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Ask E. Jean for DearSugar: What am I Missing Here?

Dear E. Jean--

From the outside I have it all. A handsome husband who is a big-shot lawyer at a prestigious international firm, bringing in the big bucks. I’m a lawyer too, at a less prestigious, but nonetheless great firm. We are building our first house, a big, brick Colonial McMansion in the tony suburbs of a big city. We have nice clothes, jewelry and cars. We donate our time and money for worthy causes, have great friends and family. BUT . . . . . I feel totally worthless.

The material things never defined me, so I derive little satisfaction from them. I hate being a lawyer. I feel stuck by the house and my profession, and, at times, my marriage. My husband refuses to leave the state, and all I want to do is pack up and move somewhere else, for a new perspective or god knows what. Sometimes I feel the only thing I have done right is married a great man and treated my dog well. Good things, but sad.

Is this just a bad case of wanderlust or the typical crisis late-twentysomethings go through?

To see E. Jean's answer

NOW, NOW, My Young Trollop: Of all the letters I receive, the #1 career complaint is from women who are attorneys. Why? It happens like this:

  1. You are brilliant
  2. You graduate from college
  3. You frown. An Angelina Jolie frown -- your eyebrows crash into your cheek bones
  4. Question: WHAT should you do with your life?
  5. Some dingbat answers: “Dude, why not go to law school?”
  6. Having nothing better to do, you go to law school
  7. Boom
  8. You graduate . . . again!
  9. Dang
  10. You do not particularly want to be a lawyer, but your parents say, “Hey! Take the bar. We spent thousands putting you through school, the least you could do is take the damn bar.”
  11. You take the bar
  12. Unfortunately, you pass
  13. “Great! Great!” cry your parents, “You passed the bar! Fantastic! Now, hunny. You know it would be just terrible to waste all that time, wouldn’t it? Why don’t you just see if you like being a lawyer.”
  14. You get a job as a lawyer with some dried-up, boring, snotty, hideously desiccated, old white shoe firm
  15. And. You. Fakking. HATE. It.

No wonder you feel stuck and “worthless.” I’m amazed you haven’t duc-taped yourself to the barco lounger and refused to budge from the house. It’s time to do what you want to do.

You were already half-way to being a freed woman merely because you value what is to be valued: A good man and a great dog. (Not necessarily in that order.)

With your charm, your alertness, your savage skills, there is pretty much no limit to what you can achieve -- especially with the big city near by. Hundreds of wonderful organizations need a lawyer who is clever, motivated, and wants to reach deep down inside herself and find what she has to give to the world.

For example:
The Innocence Project (a national organization dedicated to freeing wrongly convicted people.) (a stunning organization that lets people “lend small amounts of money to a specific entrepreneur in the developing world, empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.)

If your husband doesn’t mind (and he sounds like an excellent chap) pulling in the lion share, go work somewhere you will LURVE working. You won’t make much dough, but you will feel alive and happy inside that big brick house.

P.S. And, please, darling. Build something that doesn’t look like the Burger King lives there.

To see more advice from E. Jean visit Elle Magazine and


lickety-split lickety-split 10 years
things don't fill people up. they might take up space for awhile, but then after they shake down there you are again. the good part of a person, the part that touches the hearts of others isn't something you can buy; you have to create it. maybe it's time to try a different path career wise. lots of people change their minds. the average career of a lawyer is 7 years (lots of people don't like it). growing up is a process. you don't "get it right" immediately. you have the foundation for happiness and there isn't anything bothering you that can't be changed. read one of the "what color is my parachute" type books and consider your options. try and focus on what you have rather than what you don't. if you have your life partner you are well on your way to happiness :)
pinupsweetheart pinupsweetheart 10 years
Great advise from DearSugar. If you feel like you have no meaning in life, use your schooling to help those in need. It is really hard to find a good honest lawyer. In Calfornia there is a hot dog place that also has lawyer night. Its called "Law Dogs" I think. One night a week a lawyer comes in to give free legal advise for those who don't know where to turn too. See if a place in your local area would want to team up with you to bring in business. Maybe a local coffee shop. You will find that helping others that may not have it so easy more fullfilling. Good Luck!
andaman andaman 10 years
Whatever you do avoid becoming one of those ladies who lunch. That's just horrible!
andaman andaman 10 years
You know sometimes when you are financially secure, you can get bored, I'm not being snobbish here but I've seen it and I've experienced it myself. I'm not rich or anything but I never really have to struggle very hard to do what I want (I always have choices to choose from). I'm now in my thirties and for the first time I have to struggle to get my own thing off the ground (I also don't want to explore options anymore). It's hard work but like i said you have to find that "thing" and be disciplined about it (meaning having a schedule and all sorts of boring things you have to do :) ) Best of luck darling.
KerryG KerryG 10 years
popgoestheworld, The Not-So-Big House is written by Sarah Susanka. I recommend it highly also. It's about designing and building a house that will be a home for YOU, not just four walls and a roof to keep off the rain, so in addition to being a great architecture book, it does a wonderful job of getting you to think about how you live your life and how you want to live your life. There's information about the books and its sequels at Otherwise, I agree with what others have said - figure out what you love to do, and do it! You can start by picking it up as a hobby and see how it develops, or rip the bandaid off all at once, quit your job, and go into business for yourself/find another job that you actually want to do.
popgoestheworld popgoestheworld 10 years
I could have written that word for word (substituting boyfriend for husband) a few years ago. Then I made a list of things that made me happy and things I felt passionate about and I quit my job and worked on an Indian Reservation for a year. It was an insanely hard decision but it was by far the best decision I have made in my lifetime. Nothing worth having is without some risk. It also sounds like you don't have anything to look forward to right now. This was your goal, and you achieved it, and you are realizing it was an empty goal. (Good for you, btw.) I have found in life that meaning is provided by helping other people and caring more for the world around you than you do for yourself. What did you love as a kid? Can you tap into that and go back to school? The idea of using your law degree to help a non-profit is cool, too. PS - you don't sound too excited about your house - referring to it as a McMansion really isn't flattering. Why not move somewhere more unique and define a space that is YOURS, not the definition of the American Dream for everyone else? PPS - books to check out: The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho (or something like that - too lazy to look it up.) Also, Eat, Love Pray by Elizabeth Gilbert. And, The Not So Big House by Susan Saranka (again, an approximation - too lazy to look up)
Marci Marci 10 years
Sometimes we work really hard to attain something, get it, work it some more and then it starts to feel empty and flat. It's all done in a flurry; college, law school, first job, marriage, house.......then the busyness slows and that's when you actually begin to feel and assess. And that's when we sometimes realize we're not doing what we actually want to be doing. I say follow your heart and feelings. Maybe you could use your legal skills in another way that would satisfy you more. Your husband can keep doing what he's doing and you can find your own new way and still have a great marriage. It might even be a better one than it is already because you'll be feeling more self-satisfied. I can't help you know what you *should* be doing, but I can support you in your search to make your life more meaningful and rich. Best of luck to you!!
partysugar partysugar 10 years
Great advice, I really hope she quits and does what she wants!
DCStar DCStar 10 years
Very good advice. Also...if the husband works in a big international firm, couldn't he transfer to a different area if it's time for a change?
Jeannie_CK Jeannie_CK 10 years
I always find photography enjoyable. Just to get out the house. Visit a park or something.
andaman andaman 10 years
to want what you have i meant :)
Jeannie_CK Jeannie_CK 10 years
I'm sure some people would love to be in your shoes but I understand where you're going. Have you considered taking up a hobby or something or joining a group that interacts with the community. Anything really that involves people and enjoyment.
andaman andaman 10 years
I am with someone who is more than good at what he does. Tons of women wanna be with him I'm sure (I've seen it myself). I am digging deeper and trying to focus on my thing. Find that "thing", and focus on it, stop getting side track by how empty life can be, focus on how lucky you are, i know it sounds so simple but you have to learn to want you have and build on that. Trust me I'm on the same boat.
jennifer76 jennifer76 10 years
Excellent advice. It's easy to feel worthless if you don't value what you're doing. So, do what you value.
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