I Reenter the Workforce

by F.

Today I started a new job—a real job, where I, like, go to a tall building where I have an office and have an employer who withholds taxes and there’s a cafeteria and free (bad) coffee and there are secretaries outside my office worrying about some disaster in Nowhereville, USA, (I think it was a tornado) that took the lives of three hamsters and a goldfish, and they’re busy calling relatives. That sort of thing. And my gut reaction?

Pretty fun. I’m smiling ear to ear. My serotonin-meter is redlining.

It’s a part time gig, with little risk for either me or my employer (my old law firm which I left to go to A Giant Company), but I have a reasonable billing rate and still make a good hourly wage. After not practicing law for some 14 months, I have to say that law is a great business. Anyone who is a lawyer should thank the gods that they can practice, because there just are not that many businesses that are so civilized. Compared to being buried in the org chart of some giant company, I’ll take practicing law any day. In fact, that’s just what I’ve done. We’ll see if it works. It’s all about experimenting. I made a rational choice when I left my firm, but it is, truly, nice to be back.

Of course, the question is, Why did I go back? Ah, yes, good question grasshopper.

I didn’t, technically, need the money. I could have done something much less lucrative, like sell chainsaw sculptures of barnyard animals, or be a masseuse or a cat sitter. But I learned a couple of things over the last year or so, which I spent mostly alone thinking big thoughts and writing them down, trying to figure out what had happened to me the last 40 years and what was likely to happen the next 50 or so. I think I learned that:

1. Like most social animals, I’m status conscious. Yes, I’m surprised, too. But there you go.

2. I like to do things worth doing. I don’t believe in the labor theory of capital—where, just because you do something means it’s worth doing. It’s not. Poetry doesn’t pay because poetry is practically worthless. Sorry, but it’s true.

3. I had a big bundle of human capital in that chunk of tofu that is my brain that was wasting, and that felt irrational.

4. I need the stimulation provided by other social animals. It’s not an accident that social animals have larger brains than non-social animals. All those crazy people with which you interact at work are more stimulating than any Brain Age game for the Nintendo DS.

5. I like going to the zoo, and the workplace is the ultimate one. And you get payed to go visit the animals. You can even feed them.

6. Variety is good. I’m reminded of how Posner looks at his job as a federal judge:

Don’t feel sorry for me. The work I do is fun…. As far as my judicial work is concerned, federal appellate judging is a gas (to place a bit of circa 1970 slang back into circulation), because the cases are so varied, so eye-opening, and, often, so weird. Truth really is stranger than fiction, because writers of fiction try to be plausible, and reality has no …

I love variety, which may be another name for being impatient.

And there’s more about this particular gig, like not having a boss. It’s so funny when people who don’t know about law firms think they’re like companies. Having worked in both, I can tell you: they’re not. At all. A partnership is a totally different thing. They are far more meritocratic than companies, because there’s this thing called your share. It means: what you are worth. You can’t bullshit anyone about it. Everyone knows how much you brought in. You can’t say, “Oh, I only billed 2 hours last year, but I brought in all sorts of goodwill from such-and-such a client.” None of that kabuki theater stuff works. You can’t do some Jedi mind trick. The share committee says, “Mneh.” If you make money, you get money; if you don’t, you don’t. Which is the way it should be.

Of course, In 6 months I may be bitching about all these same thing. But that’s the way it goes. Just one experiment after another. Right now I’ll enjoy it.