For five and a half years, I worked at one of the most prestigious law firms in the world.
Those were the least interesting years of my life.
I did not do it for the prestige, though. I did it for the money.
For my entire life, I’ve cared almost exclusively about learning and growing. But for those five and a half years, I was preoccupied.
I read little. I didn’t write at all. At least I ate and drank well.
Most people would have looked at my life then and said that I was successful. I was making more money than I had ever expected to make. I was working on cases that were in the national and international news.
But it was dull. Terribly, mind-numbingly dull. It was bureaucratic. Almost without exception, what I did every day was trivial and uninteresting.
My mind rotted during those five and a half years.
This was not the law firm’s fault. It was my own. I decided then that because I had a high-paying, prestigious job, I no longer needed to work or learn or grow.
And when I left that job, I was in the worst professional position of my life. Why? Because the only jobs I was then qualified to do were other bureaucratic, mind-numbingly dull jobs. If I ever wanted to do anything stimulating or engaging again, I would have to start from scratch. And that’s essentially what I did.
I now work for myself. No one knows who I am. My law firm is not prestigious or well known. But it is my life. It is my footprint.
I eat less. I drink much less. I read a ton. I write every day. I travel often.
Life is good.
Take what you will from this story. Most of us face difficult choices daily because of money. I have to make fewer of those tough choices now because of the hard choices I made then. I am acutely aware of that fact.
But, if I were faced with a similar choice now, I know that I’d rather eat dry beans every day and live at the YMCA than ever have to work a job like that again.
Fancy food and nice wine do more harm than good. Nice things add little value.
It’s what you do every day that matters.
Get that right, and good things will fall into place. Get that wrong, and no amount of fancy stuff will make things right.