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Monday, January 21, 2013

Lowering expectations

I've been thinking a lot about the subject of expectations lately.

I think it's time to have realistic expectations about my career. I need to stop looking at it as something that was supposed to be this amazing, rewarding, magical thing, and look at it for what it really is -- when you boil it down, it's a service one does for compensation. I take pride in it, do my best at it, and find personal value in it, but at the end of the day, I'm much more than any one thing and certainly more than my job.

There was a casual conversation I had with an older female attorney a few weeks back.  I don't recall most of the conversation, but I'd mentioned that I have friends who work at either very demanding midsize firms and in Big Law, who are very dissatisfied with their situations because they're working themselves to death.  Her response was pretty much that our generation doesn't think they should have to work hard, that working all those hours is just "what you do," and that's that.  (This from someone who left Big Law to raise kids.)  Ugh.  And this isn't just a "having kids issue"; one of my friends working themselves ragged is a single male. 

Maybe it is a generational difference, and doing nothing but working was what the past generation just did without question.  But to hell with that.  Life's too short to spend every waking moment working, and while I definitely don't get paid enough to do so, I wouldn't want the pay to do so either.  If I'm working all the time, what am I going to spend it on?  Designer clothes to wear to work 16 hours a day?  A luxury car to drive to and from work?  Really awesome vacations that I could take, but won't, because I can never get enough time off?  An enormous house that I never get to spend time in because I'm at work 16 hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week?  Also, it'd be one thing to work that much and be paid big bucks, it's another entirely to work that much and not make big bucks.  Like my old firm that paid its younger associates in the 40s, and then upped the billable hour requirement to 2000 (and that's the hours the insurance companies actually paid... they would often cut down the bills we'd submit... uh, if my ass was in that deposition for 5 hours, by the gods, you'd better be paying that 5 hours).  Hell no. 

So, I work my 40 hours at my [sometimes rather dull nonprofit job], and then I go home.  Granted, I also have an ethical duty to my clients, so there are times when I've had to work more to get stuff done, but that's exception not the rule.  But it feels really good to be converting my desk at home to something not work-related.  Tonight after the kids go to bed, I'm going to watch more Game of Thrones, and work on Cora's tulle skirts and "mouse ears" for ballet class (they're doing excerpts from "Nutcracker").  Tomorrow night, I'm going to the "law ladies" mixer, and then to orchestra rehearsal.  I expect to fill my life with things I enjoy. 

The expectations we have for others is also a topic of conversation.  Husband seems to be losing touch with the fact that he was (and still is) a completely apathetic student, whose give-a-shit meter has always been on empty.  So, he is often appalled by his own students' complete lack of effort.  Dude, I just expect my students to show up and do the work I give them.  I assign some reading, and tell them to "skim" it, because I know they aren't going to actually read it.  He's only doing the doctorate because he wants to teach graduate students.  Somehow, he thinks they'll care more/be smarter.  He seems to forget that his current classmates are his graduate students.  And his current undergraduate students (seniors) are his next year's graduate students.  As a professor, you can expect your students to show up.  You can expect them to complete assignments.  You can expect them to take exams.  You should not expect them to 1. Pay attention; 2. Enthusiastically participate (even in law school... you can keep Socratizing me, but you can't make me actually know anything about the material); or 3. Give two shits.  Yes, they (or someone else) paid for them to be there.  Yes, they need to pass your class to graduate.  No, that does not mean they are excited to be there.  Do not expect enthusiasm.  And if any of your students *are* enthusiastic, you will probably hate those students the most.  Good times.  Reminds me why I probably shouldn't be thinking about getting a doctorate myself, perusing the Public Health course list.  My give-a-shit meter is definitely on empty!  (Haha, Biostatistics, geez.)


Melissa said...

My husband and I have this conversation all the time. He and I are about 3 years apart in age. I'm 33. I expected and still do expect my job to be completely fulfilling. I should say my career. And when it isn't, i'm utterly devastated and upset. What's the purpose of it all? I'm still working through to get to the point where I can accept and be ok with ahving a well round life - developing my other interests.

CM said...

I do think it's a generational difference, and I get why people of an older generation resent ours for not wanting to devote ourselves as completely to work... but like you, I think our priorities are more in order.

$40K for 2000 hours??!!! HOW could they get away with that? That's 20 bucks an hour!!

Proto Attorney said...

Over-saturated market where people are just lucky to have a job, you end up at the mercy of greedy people. And once people start getting used to higher billing requirements for lower pay, it becomes the new norm.

Anna D. said...

Yeah, previous generations probably expected to work more hours. (We found my dad - born in 1921 - in a in 1940 census, which told us that he had worked 60 hours that week at his gas station job.) But previous generations didn't pay the equivalent of $100-200K just to attend law school. Previous generations were much more likely to be able to get by on one income, too. And if we expect to have different priorities, where did that come from, if not the people who raised us? (who either are the older generation, or were raised by the older generation.)

(Full disclosure: can't even come close to claiming millenial status, I'm firmly Gen-X.)