I Walked Away from My Law Career to Save My Health
After years of hard work, I had my dream job as an Attorney. So, why wasn’t I happy?
Today, we live in a culture where being busy is glorified. Working long hours means you’re ambitious and #hustling. It’s seen as a good thing. But what happens when you begin to sacrifice your health (physical and mental) for the glory of being busy?
In 2012, I became an attorney. After years in law school, tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and bar exam fees, and countless hours of studying, I was sworn in as an attorney licensed in the State of California. I soon began work as an Associate Attorney at a small law firm in Los Angeles. When I met people and they asked me “What do you do?” I would reply with a nonchalant “Oh, I’m a lawyer.” They were always impressed and lauded me with compliments, “What an accomplishment for someone so young!” “You must be so proud!” I was proud. I was proud that my husband and my family were proud of me too.
So, why wasn’t I happy?
Right away, the work-life balance was a challenge. Working in downtown Los Angeles meant long commutes on constantly jammed freeways. As the only junior associate in the office, I always had piles of assignments on my desk. As the only woman attorney in the office, I felt I had nobody to relate with. After a few months, I began to feel worn down. Every memo I wrote came back slaughtered in red pen.
The Impostor Syndrome hit me hard and self-doubt plagued me with every assignment.
Soon, I found myself breaking down at work. I cried at my desk. I cried in the bathroom. I cried every evening when I got home. My husband was confused and in dismay. My friends and family told me it would get easier, I just had to stick it out. I told myself they were right.
So, I worked even harder. I stayed late and worked weekends and holidays. I worked late into the night on my birthday, missing my own birthday dinner.
But, it didn’t get better. It got worse. I saw a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I took meds. I gained weight. My marriage suffered. I felt myself spiraling into a black hole. I began calling out sick because I literally could not get out of bed. But, the thought of leaving law made me even more sick.
How could I walk away from something that had taken years and tens of thousands of dollars for me to achieve? I could I let down everyone who supported me and believed in me?
I couldn’t. So, I continued.
For a year, I became an expert in how to be a functioning depressive. Nobody knew how bad it was. Nobody but me and my husband, who was having to piece me back together after every breakdown.
Then, one day while driving to work on the freeway in rush hour, I had a panic attack. Fearing I would get myself into an accident, I pulled over and tried to get myself together. But it was like I was frozen. Ashamed, I called work and called out sick. Once I felt it was safe for me to drive, I went home.
Soon after that, I decided to leave my job. Not only my job, I left my career as a lawyer. I was afraid I would feel fear and regret from leaving, but I only felt joy and relief. I ended up finding a role in legal consulting and sales, which allowed me to utilize my education and experience.
I became less anxious. I was excited to go to work again. I wanted to see friends and go places. I was happy again. Leaving my law career was a hard decision, but as soon as I made it, I knew it was the right decision for me. Even if friends and family didn’t quite understand, they were supportive.
Now, almost five years later, I can look back and say I don’t regret making that choice. Leaving law may well have truly saved my marriage and my life.
So, what can you do if you think your work is making you depressed?
1. Make Human Connections
These days, it’s so easy to become isolated and think that social media counts as human interactions. But, there’s no substitute for the real thing. Hang out with friends. Call and actually speak to someone you care about, even if it’s just to catch up. And, as hard as it is, don’t be afraid to open up and say “I’m having a hard time.” You never know if there are others in your work or community going through the same thing. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family.
2. Set Check-In Milestones
How do you know if you’re having a bad day, a bad week or if it’s something more? If you’re getting anxiety about work or anything else, make a mental note or an actual reminder on your phone to check in a week or a month from now. Assess how your feelings have changed during that time period. If a month has passed by, do you still get anxiety when going to work? Is it better or worse? Your stress or anxiety could be related to a specific project rather than the job itself. Take time to check with yourself and evaluate your emotions before deciding you “just hate your job.” If it’s something specific, then you can make changes to try and improve it before making a drastic decision to leave.
3. Seek Help
If you think you are depressed or have anxiety, don’t be scared to check out the many resources available to you via helplines, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org) or even on your phone. Apps like Talkspace allow you to have on-demand therapy sessions with actual therapists.
Listen to yourself and your body. If something in your life is making you sick every day, then don’t be afraid to stand up for your own health and well-being and make a change. Sometimes, the scariest decision of your life may turn out to be the best thing you will ever do for yourself.