Why I’m Returning to Law After a Career Break
Quitting your job and still having enough money to live a rich life – it’s the dream right? I did just that in 2019. And I don’t regret it. But that period of my life is ending – I found a new job that I’m excited to start. Here’s why I’m excited to return to law after a career break.
The Back Story
For seven years, I was living the glamorous and not-so-glamorous life of a litigator in a midsized firm.
I had never planned to quit my job without anything else lined up. But I’m the daughter of immigrants so my finances were in order. After paying off my law school debt, I saved and invested more than 50% of my income every year. Even though I’m not actually a FIRE (Financial Independent Retire Early)-enthusiast, my lifestyle was similar.
For two years, I was on a career break. I discovered and rediscovered hobbies – like reading, the crossword puzzle, and playing the piano (basically the things you would expect from an Asian English major). Before the pandemic, I traveled, attended a few weddings, and started this blog. But mostly, I rested and thought about my career and life trajectory. And it certainly crossed my mind that I could become one of those “I retired at age 35 and so can you!” peeps. I also considered a career pivot into a differently industry. But instead, I chose to go back to work in law, and I’m really excited about it.
So what happened?
Here is some of what was going through my mind during my break.
1. My Job Wasn’t The (Only) Problem
One of the main reasons I quit my job was because my health was suffering. My hair was falling out, I had dark circles under my eyes, and I had this nagging pain in my left thigh whenever I sat down. The kicker was that I had lost my appetite. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but my mother and doctor did.
I wanted to believe that after a break, I’d be in perfect shape, with sunkissed skin, Kate Middleton-hair, and a hearty appetite. And that didn’t necessarily turn out – because that’s actually a lot of work and money, and I never cared enough to do them. After two years off, my hair is fine and my dark circles are gone. Still, I have some pain in my thigh and I don’t have much appetite. Time off (and concerted effort) didn’t solve these problems. The job and stress weren’t to blame for these problems sticking around.
Granted, I couldn’t and didn’t want to stay in my job. But a big part of the reason I was leaving was I thought working in law was killing me. It wasn’t entirely true. Much of my pain is just aging (ack!). And I’ve learned some better methods to mitigate the problems.
I’m someone who can be oblivious about their own health, i.e. I missed my appendix bursting. My new job won’t have the time demands that the old one did. But it was important to me that for once in my life I put my health as a priority. And I feel that it’s in a good place now
2. My Career Wasn’t the Problem, Either
Part of the reason I, and many others, became lawyers was to make a difference. And then somehow we get stuck in law firms, trading our lives for cushy paper-pushing jobs. It’s hard to give up because, well, the money.
A turning point for me during my break was working on a pro bono compassionate release motion a few months ago. It felt great to write again, and to flex my skills for something meaningful. (Also it feels great to win!).
I was reminded that I never had a problem with the work. I just had a problem with the hours and the environment.
3. Early Retirement Is Not For Me (Right Now)
I never meant to quit my job altogether. But I had certainly entertained the idea. FIRE is a big trend in the personal finance world and I have always wanted to be on-trend.
I’m not trying to say early retirement is a bad thing. But at this place in my life, it’s not what I want. It would probably be different if I was married and had kids, or needed to take care of sick family members. I think I do better with structure, I miss work, I miss going to work. And the beauty of early retirement or any kind of retirement is that it’s not irreversible. I can go retire later when my circumstances have changed or when I’ve changed.
4. A Sabbatical Isn’t Career Suicide
A legal recruiter’s “pep talk” to me was not to worry about my obvious weakness, which she pinpointed as my time off. This wasn’t as peppy a talk as I think she thought she was giving. But I didn’t let it get me down because the time off didn’t seem to affect my job search.
The legal recruiter wasn’t giving me a pep talk for my very first job interview. Except for a few months into lockdown, I had interviews pretty consistently. Granted, I didn’t get selected for those other jobs, but the point was that I got to the interview stage with the gap clear as day on my resume. And I didn’t get asked a lot about the gap in my interviews either.
There’s certainly the fear that once you start talking about the time off, that’s all people will focus on, but that wasn’t my experience. It might be because I’m a woman of a certain age where taking time off is natural. It could also be that the fear of the gap is most prominent for those that don’t have a long work history. I certainly can’t say that if you take a career break you definitely won’t have problems finding a new job. I can say, it’s not inevitable that your career will tank after taking time off. And for it to be normalized, more people have to take time off. I’m happy if my career break makes it easier for others to take time off.
Conclusion -Why I’m Returning to Law After a Career Break
After college, I took a year off to travel in China. In the back of my mind, I had these lofty goals of using this trip to springboard my career. In reality, the best part of the career break was the time on break itself. Sometimes we think so instrumentally with our life. I’m doing this in order to have a better chance to get that. But for me, my career breaks were the experience living them.