Half-way through my pre-life crisis


Guest post by George (aka Goodnight Thief).  

Telling the partner of a top-tier international law firm that I needed a break was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

I felt like I was throwing away eight years of study, four internships and a job in the oversaturated legal market.  It didn't help that, when deciding whether or not to approach my boss, the common feedback from friends and colleagues was a derisive "Why?".  I heard comments like- "It will look bad on your resume" and "You might lose your job".

They were fair points.  Something like less than 3% of all applicants will get a graduate job at my work.  And I had barely worked there for 18 months full-time.  Would my request be seen as a personal weakness?  Would it tell everyone that I was not cut out for the rigours of corporate law?  Would my absence show them that I wasn't needed?

Luckily, I had many friends, colleagues and family who disagreed.  My dad summed it up best when he said, "You've worked hard to get the qualifications and no one can take them from you - just figure out how to make them work for, and not against, you."  I gave work one month's notice to my supportive boss, and he granted me a six month leave of absence.

I am approaching the halfway point of my LOA and I just wanted to reflect on what I have learned during this time:

  1. I had to reframe my risk aversion

All lawyers are risk-averse and conservative - it makes us diligent and conscientious advisors.  But it also means that we're less likely to innovate and we find it difficult to change careers.

I was having coffee with a lawyer friend last week and she explained that, despite how much she disliked her work, she wouldn't consider a break because she "couldn't do anything else".  Whenever I think this, I remind myself that I wasn't born a lawyer.  Yes, I have spent nearly a decade studying and practising it, but that's a fraction of the 40+ years that I'll be working for (unless I, fingers crossed, win Powerball).

So I reframed my risk aversion - I realised that taking a break was the least risky decision I could make.  I was a junior lawyer at the start of my career.  If I didn't take a break, I could be burnt out in a few years, or be living with the uncertainty of not knowing if this was the career for me.

Plus, Steve Jobs left Atari to take a spiritual journey around India and returned and founded Apple.  Just saying.

  1. Buying happiness didn't work for me

I started my break with no money.  Nothing.

I had spent all my earnings on stuff - clothes, food, drinks, gadgets.  It gave me something to look forward to at work - I always needed something in the mail.  I was stuck in this absurd loop of having to spend money to be able to endure work to earn money.

Not only was I going broke, but I was being crushed by the mental weight of all my belongings.  I found a melon baller when I was cleaning up my apartment.  A melon baller.  Having perfectly symmetrical spheres of melon did not make me happy.

Since then I have been selling or giving away these superfluous belongings, and it feels incredibly liberating.  Not having money has taught me that I never really needed it to be happy.  I'm back enjoying my hobbies (like painting), rather than trying to buy happiness.

  1. A break was the only way

I realise that I could afford to leave work - I don't have children, I don't have a mortgage, and I didn't even have a persisting lease.  But at that point in my life, I needed to make a drastic change.  I needed to engage in some serious self-reflection and life admin that I knew I couldn't do working with the demands of the legal profession.

Three months on, and I'm the happiest I have been in a long time.  Sure, I don't have money or a fixed address, but it's given me freedom and time to hit the big issues.  I have no idea what the next three months holds, but I can't wait.

I'm not writing this as a tease or to suggest that it's the only solution - rather, just some gentle support to anyone who is in the head-space that I was.  I needed the support of everyone, and so if you have any comments or questions, please contact me.


Goodnight Thief is George's painting side project.  Check out his work here.