Corporate law can evoke images of towering glassy skyscrapers, fast walking, fast talking and deal making. Even the mountains of paperwork and late nights are made to look glamorous against a backdrop of twinkling city lights. Well, actually, behind the shiny marble reception, if you’re not careful or if you’re too willing, corporate law will take more and more of you, fostering what can be quite a sad existence.
This is how it happens. You’re a junior lawyer amongst junior lawyers. You have a budget to meet. The only way you’re going to meet that budget is if you’re allocated work from the partners, who only want to work with the brightest, the fastest, the most dependable, the ones that never say no. So you work hard and you never say no. Soon you’re working 14 hour days. Then you’re working a weekend now and then. The next thing you know it’s a public holiday here and there. It’s not that anyone is expressly asking this of you, but you know that if you don’t, you’re not going to make that deadline that you said you were going to make.
So, you haven’t said no. You’re exhausted and running on caffeine and various 7 Eleven snacks. You’re sitting in artificial lighting in the middle of the night whilst cleaners vacuum around you. You’ve lost count of the late night taxi rides and the cancelled plans. You’re terrified that one more urgent task is going to come in and that’s the task that’s going to undo you. And what if you get sick? It’ll all come crashing down. But how can you say no? To say no is to admit you don’t have what it takes. To say no is to let down that partner who has come to rely on you.
It’s not just you either. You stumble upon a colleague crying in the bathroom because she’s got so much on and had to turn a client away. You hear that the guy that just made partner lost 12 kilos this year because he forgets to each lunch most days. Don’t get me wrong, there is immense satisfaction to be had from doing work you’re passionate about, work that years ago you dreamed that you would do, but the pressure remains.
This has been my last 3 months and I didn’t even know I was basically on autopilot, until I wasn’t. The work had finally relented a little and I had become more proactive about managing expectations and setting boundaries. It was a sunny day that did it. I had managed to make it outside to sit in a city park with my takeaway sushi. Suddenly I felt this strange feeling spreading. It was particularly strange because it made me realise how long it had been since I had felt much of anything.
Since then, it’s happened again. Dancing with friends at the work Christmas party, kayaking on a summer’s night, listening to a YouTube playlist, just walking down the street. I felt it again. Hope. Hope that I’ll be able to find space for myself outside of work. Hope that the little things can fill me with joy, that for the downs, there will be ups. So bring on a wintery Christmas in Ireland, hot chocolates and brisk walks. Bring on a warm Aussie summer, salt, sand and lime gelato by the beach. Bring on deigning to look up from my phone on the train and remembering that life is going by faster than ever. And bring on those long days and deadlines too. They won’t get me this time because I have a firmer grasp on all the things I’m keeping for myself.
That Career Girl
As a fellow corporate law junior, I hear you! If you haven’t read Lisa Pryor’s ‘The Pinstripe Prison’ yet you definitely should – sheds some light on how hard we work ourselves and why.
I hope you have had a little break over the holiday season. Keep up the blog! It’s a good creative outlet (and – selfishly – I love reading it!)
Thanks ST, I’m having a great break at the moment, I don’t know how I’m going to go back! I will definitely check out the Lisa Pryor book, thanks for the recommendation.