Taking a stand for a slow-paced life.

The other day I saw this comment on Facebook: “Show me a mom who isn’t pulled in a million different directions and I’ll show you one boring person.”

I had an immediate negative reaction, even though I’m not even a mom yet. I’ve never really felt pulled in a million different directions, and I don’t want to feel that way. Does that make me boring? Seeing that comment brought back feelings of guilt and inadequacy I struggled with while deciding to leave full-time legal work.

My first law firm job ended abruptly, when the national law firm I worked for suddenly folded, leaving 700 attorneys and thousands of staff jobless. At the time, I felt lost and confused. I wasn’t excited about going to work at a new law firm, but I felt like I should, and I didn’t know what else to do.

I twiddled my thumbs for a month or two, and then went on a vacation. I went hiking in New Zealand with a group of mostly women from all over the world: Canada, New Zealand, England, the Netherlands, Australia. New Zealand was beautiful and laid-back, but the best part of the trip was that I suddenly felt like myself again. Here were women who were smart and pleasant and interesting, and also between jobs or careers. Or, they came from a culture in which it was normal to take a five-week vacation once or twice a year and work 35-hour weeks. After two years of trying to fit into a world in which I didn’t belong, I could breathe easily again. I stopped feeling like a weirdo because I was unemployed and didn’t really like my career anyway.

Still, I decided it was best for me to try to get another year or so of experience at a smaller law firm, and I did. I stuck it out for almost two more years, though I spent much of the last year having mini-breakdowns behind my closed office door and crying to my patient husband at night. I knew what I was doing wasn’t right for me, but I didn’t know what to do next. I started seeing a career counselor, and decided to work as a freelancer.

There were many reasons for my decision, but one was that I didn’t like my lifestyle. I felt like I was always rushing and that I had to be very focused and scheduled to get everything I wanted to do done. I felt like I was on a treadmill, the weeks passing each one like the one before. I decided I’d rather make less money in exchange for a more relaxed, less regimented life. (Of course, I also felt like I was devoting too much time and energy to something that didn’t give me back that much in return other than money. My job just didn’t make me feel good about myself, or proud, or satisfied. If that were different, maybe I would have been able to put up with the rest).

In reaching this decision, the biggest obstacle wasn’t overcoming my own drive, or fears about money and security—it was the feeling that I should want to be a successful lawyer. That I was weak, or weird, or lazy for choosing something different.

Career counseling helped me get over those feelings, and when I did, it was crystal clear to me how I wanted my life to be different. I want to be relaxed, and present, with time to have fun, travel, have weekend adventures, cook, read, and write. I didn’t want to spend every day in an office sitting at a desk.

It can feel really good to be too busy. It can make you feel important, and and needed. There’s a sort of energy and high that comes along with living at a fast pace. It’s also more in sync with our culture, which favors workaholism over leisure. As a society, we admire the mother who works full time, sits on a few boards, and coaches her kid’s soccer team, and the trial lawyer who gets up at five a.m. to train for triathlons, spends the day in court, and runs a business on the side.

So, there have been times when I was pretty content just because I was busy. But there was still something missing; it was empty. If I’m rushing around and packing my days full of activities, I want it to be with activities that bring me joy and satisfaction. Lacking that, I don’t want to palliate myself with busy-ness for the sake of busy-ness. I want to spend my time deliberately. I don’t want to be pulled in a million different directions.

But that comment stirred up the old fears and doubt in me. Am I lazy? Am I boring? No, dammit! (Er, I hope not. It’s kind of a struggle).


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