I am a lawyer (not in the US). I’ve been practising for just over a year now, after completing my degree and practical training part-time whilst working for my current firm as a secretary and paralegal for the past six years.
I have always harboured doubts about whether I was cut out to be a lawyer. While I am relatively comfortable with the intellectual aspects of the job (though I am increasingly beginning to doubt my abilities in this area), I struggle with the interpersonal aspects. I am highly introverted, conflict-avoidant, tend to have low self-esteem and generally lack confidence and assertiveness, none of which helps when trying to manage clients, other lawyers and colleagues.
My husband has a good albeit stressful job and earns more than me, but works in an area whose future is uncertain in the current economic climate. We have no debt, no mortgage and no kids.
Emotionally, I have had a terrible couple of months at work. I have made a few serious mistakes, both recently and about a year ago. I am terrified that eventually I will make a mistake that will get me struck off, or worse. I am continually breaking down in tears and feel unable to think clearly or function properly. I fantasise, frequently, about suffering a heart attack or stroke or getting seriously ill just so that I have a “legitimate” reason to quit my job. My confidence is completely shaken. I have had bad times before, but stuck with it because I wanted to finish my degree and get qualified.
As legal jobs go, superficially mine is pretty good – I’m not expected to work long hours, my boss is not a psychopath, slave-driver or bully (mostly): from all I have heard, that is pretty good in this industry! While he has been supportive of me in the past when I have made mistakes or exposed my issues with depression & anxiety, I also know he has a vindictive streak and is prone to gaslighting. Professionally he is generally comptetent and fair and our relationship is adequate. I have two former employees of the firm who have agreed to act as my referee for now, but given the length of my employment and that I have gained almost all my professional experience here, the lack of a reference from the boss is probably going to raise questions; given his past behaviour towards employees who have left I am afraid that he will make things difficult for me.
I want to quit, but I am afraid that I will not be able to find another job and I will be placing undue pressure on my husband to support me (even though he has said he will) both financially and emotionally, when he needs the same from me. Also that if I find another job – particularly another legal job – that it will be no better, and mostly that I am just taking the easy way out and being weak and self-indulgent when people put up with bad jobs and worse all the time. I know that I should get another job now while I am still employed, but every time I start browsing job websites I start to feel despondent that there is nothing out there and then I get stuck in this state of inertia between desperately wanting to leave and feeling trapped where I am. Ultimately I am struggling with the question of whether I should just quit a job that I feel is slowly making me insane, or whether I am being a weak sooky-la-la who should just pull my head out of my arse and get on with it.
I need an independent perspective on all of this, because mine is totally screwed.
Oh god, quit your job! Quit your job now!
Okay, actually, here’s a plan for you. Are you ready?
You’re going to quit your job within 6 months whether or not you have another job. Put it on the calendar! September 8, 2012 is quitting day.
During that 6 months you’re going to do some stuff:
1. Sock away as much money into savings as you can and build yourself a financial cushion in case it takes a while for you to find another job.
2. Call a therapist or counselor and talk to them about the way you’re feeling at work. Take care of your emotional health! (Warning: This may result in you quitting your job even sooner!) Your jerkbrain is being awful to you right now, with this whole “strength means putting up with unpleasant bullshit” routine.
3. People leave jobs all the time for reasons that “might raise questions” in future interviews. Just like with a breakup, you don’t need a “legitimate” reason to leave. The fact that you want to leave? That is a good reason to leave! The fact that you are fantasizing about your own death because it will mean you get to leave? That is what we call an IMPERATIVE.
Also, if you’re nice and smart and good at what you do? Those “questions” will matter very little. Since your boss is a petty tyrant who sometimes gaslights people and makes trouble when they leave, know this: There will be no smooth, perfect departure. So take care of yourself and let the chips fall. Whatever smarts got you this job (and through law school) will get you your next job – those things are in you and not in whatever workplace you’re in. I know you don’t have a lot of other perspective since you’ve been in this one place so long, but trust me.
4. Don’t tell anyone you’re quitting in 6 months. Keep your head down and do your work. See if you feel better knowing there is an end date to all of this. Be kind to people, try not to complain, work on your confidence.
5. Talk to your smart, nice husband and make a plan for what happens when you temporarily take him up on his offer to support you when you leave this job. For example, you might need to take a month off and just heal from everything. Build that in! Can you plan a little bit of joint vacation soon after Quitting Day?
6. Commit to excellent self-care. Exercise. Medical checkups. Eat in a way that makes you feel good – regular meals that taste good and nourish you. Have lots of sex with your awesome husband. Read for pleasure. Leave the office at a set time every day unless there is a truly critical piece of work that needs to be finished. Let your assistant actually assist you – don’t try to do everything yourself just because you know that job so well. Saying “no, sorry, I won’t be able to take that on” regularly.
7. You could spend all day on job listings sites getting discouraged, or you could put some long-term work into your career, by which I mean: Reconnect with your classmates from law school. Friend them on Facebook. Get caught up on their lives. Take them to lunch or have them over for dinner. When the time is right? Let them know that you’re looking for new work. Put a little bit of love into your current colleagues as well. Think of it as networking, but think of it also as research. There are a lot of ways to be in the legal profession. This is just one of them.
In closing, this job is making you feel crappy. Do stuff to make yourself feel less crappy! There is no Super Special Official Grownup reward for sticking out crappy situations and suffering the most.
<b>Edited To Add</b>: Why we stay in bad jobs (thanks @LilithSaintcrow!)