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April 15, 2024

Cappuccino Is the Answer for Job Dissatisfaction

By Hillary E. Peak

Dedicated to my husband, who has been there through thick and thin.

Chapter 1

My destiny is to change the world; I've always known it. I should have changed the world by now -- after all, I'm over 30. From my earliest days, I've been gathering the tools I'd need -- college, law school, debate squad, internships with Senators, and articles in the local paper about world issues. My college entrance essay was titled, "My Plan to Transform the World." Somehow, I simply can't find the job where I can do it, even though I've tried more than a dozen. I was so certain it would just happen. With all my great ideas, how could I not change all the things wrong with the world? I'd go to Capitol Hill and explain to the Senator or Representative who was lucky enough to get me to work for him, how to solve the problems of the world. Obviously I would rise quickly. Then I would lobby for important causes because everyone on the Hill would know me. That would lead me to television where I would give commentary for Court TV and Fox and CNN. My sparkling wit and personality would get me an offer on one of the morning programs or maybe my own talk show. By thirty, I'd be going to the Emmys up against Oprah -- maybe even winning, all to better the world we live in.

That was my plan. Now, I'm thirty-one, and I just quit my seventh job in six years. From the first day, I KNEW it was going to be a bad job, so on the third day, I quit. I was almost afraid to go home, so I got a latte and wandered the streets of Washington looking for an answer. There had to be a way to reach my heart's desires. Once I was able to get a grip, I got on the metro and headed home to face the music.

When I got home after quitting, Sam sat me down on the couch. "There's something we need to discuss," he said gravely. I was really concerned. His face was a little ashen.

"What's wrong?"

"You always hate your job," he stated.

"I do not." I was indignant.

"Yes, you do. Admit it -- the truth is that you take these jobs just biding your time until you get discovered."

I stared at him, trying to come up with a response. Should I be honest? "Yes dear, you're right, I am going to have my name in lights, it is just a matter of time." Or should I feign ignorance? "I don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about!" Or should I flat out lie? "Of course not! I love the law! I'm just searching for the right legal job for me!"

I must have waited too long because Sam continued, "I know the truth. I know you truly believed when you went to law school that you were going to change the world and have your name splashed all over CNN headline news for fixing this or that, but in your heart, you still see yourself as a famous movie star accepting an Oscar."

I blushed, a deep scarlet. He knew me too well; I couldn't hide the truth. "Maybe," I mumbled quietly. "But this is without a doubt the worst job I've ever had!" I asserted, once I recovered a little composure.

"That may be, but I think you need to hear the truth -- you are not going to be a famous actress or a pop star or even a famous lawyer."

I started to protest, but he held up his hand to silence me.

"I want you to listen to me. You are not going to be a movie star. You're not going to be a model or even a famous lawyer. I know, I know. Your mommy and daddy told you that you could be anything you wanted, and you believed them! But the problem is, you have to stop believing that and live in this world. Everyone else has already come to terms with these facts, Jessica. It's time you really accept this harsh reality. It is time for you to get a job -- and stay in it for more than a few months."

"But this was a really bad job!" I protested.

"You've never come home after the first day with such a gloom and doom report," he said. "I'm glad you quit. I can tell from what you've said that it really is a terrible job, but two days has got to be a record, even for you."

Just when I was smiling and popping in a chocolate in satisfaction of getting my way, he said it. "Jess, you have a bad habit of job hopping."

"I do not."

"Let's see, the state legislature, the firm, the school system, the judge, what am I missing?"

I certainly wasn't going to remind him of my time with the sole practitioner or the part-time retail sales clerk position or any of the other mistakes. "The state legislature was a set term. I left the firm so that we could move, and I thought a clerkship would really be a boon to my resume, so I left the school system. I can explain every jump." I was satisfied with my defense. I had a reason for each thing -- even if those reasons were a little flimsy. The truth was that I'd been looking for an excuse to leave each job for at least a couple of months before I had a reason to do so, but I never admit any truth in what Sam says. No reason to give him ammunition.

"You don't like them. Even if you have reasons for leaving, I KNOW YOU! You seem to have 'problems' everywhere you go."

"That isn't fair!" I almost shouted, but I controlled myself. "I haven't brought a single problem on myself. I seem to have strange issues occur at my jobs, but I have no control over them. I thought I wanted to work at the state legislature."

"Your parents did you a great disservice by not insisting that you think about what you wanted to do rather than being social chair during college and then going to law school to avoid a real job. You are not going to be spotted in a crowd to model for Vogue. You are beautiful, but you are five-one and totally unrealistic. Most people realize by college at least that those dreams of being a star are not going to happen. You cannot do anything you want to."

Oh, my gosh! I choked on my Godiva. I couldn't believe my ears.

"Of course you can be anything you want," I chided. "I can be anything, and I can do anything."

"No, you can't."

"Why not!?!" I was shocked by his behavior. Was he going to tell his children not to dream big dreams?! I harrumphed. I was appalled, horrified and furious.

"Well," he explained, "there just comes a time in life when you have to shelve your dreams of being a star basketball player and think about things that are actually achievable. I'm not saying you can't have a rewarding career, and you can make a difference in the world. But, you aren't going to be a model or a movie star. You have to deal with that, NOW."

I cried. Usually, when I cry, he relents and I go on with whatever it is I want. But this time, he handed me a tissue and said, "Look, we have to make a plan. We want to have a house, have a family. We want to save money to retire. You can't keep sending out headshots biding your time thinking that one day your dream will come true."

"You don't have any faith in me," I wailed.

"That's not it and you know it," he replied. "But you have to come to grips with the reality that that particular dream probably isn't going to come true."

"I can do anything I want," I persisted stubbornly.

"No, you can't. Can I be a doctor?"

"Of course."

"REALISTICALLY?! Come on, it would be four years of med school, a couple years of residency at least, and where would we get the money?"

"We could borrow it. I would get a job at a big firm where I made more money."

He rolled his eyes at me. "OK, I admit that I could become a doctor, but do we really want that life?! We couldn't get a house, we couldn't really have kids and we'd be way behind on any retirement goals. So, OK, you are right, you could become a model or a movie star; however, you are really old to be starting out at that, don't you think? Do you really want to be a starving artist?"

"Well, no," I hesitated, "but I HATE being a lawyer."

"Fine," he consented, "You don't have to be a lawyer. But we need a plan. YOU need a plan! What do we want out of life? What lifestyle are we looking for? I had a plan for my life. I wanted to be a CEO. So, I got an accounting degree and went to work for one of the big firms. Then, I came to Washington to do some time with the SEC. Now, I'm getting my MBA. These were all steps in my master plan to becoming an executive. You have no plan. I want you to make a plan."

I had to admit he had a point, not that I said it out loud, but I knew it was true. If I had wanted to be a star, I really needed to start before I was in my thirties. Besides, I had put three years and some blood, sweat and tears (OK, the blood might be figurative) into law school. I might not want to be a lawyer, but surely I could do something important and worthwhile, right? The question for me was how to go about changing the world without having to actually work my way up to do it.

A plan, a plan. How did one go about making a life plan to change the world? I had no idea. (I would definitely not tell Sam that.) So, I went to the source, I got online.

As I began looking for how to create a life plan on the Internet, I realized that there might be more to it than I had initially considered. Hmm, what were my goals? Does affording a maid and clothes count? Oh, I want a Porsche Cayenne, is that a goal? I moved on to the next item.

What difference did I want to make? What mark would I like to leave on the world? When I die, I want it to be announced on the news because I'd done something fabulous with my life -- something that helped generations and made the world a better place. But what exactly?

What did I want to do with my life? I searched for examples. Help the homeless find jobs and a place to live. No, I didn't want to do that. I was more than willing to give money to the cause, but to actually get out there with people who live on the street? No. Nurse the sick and injured. Ug, well, I'm not all that fond of sick people. I don't really do well with blood or injuries -- I always feel woozy when they have those real ER shows on The Learning Channel. I couldn't see myself doing that.

I wanted to do something fabulous! Being a lawyer was supposed to lead to a bigger, better . . . place. Like having my own magazine! Or being a model! Or a fashion designer that didn't just use six feet tall women under one hundred pounds! I was going to revolutionize the industry by using "real" women and sizing it like that. That's why I became a lawyer. Everyone said, "You can do anything with a law degree!" But so far, it had led me to practicing law, which wasn't how it was supposed to work.

Actually, my purpose in going to law school had been to make a difference in the world, but seven jobs had taught me what a fat chance anyone has in that. At the time I was ideological, and I thought I could help lawmakers, judges, lawyers, everyone see the error of their ways and change the world for the better -- ha ha ha! In truth, I still wanted to do that; I just had no idea how to go about it.

Now, I was lost. Trying to figure out what I wanted to do was like trying to find the way out of the ocean when you couldn't see the shore. I was swimming around and around looking everywhere, but now I was exhausted and ready to drown.

The next day, Sam arrived home in the evening with a stack of books.

"Here," he said as he thrust them into my arms. "I think these will help you."

I looked at the title, What Color is My Parachute? What Can You Do with a Law Degree? What To Do with the Rest of Your Life? What Should I Do with My Life? and I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was. "Is this a statement?" I asked him.

He looked a little sheepish. "I think you need some guidance determining your life plan."

I grinned. "I hate to admit it, but I think you're right. Thanks a lot!"

He smiled, and I could see that he was relieved.

I picked one at random and opened it up. What Can You Do with a Law Degree? It had a list of traits shared by contented lawyers1:

1. Display a love of learning. I love to learn. I can't wait to see the new fall fashions! I take In Style, People and Reader's Digest. Clearly, I love to learn. Oh wait! Did they mean about law? I didn't love learning about that. Most of the cases were so boring! They weren't about anything interesting. I might want to learn about art or some literature -- there were things I might want to know about.

2. Pay attention to details. Only if which scarves match which shoes count. I did care if a room had great details, like the perfect coffee table book, or a lamp that really made the lighting in a room just right. Hmmm . . . They were probably meant details about cases and legal things -- all I wanted to do was tell young associates what to do with a case. I would even research and write briefs, but details? Were they kidding? I hated those details.

3. Respect the rules. There are rules? To what?

4. Possess strong analytical abilities. I did like to analyze things -- that might be an actual yes.

5. Achievement oriented. Hmm? I want to achieve something -- I'm just not really sure what I want it is that I want to achieve. I feel like I'm meant to achieve something great, and the most depressing thing is that I constantly feel like I'm missing it -- like I'm on the wrong track and my destiny is passing by and I can almost touch it, but it drifts out of my grasp and then it's gone.

6. Competitive. That would be a NO! I've never cared about winning or being the best. Mostly, I just want it to be over so I can move on to something more fun.

7. Steady and stable. Does seven jobs in six years allow me to even consider saying yes to that?

8. Patient and persistent. I am persistent if I want something -- I keep trying to find a job that I like, something that is meaningful to me, something where I can achieve. Patient might be slightly less true. Sam looked over my shoulder. "You lean over to honk while I'm driving. Don't even think of saying yes to being patient!"

9. More realistic than idealistic. "No!" Sam declared emphatically. "You still think you might be able to be the next Oprah." I started to shake my head no. "I know you do! Don't pretend with me!" OK, he was right; I'm still waiting to be discovered. I might be slightly more idealistic than realistic.

10. More conventional than innovative. I'm conventional; I buy silk sweater sets than can be used for years! I don't buy really outlandish, crazy new fashions. I wear my hair straight and just past my shoulders -- it is very chic, but it is a style I could stay with forever and still be chic. That's conventional, right?

11. More dispassionate than emotional. About what? The environment? I admit, I don't always clean out my glass jars or plastic bottles, but it is such a pain! I don't get too emotional about work. I'm dispassionate about that.

12. Thick skinned. OK, I know this isn't me.

Let's see, I think I display a love of learning. OK, I don't love learning about just anything, but I am interested in new things. I possess strong analytical abilities, and I am achievement oriented. That gives me three out of twelve, which seems a little low. That seems a tad disconcerting.

I looked next to the "Contented Lawyer Traits." "Personality Preference Quiz" Ooo! I love quizzes. They are fabulous. I found a pen and paper. Poised and ready to answer, I began:

1. Do you like to get emotionally involved with your work? Not really.

2. Do you dislike or attempt to avoid conflict? Yes, doesn't everyone? Why would I want people to yell at me? That just gives me stress which I think makes me break out.

3. In resolving conflict, do you prefer deciding what's fair based on the circumstances of each situation? Of course, each situation is different. Duh.

4. Do you like to create or start projects and let others finish or maintain them? Yes! Life would be perfect if I could start what I wanted and someone else would come and finish it!!!

5. Do you dislike paying attention to details? The only details I'm interested in are my appearance. Or whether the hotel we're going to stay at has those yummy plush robes in the room -- I LOVE that! Oh, I pay attention to Sam's appearance too, and the appearance of our house. Speaking of, we really need a new couch.

6. Do you prefer short-term projects? Define short-term. I want to be finished in say three hours. Is that short-term?

7. Do you value efficiency? YES!!!

8. Do you like to do things your own way, on your own schedule and in order of your own priorities? YES!! YES!! YES!! This is going to be great! They can help me find my path.

9. Do you get more satisfaction being part of a team than being a solo act? Hmm, I don't know. I'm not sure I've ever really been part of a team. I like other people, but I don't really want to be defined by what someone else is doing.

10. Do you want to change the world?2 That would be great! I think I could do it. At a minimum, I know I could make it better.

"A 'yes' answer to any of these questions ought to raise serious reservations about the wisdom of using your law degree to practice law," was what it said at the bottom. I answered yes to seven, so what kind of reservations should that raise?

I saw that the book said to read it all before starting the self-assessments, but I was dying to see what it said I should be. The directions said to put aside a weekend, or at least twenty hours to answer the questions. Well, I'll just take a quick peek. I looked through the first few questions, deciding which one I wanted to answer.

"What would you do if you knew today you'd be dead in six months?"3

That was interesting. Hmmm . . . did I have money? Or are we assuming that it is my current situation? Because that makes a huge difference. I flipped through to see if there were any instructions on doing these tests. Nothing. I suppose I have to assume that it is just me in my current life. That means that I need to work -- at least enough to have money to do what I want.

The book suggested that you keep all of your answers together, so I took out a notebook and titled the page "Dead in Six Months." I knew I wanted to travel. There were all sorts of places I hadn't been that I would want to go: Australia, The Lake District in England, Italy. That was probably all I could manage in six months. I would want to spend time with Sam and my parents. It would be good to see my friends one more time. I love to read, but would that be a waste of those six months?

Sam came to see what I was doing. "'Dead in Six Months?' That's morbid."

"No, it is one of the self-assessment exercises to help me figure out what I'm supposed to do with my life."

"So this is about figuring out the right job for you?"


"Then perhaps you should think if you have any work goals."

I looked up at him. That did sort of make sense. Maybe I needed to rethink my focus on this question. What would I do with my work if I were going to be gone in six months? I tried and tried to think. But the real answer was, I couldn't care less about work. If I had six months to live, I only cared about spending time with family and friends and doing a few last special things with Sam -- relationships were the only thing that mattered to me. If I had to earn some money to do that, I would, but I could be painting nails and toes or waiting tables for all I cared. That didn't seem to bode well for figuring out my perfect job. If I could achieve greatness in six months, that might be worthwhile, but it seemed to take longer than that, so what would be the point if I was going to be dead in six months?

I decided to try another exercise. "How would your daily life change if you won a $200,000 annuity in the lottery?"4 I would never have to work again. I was sensing a theme. Given a choice, I wouldn't work. Was that really true or did I just hate all the work I had done so far in life so much that I had no idea what I could do that I would enjoy?

If the truth be told, I got bored when I wasn't working. I was lonely for the company of other people, and I missed having something happen to me every day -- especially going out to lunch. When I spoke to people when I wasn't working, I always felt I had nothing to add to the conversation because I could only talk about what had been on Dr. Phil and Oprah that week. I hadn't done anything to tell about.

No. I wouldn't exactly stop working -- I'd just stop doing everything I've tried up to this point. That was the whole problem, if I wanted to be working, would I have bought the book in the first place? If I didn't have to earn money, I would seek out the things I enjoyed most. Then, I would do those. The problem was, I didn't know what I enjoyed. Maybe there were some exercises to help me figure that out. It seemed my problem was at the most basic level -- I had no clue what I even wanted.

I looked through more exercises. "Finish these sentences."5

"I feel happiest when I'm . . ." This was a toughie. When was I happy? I had to think. I'm happiest when I'm planning a trip for Sam and me. Poring over travel books, making schedules and organizing all the fun things we're going to do. Getting lost reading a really great book makes me happy, but I couldn't see how that was going to lead to a job. I was racking my brain to come up with when I felt happy, never mind happiest. I loved my time with Sam, whether it was going out to dinner, seeing a movie, hanging out at home or just taking a nap. Then it hit me, at work, I'm really happy when I'm talking to someone about their problems and trying to help them sort out an answer -- that's something I could do all the time. Maybe I was on the right track after all.

"When I was a child, I always wanted to grow up to be a . . ." That was easy, an actress or a model. Well, really model turned actress. I knew Sam would not be pleased with that answer. He wanted me to be realistic. Moving on!

"I tend to procrastinate when facing . . ." Things I don't like to do. If I have to make a phone call where someone will be unhappy, I will do anything to avoid it. When I needed to write a brief or opinion that I didn't agree with, it would take me days to work myself up to doing it. I wondered what that meant.

I looked over my answers. Nothing much helpful yet, so I decided to put the book aside until the weekend.

On Sunday, I picked it up and started scanning the next few exercises. One jumped out at me, "In ten minutes, answer this question: 'What do I like to do when I'm not working? '" 6 I didn't need ten minutes to answer that. I like to go shopping -- I don't even care if I get to buy anything. I love to be at the mall just looking at what the store has to offer. I love shopping for anything, clothes, shoes, purses, jewelry, furniture, kitchen supplies, you name it! I don't care. Stores are my passion. Besides that, I love to read and spend time with Sam. I couldn't think of anything else. I didn't play any sports. Oh, well, I do yoga, and I liked doing that, maybe that counted. That was what I liked to do with my time.

I kept scanning through the exercises, looking for some I found interesting. Ahh! "Figuring Out Your Passion."7 What are the fifty most enjoyable experiences of your life? I started listing: my wedding, that definitely was the most enjoyable experience of my life; our honeymoon; making my first commercial; modeling in high school; being an officer in the sorority -- I loved the small meetings, and visiting with people, that was great; getting dressed up for prom; football games in college; all the plays I was in during school; graduating from law school -- this was getting really hard. Fifty experiences that were enjoyable. Good grief, I could hardly come up with fifty experiences. I decided I'd try to come up with experiences and come back to this one.

I saw another intriguing title, "Things I really love to do."8 What do I love to do? This seemed eerily similar to the question about what I like to do when I'm not working. Maybe there were people out there who loved working? Was that why there were two different questions? I jotted down a note under this title to look back at the previous question on what I like to do.

I needed something more helpful. Then I spotted one called "Classified Ad Review."9 Look through the classified ads for jobs that appeal to you. Don't worry if you don't meet the requirements. That sounded like fun. I went to find Sam. He was reading the Sunday New York Times. That should provide me with an adequate "Classified Job" section.

"Hey," I said casually, finding him on the couch with the paper spread all around him. He was checking over the business pages.

"How's it going?"

"Really well, I think." Why bother him with the fact that I had no clue what would make a good job for me? "Can I have the classified section?"

"Why?" He looked skeptical. "You're not going to suggest we move to New York again, are you? So that you can get a modeling career going and then act on Broadway?"

"No." I could feel the blush beneath my cheeks. I'd forgotten about that suggestion. "There's an exercise using the classifieds in my book."

"Oh." This seemed to please him. I could see his face relax. "Sure. Let me know what it shows."

"I will." I scurried back to the kitchen table so that he wouldn't be checking my answers out over my shoulder.

I started looking through the job ads. Architect. I would love to do that. What a feeling to be able to go and see something you have created. I wrote it down. Ooh! An account executive for a PR Firm. That sounded like a great job. I put it down on my list. Associate publisher at Glamour. That was a job I could get into. I added it. Career consultant. I would be great at that! I've learned tons about careers. I could really help people find their niche. Wow! This exercise was really helpful.

A conference planner, that would be fun. Market research and analysis director. The ad said you would preside over focus groups and identify market needs. That sounded like fun. I was on a roll with this exercise.

Director of business development, I'd be good at that. Employee relation's manager. That sounded interesting. Human services consultant -- designing new programs to produce greater efficiency. I would so love to solve those kinds of problems. Literary agents. I love books, that would be a perfect job for me. Marketing manager, the ad stated that the person would design an image and work on client development. That sounded so fantastic. Restaurant reviewer. Ooh! That would be terrific. I had quite a list of prospective jobs here. I was pleased with myself and very satisfied at my performance on this exercise. I could see myself in any of these jobs.

I hadn't heard Sam come up behind me.

"So, you are going to be a Career Counselor, huh?"

"I think I would be good at it," I said defensively.

He laughed, "I'm sure you would be, considering how many jobs you've had. Isn't this supposed to be a realistic exercise? Didn't we talk about that? You are supposed to be working toward finding a job you can actually get."

I was so offended. "It says in the book that you are just supposed to find jobs that sound fun to you."

"That may be true, but I know you. You are already seeing yourself in these positions. You've forgotten that these are not jobs that are open to you."

I felt my face turn crimson. He was right. I was already daydreaming myself into these jobs; I had completely forgotten that these weren't jobs that I could have -- I didn't actually have the expertise to get one of these jobs.

"Why don't you go back through and look for jobs that sound fun to you that you could actually get?"

"That's not what the exercise says."

"Humor me. I want to see if there is one job that you could get that you would want, then you can go back to what the exercise tells you to do."

I grudgingly returned to the want ads. I started going through them, noting that for the most part, they were either things I didn't want or wasn't qualified for. I was several pages in before I saw a job I would or could consider. "Wanted: In-House Counsel for an Arts Organization." That wouldn't be a terrible job. It was still legal, but at least it dealt with a field I was interested in. "Part-time Counsel to Small Hospital." OK, I would mostly consider it because it was part-time, but I could say I thought some of the issues might be interesting. The last job I could see that I was remotely interested in was an administrative law judge, but I knew that it was extremely unlikely that I could get something like that with as little experience as I had. Judges are usually people with twenty or so years of experience.

I took the list to Sam. He looked it over.

"I thought so. There aren't many jobs in your chosen profession that you would be willing to take, are there?"

I shook my head.

"It's OK, Jess. I just want you to be serious about finding something that you will take. Don't just do some of the exercises half-heartedly. Read the book. Then do what it tells you, the way it tells you to do it."

I nodded and went back to the kitchen. Feeling like I had been exiled, I looked over the jobs I had chosen. I noticed that there were some themes emerging from my choices. They all had a creative element involved, designing something, writing something or developing something. All of the jobs were social. I would get to deal with people, both inside and outside of the jobs. They all had some planning or organizing involved in them.

I went back to the beginning of the book and started reading. I began to realize that I had gone into law for all the wrong reasons, and I was not alone. Although it was a tad depressing to realize that I made a huge career mistake and had wasted three years and tens of thousands of dollars, I took solace in the fact that I might be able to find something to do with my life that I could find fulfilling.

I did in fact have skills. If I could determine how to transfer those skills to something I was interested in, then I could have a career.

To be continued ...

1See What Can You Do with a Law Degree, p. 39
3Id. at 77
6Id. at 78
7Id. at 79
8Id. at 81
Article © Hillary E. Peak. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-05-14
Image(s) © Mike O'Sullivan. All rights reserved.
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