02 September 2008

Milk vs. Organic Milk

A while back, my amazing friend Heather was stuck in a dead-end job with a psychotic boss (to say the least).  When she finally took her self-respect and left, she had the best leaving line I've ever heard...when the boss begged her not to leave, she retorted, "Honey, this job is the difference between me putting milk and organic milk on the table."  

Amazing, right?  Right!

Lately I've been thinking about those little quality of life differences:  Whole Goods vs. Kroger, Macy's clearance rack v. Ann Taylor, Z-Spa manicure vs. painting my nails at home.  More importantly, I've been asking myself how much they really matter.

This year, I have a major decision to make:  Firm or Non-Profit/Public Advocacy group?  And does choosing one mean the end of any type of career in the other?  To hear the law school gods speak is to think the answer is yes.  Whether that's true or not isn't really even relevant to my decision...I'm more concerned with the salary choice.  Choosing what makes me happy--working for a group dedicated to bettering the lives of others--means choosing milk over organic milk.  Actually, when my student loans are factored in, it might mean choosing milk every-other week instead of every week.  And no more half-and-half either. 

Two things are pointing me toward a definitive decision:

1. When I read job descriptions for firms, I am overwhelmingly bored and have to tell myself, "You could do it for a few years.  Really, you can handle 3 or 4 painful, boring, miserable, self-defeating years."  But when I read job descriptions at places such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, or at my internship at Legal Aid, I get really excited.  I am motivated to work.  When I think about the long hours I will inevitably be working, they seem less painful when I have a cause to fight for.  Those job descriptions make my eyes light up.  Firm descriptions make me look at my bank account and say, "Well, I should...."

2. In Chile, I really learned that living with less is better all around--less complicated, less stressful, less guilt.  Do I really need 5 variations of what is essentially the same black pencil skirt?  And moreover, does it make me any less of who I am if I have less material things?  I think the answer is absolutely not.  It's so easy for we women to be swept up in fashion and makeup and good haircuts and having the best party dress.  Or at least for me it is.  Maybe that's a character flaw of mine.  But I'm learning that those things really don't reflect who I am.  In Chile, I often went around sans-makeup (ok, ok, I can't give up my mascara) and wearing the same sweater all week.  I brought 2 pairs of pants and 6 dress shirts for 5 weeks of work, and  the thought, "oh my god!  I wore this last week!" never really crossed my mind.   In short, my appearance became much less important than the experience I was having.  (I could write an entire separate post on this...and just might!)

Those two things should speak volumes to me.  Sometimes you just have to take the road that works best for you, even if that road is filled with bumps and devoid of organic milk.  

Like all recent law school graduates, I'm positive my first few working years will be full of stress, long hours, and nights spent crying into my wine glass (note:  two things are certain in law school--you will drink, and you will cry).  But at least I will (hopefully) be able to wake up each morning and be proud of the work I'm doing....Even if I have to wear the same skirt and drink black coffee.


heather said...

It's a hard line to walk between dreams and practicality. The hard truth is, I am able to make the distinction between not working (and drinking Kroger-brand milk)and working (and getting organic milk from Whole Foods) because R. has chosen the corporate life, which gives me the luxury to choose my path.

I wish you nothing but luck and happiness, my love. I am certain that you will find your path.

My personal suggestion is that it is always easier to pursue a life of service-based practice after a few years in private practice. You will have substantial experience as an attorney, will be able to do the most good for the organization (be it regulatory/agency work, or direct courtroom experience) and will have the satisfaction of a full range of legal experience. Easier said than done, I know...

Katie said...


i hope you don't think i was referring to corporate careers as wrong/evil! Simply just not for me. I should also add (in all honesty) i just don't have the brains that R does...

if i could find a private practice that fits--small and let's me do meaningful immigration/family cases, i'd probably be all over it. but truth be told, my lovely little city doesn't really offer much in that way unless your daddy's daddy was born here and goes duck huntin' with the partner's brother....

i figure it will all work out. i'm keeping my eyes peeled for anything that peaks my interest and then throwing my resume to the wind!

heather said...

Oh, of course not. I just meant that it's a hard, hard balance between what you want and what you need. And that the tradeoff of financial/ideological is a balance at every stage!

I am so excited for you and believe you will find something great!!!


Lauren said...

OK, so, I'm just now reading this, and I really wish I'd read it sooner, because I understand your position.

I've never wanted to work for a big firm. I have no interest in the type of work those firms do, I'm much more interested other things, and I don't want to spend the next few years of my life completely miserable with my day-to-day existence. (I've been doing that for the last three, thank you very much) That, compounded with my GPA (which isn't horrible, but isn't what it could be because I don't care enough) pretty much precludes the big firm option. Yet at the same time, there's a part of me that's tempted by the idea of making $90,000 a year....especially after three years of not making anything. I've been spending the last week weeks trying to decide "what I want to be when I grow up", and there are so many things that play into that decision. So yeah. I feel ya, girl.

Like Heather said, I'm confident you'll find something great.