Slate today decides to tackle the age-old question of the mid-life crisis.
No, not the one about how to boost your criminally underfunded retirement account and no, not the one about which red sports car to drive either. I’m talking about the one where you’re finally past all your education and schooling and training and first-year jitters, you’re set in a solid career that pays the bills and takes care of yourself and any kids you may have, and you’re wondering: is that all there is?
Writer L.V. Anderson profiles a lawyer “Ann” with an admittedly boring-sounding legal job who’s always longed to do nonprofit and altruistic work. After rattling off some of the usual scary stats about how Ann is lucky to have a legal career at all in a market glutted with newly minted law students, Anderson notes how hard it is to find paying, altruistic legal work — i.e., to have your cake and eat it too — with the implication that the vast majority of lawyers wind up in corporate or tax law or something similarly dry. And Ann does not have the latitude or the time to do anything on the side beyond a little volunteering at an animal shelter. Finally, we get to the “is that all there is” midlife question, as framed by established, upper-middle-class people everywhere:
“Am I crazy to want to give up a stable job at a reputable law firm to try to find my ‘passion’?”
Neither lawyers nor anyone else is crazy to want this. And despite what Anderson writes, this is hardly an issue specifically for lawyers. Accountants, professors, engineers and (ahem) doctors wonder this sort of thing all the time. Of course it’s not crazy to dream about cutting loose, running off from your day job, and having fun doing what you actually want.
Anderson spends the rest of her article painting this as some sort of lawyer-specific problem, but it really isn’t. I too sometimes daydream about such things — quitting the whole doctoring thing to just write full-time. Another guy I know would rather be a fulltime, professional gambler. I once knew a surgeon who gave that career up to become a chef. (I hope for his sake, he had millions already saved up to live off of.)
The reality is, hardly anyone gets to enjoy the “cool” careers. As I talked about here, everyone thinks they really belong in some kind of “creative” field, or else in an altruistic field like Ann up there. The sobering counterexample in my previous post: some guy who gave up his job to become a writer, experiencing nothing but rejection and poverty in return. He was not a special snowflake, after all.
And the joke’s on him. Even people who do “make it” as an activist or a writer or film actor or what have you have 95% of their work consumed in repetitive tasks just as mundane as filing legal briefs or doing medical charts. Hell, not even Jennifer Lawrence gets to spend the majority of her life posing on the red carpet or living it up at Oscars afterparties. I’m guessing that getting made up as Mystique every day of shooting for an X-men movie is not exactly as fun as it looks.
Also, here’s someone more successful than the above guy at writing — but purely because her husband is sponsoring her. As in, someone’s still stuck at the boring day job. While on the subject of Salon, an uncreative hack of theirs named Arthur Chu is only able to be a writer because he’s living off winnings from a remarkable run at the Jeopardy! game show. (Which is great, don’t get me wrong, but beating Alex Trebek doesn’t exactly translate to wordsmithing.)
So, basically, if you’re working a day job like me to survive and don’t enjoy the luxury of either a spouse or else independent wealth to live off of, the chances of making even close to the same amount of money “following your dreams” is almost nil. Not unless you have some fantastic, guaranteed connection to exploit, like you’re best friends with the CEO of the Red Cross or your dad owns a baseball team.
So instead of stupidly quitting my day job and trying to submit pieces up until getting evicted from my home, I write as a hobby. On this very blog. That’s how it goes. Having a stable, long-term career may seem sucky, but not as sucky as NOT having one. Just ask one of the tens of thousands of law grads who would kill to have Ann’s oh-so-boring corporate law job.