I am forty-eight years old. I am a Michigan-licensed attorney who practiced law in the metropolitan Detroit area for twenty-one years. From 2001 to 2007, I was a hard-working, high-billing litigation attorney in an employment law firm, the fifth firm I had worked for during the course of my career, earning a six figure income and generous yearly bonuses. Although I can honestly say that I never really “loved the law,” as do many attorneys, I fully expected to continue plugging along on this same career path for another twenty years. While I had always harbored a deep-seated desire to write a book before I died, feeling that if I didn’t accomplish that I would die with regret, I pushed that desire to the side for the last two decades and even had myself convinced that I could otherwise “die happy.” I just could not envision a life without “lawyering.” I had been at it too long and a law degree is not something that one just tosses aside.
Without warning, however, life happened. In December 2006 I was told that I would be receiving a large bonus but not a salary increase because the sole corporate client I worked for was struggling financially and the firm’s future with that client was unstable. Then in January 2007, without reason or explanation, one individual associated with that client became disgruntled with me personally, and my entire caseload was ripped out from under me. With no other clients or business to tend to, I resigned from the firm. The day I walked out was the first day in years I felt myself breathe. I never shed a tear. I never mourned the loss of the job or the work. I missed my boss, for he was and still is a good man, but the enormity of relief that flooded every cell in my body was the proverbial red flag that life in the firm had not been “life affirming.”
For most of my adult life I have been influenced by outside negative forces, always feeling inferior and always defining myself by what others thought or said about me.
Admittedly, there were many days when I felt like a huge failure, but gradually, I considered that perhaps I didn’t fail the profession; it was the profession that failed me.
For the next six weeks, I went to the gym, met my lawyer friends for lunch, and yes, began buying and reading a magazine called MORE, something I had first discovered in a doctor’s office waiting room. I was shocked when a recruiter called to say a firm was looking for a part time, temporary contract attorney in my field of employment law. I agreed to have her submit my name as a candidate, but was not overly excited to get back in the business. When I received an offer and accepted it, I did so not for financial reasons, but because as a contract employee I would not be married to the firm, would not have to bill a defined number of hours, and would have the freedom to come and go as I pleased. The flexibility of this job would allow me to reach deep inside and ponder what to do next.
I began absorbing every article in MORE and other magazines that referred to “second acts” or “reinventing” oneself, terms I had never heard of before. The stories of other women who had hit speed bumps in life and used it to turn their lives around were compelling and inspiring. I began to feel less like a failure and more like a person who had just been handed an opportunity.
While still working as a contract attorney, I applied to become an arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association. This much I knew: I no longer wanted to be a legal advocate, but wanted to keep a toe in the profession to some degree. Arbitration was an attractive option. I solicited the required letters of recommendation and completed the demanding essays as to why I thought I was qualified to serve as an arbitrator. My application was accepted and I completed an intense training period. This process rebuilt my confidence and confirmed that all was not lost.