Category Archives: New Grad

Find a Career that Makes Your Eyes Light Up: Advice for Recent and Not-So-Recent Graduates

bowl of candy on desk

So, is there anything about law firm life that you miss?” asked my old friend, Tom, a big deal partner at a DC law firm.

We stood chatting late in the evening at a wedding reception a few weeks ago. Guests gathered by the dessert table; I was debating between the little parfait glasses filled with chocolate mousse or the fruit tarts. Or both.

No, not really,” I responded without giving his question much thought, my mind more focused on the tiny red velvet cupcakes as another option.

Tom tried again, “Really? Nothing at all about practicing law that you miss?”

O.K., so we were having a real conversation here, not just a polite inquiry among haven’t-seen-you-for-awhile old friends.

I countered, “Well, I did like advising clients. I always liked telling people what to do.”  I laughed,  “And I liked the paycheck. So did our mortgage company.”

Pause for a moment of silence while I recalled the thrill of my first sizeable law firm paycheck.

I also liked the candy. I miss that.” I told him.

You miss what?” Tom asked, with a puzzled look on his face.

(perhaps they didn’t have as much candy at Tom’s law firm as they did at mine?)

So I explained. “You know, the candy in the bowls that people kept on their desks.”

Every afternoon around 4:00 p.m. I would take a break and do a “power walk” around our law firm’s small office, stopping for brief chats with colleagues and staff and to select my daily rewards for making it through most of the work day. Susan could always be counted on to have a seasonal assortment, candy corn, turkey-shaped chocolates or peeps. Ned specialized in mints. David shared Tootsie roll pops.

The thing is that I don’t really even like candy.

Likely, though, that Tom doesn’t rely on candy as a work-day incentive. He is the kind of lawyer who loves what he does. I did not.

I thought of my conversation with Tom the other day while reading an essay by novelist Jonathan Odell, offering excellent, if unexpected, advice for graduates titled –  “Never Get Good At What You Hate.”

Odell, who left a successful corporate career at midlife to become a writer, reasons that if you do become good at a job that you don’t much like, then you will be asked to do more of it. And the more you do of it, the more you will be asked to do, and the more unhappy you will grow.

I recognized myself in his essay. I, too was very good at a career I didn’t much like. I didn’t hate it – I just didn’t love it. And what made it harder for me was being surrounded by colleagues who really loved being lawyers.

How could I tell?

Their eyes lit up when they talked about a new project, they relished a tough legal debate, they eagerly worked those long hours –  all because they had found that love for the law that bypassed me.

My law firm colleagues, Tom and my Dad, too, (now age 92, still practicing law at a firm he founded) – – they all share that gut level passion for the law that I lacked.

Over my lawyering years it became increasingly obvious that I was getting very good at what I didn’t like to do. It made me feel like an imposter, and while I hoped that no one around me noticed – I am sure that they did.

After 33 years of working hard, becoming a partner, earning the respect of my terrific clients –  it was only through the “luck” of having a defective heart valve go seriously awry 2x, that I was involuntarily de-lawyered.  I suddenly had all the time in the world to consider what I really wanted to do – return to my childhood passion, writing that does not involve any legalese.

Which makes me (if not my mortgage company) very, very, very happy. My eyes now light up (so my husband and friends tell me) when I talk about my latest writing projects.

I offer this cautionary tale for recent and not-so-recent graduates to ponder. And a question: how can you possibly know at age 22 or 25 – or at 58 or 62 what you will really like to do if you haven’t had the chance to do it?

Try this test with a few close friends. Let them sit in front of you. Then tell them about a few different work/life paths you’ve been considering.

Which one will make the work day go so fast that you won’t need candy as a mid-afternoon reward?

Which one will make your eyes light up?






Filed under 1st Job, Adult Kids, Baby Boomers, Careers, College, friendship, Law firm life, Lawyers, Midlife, New Grad, Semi-Retired, Women in the Workplace

What Apples, Honey, September and Writing Share in Common


It seems odd to me that September, a month which turns the corner towards fall, is also a time of many new beginnings.

The holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the start of the New Year according to the Jewish calendar, began on Wednesday night, September 24, so happy 5775 to those of you who celebrate it as I do.  (and aren’t we lucky that we don’t have to start writing 5775 on our checks? I have enough trouble getting 2014 right each time. And yes, I still write paper checks. I haven’t switched to an all e-commerce world – yet.)

Another new beginning in September is the start of the school year. One of my kids returned to college this fall, to finish what he started some years ago; hurrah!  Cautious optimism, lots of support and encouragement. It isn’t easy being the oldest kid in the class.

Also in the department of new beginnings: several friends of ours have kids who are starting their first real life jobs this September; as policy types, research assistants, lawyers, marketers, all venturing into careers where you don’t get three months of summer vacation anymore. Welcome to my prior world!

And two friends of ours just retired from long-held jobs this month; retirement being both an ending and a new beginning. (there’s a blog post in that, I know.)

What is new for me this September is that (a) I am healthy and (b) I am writing.

September in years past has been a month where either I or family members have found ourselves in hospitals, and not wearing badges that say “visitor.”  A rabbi friend of mine, noticing that ill health tends to strike my family closely coinciding with the timing of Rosh Hashanah each year, suggested that we move to the planet Mars each September where she is confident the Jewish New Year is not likely to be celebrated so we can avert the chance of illness.  But so far my family has made it through September without having a close up view of the sign that blazes the words “EMERGENCY ROOM”.

Another new beginning is that I started to take a writing class earlier in September. I began writing this blog in May of 2014 so thought taking a writing class would help me find my narrative voice. Perhaps just a coincidence (or is my writing teacher that good??), but shortly after the class began, two of my blog posts were published by the Washington Post.  And the editor who liked my posts let me know that many others did too. I was “trending”!  Hah, trending at my age.

When the New York Times, the newspaper I’ve read daily since childhood, featured a post on my blog in its “What We’re Reading Now” column last Tuesday night, I was stunned into silence. (rare). When you write a blog, you put a post out there into the social media ether, and you think it is pretty good and hope others might too.  But you have no idea, really, and what you can not anticipate, I am finding out, is what words of yours will truly resonate with others, which ones might hit a nerve, and I am profoundly grateful to have found this out.

After an unexpected cardiologically-required departure from my law firm in 2013,  getting the chance to return to writing in 2014 is a new beginning. Finding readers who follow my blog has been wonderful (and I thank all of you – and appreciate all of your comments.)

But I also worry. (The word “worry” appears in the title of this blog for a reason. I do a great deal of it; one of my best skills.)  Does a single successful post begat others? Not necessarily. Think of the many one-hit wonder songs, and the authors who wrote one best seller followed by a series of duds.

But I, having grown up in New England with many vacations in Vermont, may try to model myself after Grandma Moses. She picked up a paint brush for the first time when she was 77 years old. Heck, I am a mere child by that standard; still in that sweet spot post-menopause but pre-Medicare. With the cooperation of whoever is in charge of these things, I hope to have many productive and creative years ahead.

So cheers to new beginnings for all of us!

Wishing you a sweet and healthy year.


Filed under Adult Kids, Aging, Careers, College, Family, Holidays, Midlife, New Grad, Raising Kids, Retirement, Semi-Retired, Women, Writing

Five Things New Grads Must Know About the Secret Language of 1st Job Bosses

Female lawyer working in office

In late August of 1981, when I started as a new associate at Big Law Firm, I did not realize that the senior lawyers at the firm, the Big Bosses who held my legal career in their hands, the ones who would supervise me and assign me work, spoke, like Big Bosses in businesses everywhere, in their Very Own Secret Language.

If you are soon to begin or just starting a new job as a recent graduate of college or other temple of higher learning, you may not be familiar with this Secret Language either.  And while to the uninitiated it may sound as if your new Big Bosses are actually speaking in English, and in fact may use many common English words, what they say to you does not mean what you might think it does.

What you Really Need if you are to Succeed in your First Job as a New Grad is a Dictionary of Big Boss Language.

The earlier in your career, you can correctly interpret what is being said to you by a Big Boss, the better. Here is a handy Guide to get you started on the path to office life success.

1. Your First Assignment.

After a few day of orientation as a young associate, you receive an email from Mr. Important Partner – “When you have a minute, can you please stop by my office?”

Possible Interpretation:

It is o.k. to finish your coffee, and then walk down the hall to the office of Mr. Important Partner to see what he wants.

Actual Big Boss Translation:

Get up from your chair immediately and walk as fast as you can to the office of Mr. Important Partner. Your idea of “when you have a minute” has changed forever.

2. Description of the Project.

Mr. Important Partner describes the research he needs you to do, saying “This shouldn’t take you long.”

Possible Interpretation:

This is a straightforward assignment that you should be able to complete in a reasonable amount of time.

Actual Big Boss Translation:

I have just assigned you a ridiculously complex research project, similar to the kind I used to whip out in record time when I was a young associate. You better do the same if you want a future here at “Oppressed, Outstanding and Overworked.”  No pressure.

3. How Long Will it Take you to Complete the Project.

The next day, Ms. New Partner calls you in to her office, asks you to look into a question for one of her clients, and tells you “Don’t spend too much time on this.”

Possible Interpretation:

This project is not that important.

Actual Big Boss Translation:

This project is critically important but my key client always questions the amount of hours he gets billed for associate research. So you must prepare an acutely insightful analysis in response to my client’s question in the shortest possible time. Hint: Do not come back and tell me it took you six hours, I can only bill the client two hours for your work. Got it?

4. Why your New Office is Next Door to the Office of a Big Boss.

You have been assigned a Tiny Office which happens to be next door to the Very Large Corner Office of Mr. Very Senior Partner who likes to Talk Very Loudly on his speaker phone to his Very Important Clients. One afternoon you overhear him saying to a Very Important Client – “Jack, the law in this area is evolving. You make a very interesting point; let me get back to you on this.”

Possible Interpretation:

Mr. Very Senior Partner is an expert in his area of legal specialty, recognizes changing legal trends and enjoys challenging analyses.

Actual Big Boss Translation:

I have no f-ing clue what you are talking about, Mr. Very Important Client. I have not done my own legal research in years. But sitting in the Tiny Office right next to mine is a Very Young Lawyer whose name I do not know but who is going to research your absurdly difficult question as soon as possible for me so I can get back to you and take full credit for the answer.

You wait five seconds, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, as you hear Mr. Very Senior Partner rise out of his office chair, leave his office, and then duck his head into yours and say -“uh (can’t recall your name, if he ever knew it), can you step into my office?”

5. Your Completed Project is Rarely Complete.

In your second week at Big Law Firm, with a mix of pride and trepidation, you email your first research memo to Ms. Eager Beaver I-Better-Make-Partner for her review. A few hours later, she emails you back, “I only have a few edits on your Memo. Please come by to discuss.”

Possible Interpretation:

Wow, she liked my Memo. She only made a few changes. I must be getting this Big Law Firm thing right!

Actual Big Boss Translation:

You promptly walk to her office (see lesson learned in #1 above) and she hands you back a mark-up of your draft Memo.

You see that your carefully written memo is covered in blue ink, cross-outs, x’s, deletions and so many other edits so that you can barely make out the only two sentences remaining from your original draft.  She wants it completely re-written. And it is 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon, and oh, by the way, she needs it revised to send out to the client tonight.

So if in the first few weeks of your new job, a partner, director or senior manager, your new Big Boss, stops you in the hall, and asks you to drop by her office so she can tell you about an exciting new project you will be working on, you can refer back to this helpful guide. And with any luck, in a decade or so, you will become a Big Boss yourself. If you have any new entries to add to the Secret Language Dictionary, do let me know.

*and good luck at your new job!










Filed under 1st Job, Careers, Communications, Law firm life, Lawyers, New Grad