Two and-a-half years ago, I gave up an excellent paying job with a big law firm because of a very simple reason: I burned out. After four and-a-half years of logging an average of fourteen billable hours a day, I got tired, and I wanted my life back. I lost count of the number of times when I actually cried because I simply had so much work. And I wasn't just being a pussy back then. The workload simply overwhelmed me, and I wilted. And so, I walked away and left the big firm, grimly determined that there would be no looking back.
Convinced that I was doing the right thing, I took a massive pay-cut and joined a small firm. From an office that had close to 60 lawyers and that probably was (and still is) the highest-paying in the country, I moved to one that had 13 lawyers, and that would pay me roughly one-third of what I made in the big firm. Still, I was confident because the small firm was ran by people I trusted, and because, after all, I was not a stranger to life in a small firm. You see, before I joined the big firm, I started my career in law in another firm. Let's call it the medium-sized firm, because it had 25 lawyers. I spent close to four years with the medium-sized firm, and there I formed lasting friendships. Eventually, the medium-sized firm split up into three firms, one of which was the small firm (this is getting confusing, no?). I was going to be with good friends who also happened to be darn good lawyers. How could anything possibly go wrong?
Four months into my stint with the small firm, it was already evident that I made a huge mistake. Almost everything was wrong. Still, I only say almost because there was in fact one thing that went right: I got hooked on running. I had been running on-and-off since my law school days in the late '90s, but because I had a lot of spare time at the small firm, running gradually became an integral part of my day-to-day life. It also became the one constant that helped me make sense of my stay with the small firm. The justification back then was, "I may not be raking it in, but I am adding anywhere from five to 10 years to my life expectancy." It might sound lame to some, but to me, it made perfect sense, and it made my days at the small firm a lot more bearable.
My stint with the small firm was short-lived: it lasted for only all of 11 months. Still, the seed had already been planted, and that brief misstep played a crucial role into molding me into the runner - the person - that I am today.
And so, I left the small firm and embarked on my first stint as an in-house attorney. After toiling in law firms for close to a decade, I felt that it was time to move on and explore a different side of law practice. In March 2010, I took the position of regional commercial counsel for a US-headquartered multinational company. In this role, I provide commercial legal support to the Asia-Pacific operations of a Fortune 75 company. The ride has been awesome thus far, and I can confidently say that moving to this job has been one of the best professional decisions I have ever made. What makes the whole thing much sweeter is, my schedule has allowed me to take my running to a whole new level. The numbers don't lie: since switching jobs in March 2010, I have completed eight full marathons and seven ultramarathons, including the Bataan Death March 102k Ultramarathon. And I'm not even done yet, because six weeks from now, I will be running the New York Marathon. What's good about my current job is, it offers me balance.
Lately, however, things have been a lot different. During the past few months, the workload, the day-to-day grind, my life - they have become strikingly similar to the ones I had at... the big firm. I haven't been pushed this hard since my days at the big firm. I resented it at first, but then, I did some soul-searching and have come to the realization that I am not getting any younger. If I want to get to where I want to go, things cannot and will not be easy. Too bad for me that the only thing I'm good at is lawyering.
Now, let me fast-forward this a bit. After some consultations, an exchange of emails, and a lunch meeting last week, I have before me a standing offer to re-join the big firm. I'm not going to lie - this turn of events has gotten me extremely excited. At the same time though, I am also scared shitless. I still have not forgotten why I left the big firm almost three years ago. Do I want to go through that all over again, perhaps for the rest of my legal career? It's worth considering because, while my current work might take me where I want to go, a return to the big firm will provide a surer path.
If I return to the big firm, this much is certain: the runs will be few and far between. During my previous stint there, I had to content myself with one-hour work-outs on a treadmill during lunch break. Some might find it absurd, or even downright stupid, that I even think of running at this juncture, when I am on the brink of making a decision that could very well secure my and my family's future. Well, they just don't get it, and I don't need to explain anything.
The big firm has given me until mid-November to clear my mind, sort things out, and make a decision. During the discussions, nothing was sugar-coated, and I was told that life at the big firm hasn't changed one bit. The hours are still long, the pressure is still tremendous, and the stress is constant. If I decide to return, I can re-join the big firm in January 2012. Perfect timing, it seems. BDM 160 - my first attempt at a hundred-miler - could very well be my last hurrah. Finish it, and I go out in style. And then I can go back to busting treadmills. C'est la vie.