At 28 years old, I was a corporate attorney making six figures. Sounds pretty awesome, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t even mediocre. It was horrible.
It was horrible for a number of reasons. It all started back in 2014..
- In 2014 I set a goal to get a higher-paying job.
In 2014, I set a goal to get a high-paying job. I achieved this goal in December 2014 and officially started my new job in January 2015. I was so excited and thrilled. I mean I really was happy and thought this was it – I had made it. An associate corporate attorney, making six figures – and I planned to pay off my student loans in five years or less. I couldn’t wait to get started.
I started my job and instantly knew it was not a good fit. I worked non-stop around the clock. Leaving by six was the best-case scenario. Worst case was midnight. And the events after work or during lunch left very little time for anything outside of work at all. Working weekends was the norm. I’m not kidding when I say this – the office had donuts on Saturdays. And if you had work to do in the evening but had to go to a work event, you had to do both. Meaning, after the event you had to go back to the office to finish your work. In April, I worked a month straight late into the night. When asked how many hours I was billing, partners were thrilled at my reply. The more you worked, the better. It’s actually hard to explain how hard I was working and how stressful it was because it’s sort of unbelievable.
I cried a lot. I was exhausted. It was not for me. I know that some people work well in this type of setting – some people are cut out to be deal lawyers and work in private equity. A lot of my coworkers thrived in this setting. But I did not. I literally would think about crashing my car so I could just wake up in a hospital and not have to work. It was a horrible time.
- I talked to a lot of attorneys and most of them were miserable.
Before making any decision, I decided to ask my attorney friends at other firms if they were happy. Out of every attorney I asked, only one attorney who worked at a private firm said he was happy (and he said he leaves work at 5:30pm every day, which is unheard of at many firms, and I think explains his happiness). One group of attorneys who I asked actually was happy – government attorneys. The government attorneys all seemed to be relaxed and happy, despite making less money.
From my very non-scientific research, I decided that this stress and workload was not short-term. In fact, it would most likely continue if I stayed in the private sector. It’s just what is expected of you as a lawyer at a private firm.
- I reflected on my life and what I wanted for it.
With this information in mind, I reflected and thought about my life. I thought about what I wanted. I decided that I didn’t want this life – it wasn’t worth the money. I needed balance. I needed to not have to cancel plans with friends on short notice. I needed time to exercise. I needed time for myself. I didn’t know this before taking the job. If you ask anyone who knows me, I bet you that they say I am one of the hardest workers they know. It wasn’t about working hard. It was about life. I wasn’t living. I was barely surviving. I didn’t know what it was like to work until 9pm-12am for a month straight (getting in at 7:30am).
This experience reminds me of the Mike Tyson quote “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” I thought I was going to work as a corporate attorney and pay off my student loans in five years or less. I thought this new job was it – I was so excited about it. And just when you think you have a good plan, you get punched in the mouth and your plan goes to shit.
- I decided I was deeply unhappy and had to leave.
I decided being unhappy wasn’t worth a six-figure salary — even with six-figure student loan debt. Had I been just “blah” about the job, I don’t know that I would’ve quit. I think I had to be pushed to my breaking point in order to quit because I want to pay off my student loan debt SO bad. I thought I wanted to pay it off more than anything else in the world. But through this experience, I learned that I care more about my emotional health and wellbeing than I do about my debt. I figured that if I’m considering crashing my car into a building, then I should just live with my debt instead of trying to put myself in the hospital.
To come to my decision, I intentionally did not ask for other people’s advice. I had such strong feelings about this job and my career change that I didn’t want people to sway me into a decision that wasn’t right for me. I did, however, seek advice on how to move forward from people who I respect and look up to, including Shannon Ryan from The Heavy Purse, who does what I want to do as a financial planner. I also talked to people who I know have my best interest in mind and who are wise and have a good record of making really good career choices and life choices.
- I created a new career plan — one where I pursue my passion.
From this decision point, I took action. I knew that I had to leave and the sooner the better. I knew that I really wanted to be a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), because that was the next logical step for me to take after writing about personal finance on Financegirl for the last year and a half. I have grown to have a deep passion for personal finance, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Becoming a financial planner will only hone my skills as a blogger and enable me to help people with their money.
It was much easier leaving my career as an attorney knowing that something was pulling me in another direction. I don’t know what I would’ve done had I now know where I wanted to go next in my career.
- I put my plan into action and quit.
After a few interviews, I was hired at a financial firm (where I plan to pursue my CFP® designation). I work from 7am-4pm, Monday – Friday. I feel free. Not only do I love the hours, but I actually love what I’m doing – I enjoy learning about financial planning. I fit in with the culture, which is equally important as fitting in with the subject matter. The stress is less, I’m fully engaged, and I’m happy. Plus, I have time outside of work for friends, family, reading, blogging, running, and anything else that I want to do. It’s amazing.
- I’m happier but it’s not all roses – I took a financial hit.
The only downfall for me is the money. I took more than a 50% pay cut. It actually doesn’t bother me when it comes to standard of living – I’m single, I don’t have kids, I rent an apartment, and I don’t have any consumer debt. The only problem – and it’s a big one – is my massive student loan debt. I need to pay $2,000+ / month on my debt in order to make significant headway on my debt. I haven’t figured that part out yet, but I’m trying!
- No regrets.
I don’t regret my time as a corporate attorney because I never would’ve been so grateful for my job now. I’m truly enormously grateful for my job. In general, I’m not one to say “no regrets” in life – I have regrets (and that’s okay). But this job is not one of my regrets. I went to law school, became a lawyer, and worked really hard all because I thought that’s what I wanted. Then, I figured out that it wasn’t for me. Had I not become a corporate lawyer, I always would’ve regretted it. So, I’m glad I took the job. But, I’m also glad I quit.
A lot of people tell me that quitting was courageous, but I disagree – for me, quitting was the only option to pursue a happy life. And I’m so glad I’m happily pursuing a career as a financial planner, blogger, writer, and online entrepreneur.
If you’re stuck in a job you don’t like, I highly recommend you learn how to start a blog — it’s something you can do while you still have a regular nine to five. It has changed my life!