It’s Not Easy Opting-In

There is a not-insignificant part of me that is sad I’m not a practicing lawyer anymore. I love my former profession. I hate the way it works in real life.

I was watching one of my favorite shows, The Good Wife, and found myself suddenly weepy.

<— This is Alicia. The whole trigger of the show is that she has to return to practicing law after spending 13 years at home with her kids when her husband is in prison.

This episode, which was many seasons in after Alicia is successful, had flashbacks to the time she spent interviewing for jobs. It didn’t go well. As I watched, I just kept nodding my head.

She’s competent and capable and yet no one will hire her. She steps into an elevator after finding out that the job offer she finally got was to be a paralegal instead of a lawyer. The doors close and she breaks down.

And I broke down, too. 

She lives in television and so her story ended with a job in a good firm. Real life doesn’t work that way. 

I graduated from law school 10 years ago. And nothing since then in my career path has been traditional. I used to look forward to the time when the kids were both in school when our family would be financially stable and I’d be able to go back to law when and where and how I wanted. Work for pennies, work for free, work for a cause I cared about, do something that meant something. But those dreams were dashed.

Getting divorced and suddenly having to support myself and my kids meant I had to dive into the job pool and hope for the best. It involved more than a few breakdowns just like the one I watched on TV. And the chances I’d be able to be a lawyer again? A million to one.

I feel so, so lucky that a few months into this bumpy ride I’ve landed somewhere that’s a good fit for me, where I’m happy to go to work every day. I’m relieved to have a job that will keep me afloat and hopefully send my career on to a completely different path. Again. I feel a little bit like I’m in a tv show. 

The fear is not all the way gone, which is probably why I broke down crying when I was watching The Good Wife. It’s all on me now and that’s the way it’s going to stay. There may be more of those breakdowns some day in my future. I know well enough that being competent and capable won’t seal the deal these days. 

There’s not much point in looking back and wondering if I’d have done things differently. It’s done. I’m here. All I can do now is push forward as hard as I can. 

I don’t feel like I got to opt out. I kept working after I had kids, but found myself as a stay-at-home parent twice when things took an unexpected turn. And opting back in wasn’t a decision I got to make on my own terms either. But if I don’t get to make my own decisions, at least I have the power to respond the best I can.

And after the ups and downs of the last few years I don’t know if I’ll ever feel stable or settled or comfortable for a long time. I can deal with it, and I’m wishing that someday I’ll be able to breathe easy again. But after this year, I’m not positive that will ever happen, no matter how stable I get.

It’s a tightrope walk. And even if I do it long enough that I’m a professional who can walk the thinnest rope, it doesn’t mean you ever get to relax and stop focusing. Maybe it gets easier, maybe it even gets easy, but you’re only one misstep away from losing your balance.


  1. Zoë says

    I don’t watch The Good Wife, but this post resonates with me. I inadvertently “opted out” when I quit my job back in Tennessee to join my husband down in Atlanta, and after numerous applications, I still find myself unemployed almost 10 months later. I may have to leave librarianship to have any hope of getting a job, and that makes me sad. It hasn’t helped that the one job I interviewed for, that I met every qualification and requirement – and then some – where the interview went so well…was given to someone straight out of library school with zero professional experience. It hurts to think they probably chose her because they can pay her less than me.

    But I’ll keep on applying for library jobs, and will go to a temp agency later this year if that doesn’t work out. And once the three year old starts school, I can start subbing and try to get my name out there so a principal will take a chance on me and hire me as their media specialist. That’s if school libraries are still around then. But when I do go back to work, I know I’ll be like you and probably won’t feel stable or settled for a long time either.

  2. says

    If you ever need a reminder about some of the reasons you’re maybe also glad you’re not still a practicing attorney, I know a guy…Once a lawyer, always a lawyer. It’s not something you do, it’s something you are. I think the process of becoming a lawyer changes you permanently somehow. You never see the world the same again. But that’s not always a good thing. Save yourself!

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