to unsuspecting guys once you get closer to her, she becomes just a self-entitled beeotch who is her own best fan.  Other men may be attracted initially by the looks and the money a smart lawyer can have (thoughts of marriage, sex and a great home with a Kathleen Turner in her prime), but believe me, those thoughts vanish after, at most, 24 hours, and after that, a woman like this can only be stomached in very small quantities (i.e. in a bar, for a quickie, or at most, for a 24 hour weekend binge).  I’ve been there, man, with a beeotch like this, and she is NOT long-term material.  That’s why she’s so bitter.  Deep down she knows it.  Before a man would ever settle for this, I’d recommend a physically mediocre woman who adores the man and who knows when to open her mouth.

  21. Ugh

    June 29, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    “Needless to say, I didn’t board the El this morning until 8:20 and was already struggling antecedent to the existential crisis I received by a phone call that drove me deeper into my morose and introspective state.”
    I had an English professor once who correctly identified sentences like this as “verbal masturbation”.  Get over yourself already.

  22. West Coast Assoc.

    July 6, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Good story: could have told it in 250 words.  You are the reason we have page limits.  Thanks.

  23. J. Matthew

    July 17, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    Two months after I took the bar exam, I was diagnosed with brain cancer–at the age of 30.  I had two 9-hour surgeries, the first of which was the day after I was sworn in to the State bar. Two months of radiation therapy followed.  Three years later, I’m still cancer-free.
    You shouldn’t waste even one hour on something that makes you that miserable.  When I got a job, I found out that I hate practicing law.  I don’t do it anymore.  Life is too short, and I’m out to make every minute count.

  24. http://pinkshoelawyer.blogspot.com/

    July 18, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    I love how most of the negative comments focus on the gender of the author.
    As a woman, she can’t complain because she could be at home raising babies? She can have no legitimate professional aspirations?  And because she’s got a brain and some ambition for something better, she’s only “good for a quickie”? 
    Just because you hate your job doesn’t mean we have to, as well.  Freaking losers.  Ask yourself why any reasonably intelligent woman would actually want to hang out with YOU.

  25. Um yeah...

    July 22, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    She is not being attacked for being part of our gender (female) but being a bad representative of our gender. Read her other posts. She is Legally Blonde Redux without being nice…

  26. JP Sartre

    October 15, 2009 at 11:59 am

    What the fuck?
    Have you fucks never asked yourselves these questions before?  Of course you haven’t.  That’s why your lives are what they are.  I have nothing but contempt for you. 
    Your writing is decent and shows potential, but is not something I’d pay for.  If you want to get better, you must quit your job and live like a hobo while you spend all day practicing your craft and living a life that can give you something to write about. Maybe one day you will become an interesting person that people want to hear from.
    This is what it means to be “a starving artist”, not to sleep all day and have no ambition, but to be so ambitious that you’re willing to weather the poverty required in order to have any chance at a pay out, financial or otherwise, later.  Most people do this in their early 20s when they’re fit, young and healthy without having to do anything to get that way.
    But you probably just made jokes about the fashionableness of alternative culture while studying for your LSAT.  You don’t have the true grit required to achieve your dream.  You think doing 13 hour days of menial mind work looking for typos in contracts is hard work.
    You’re kind of pathetic.

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