November 22, 2007
Looking for Meaning in Cambridge on Thanksgiving Morning
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
I wondered this Thanksgiving morning whether there is a blog where the pharmacists who staff the 24 hour CVS in Porter Square (where I filled a prescription), or the baristas who open the Mass. Ave. Starbucks at 6:00 a.m. (where I got some coffee), or the people who work at Kohl's and will be at their stations at 4:30 a.m. tomorrow morning, or the people who drive the T trains all day on the holidays can bitch and moan about their lot in life. I happened to be reading Paul Gowder's blog post over at Law and Letters about the travails of being an exploited young lawyer, and thought I'd note a couple things.
1. The "corporate serf" thing or the big firm/do-gooder dichotomy for graduates of the elite schools is just plain wrong. Thirty years ago, I made a life style decision NOT to go to work at a law firm in New York, opting instead for less money and more lifestyle in Detroit. That option still exists.
2. With all the ink spilled about the likely fate of the vast majority of law students, why do they keep going to law school? Maybe the ones who don't see themselves as victims just don't write about it.
3. There's an article in the New York Times this morning about the perks that the big law firms offer to their associates in the competitive market for talent. The list that follows is taken verbatim from the article: candied apples on everyone's desk from the "happiness committee," milkshakes from Potbelly Sandwich Works, concierge services (pick up theater and sports tickets, dry cleaning, car repair, etc.), top off bonuses, sabbaticals, mortgage guarantees, subsidies for buying hybrid cars, on-site tailoring, personal issues coach and psychotherapists, wine parties (tuna tartare, baby lamb chops), dinner delivered from the Palm Restaurant (on a silver tray), yoga classes, nap rooms, child care, and emergency nanny services.
I return to my thoughts from yesterday about futility. Very few people in the world are lucky enough to find meaning for their lives in their work. If you are looking for meaning in your life, and doing your job as a lawyer has as much meaning to you as filling an order for a quad soy latte with extra foam, then you either have to look for meaning elsewhere, or deal with the same cognitive gap of futility in squeezing meaning out of something that is not meaningful. But lawyers at least have a chance.
When my daughter was born over twenty-three years ago, as we were still basking in the miracle of having created this baby, I remarked to the obstetrician in Ann Arbor (who was about to leave for a post-doc at Duke) how amazing it must be to see babies born every day. His response was interesting. He said that the physical act of giving birth had, to him, become routine; the magic and the meaning was in the connection with the people who were his patients.
Practicing law probably falls somewhere between making espressos and delivering babies, but the point is that there's no guarantee that work will make our lives seem important to us, and we need to deal with that either by changing the work or finding another place for meaning.
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Very wise comments, all. Happy Thanksgiving!
Posted by: Frank | Nov 24, 2007 5:25:02 PM