If you dream big and your dreams come true, then you’re lucky.
If you have done everything right and have gotten the right result, then you’re lucky.
If you work hard to make things happen and they actually happen, then you’re lucky.
And you’re also not me.
When I was three years old, I made a list of everything that I would need to have and be when I grew up: I wanted to be a business woman, with a pocket book, check book and credit card.
I lived in my grandmother’s house on Long Island with my mother and a rotating cast of characters, mostly relatives, who would stay with us. Neither woman had a college education. My mother, who was ill as a child, was never pressured to succeed in school and was always told that when she married, her husband would care for her. She was divorced at twenty-eight, with a baby. My grandmother left high school at sixteen to join the Israeli army in the war for independence in 1948. She married at twenty and was widowed at forty-eight. Though she had a successful career as an early childhood educator and Hebrew school teacher, she needed me – upon learning subtraction – to balance her check book.
My future independence was important to them, and even more important to me.
I dreamt big.
I finished high school a year early and left for college. In college, I studied a broad range of subjects, but ultimately majored in film studies, with a view toward becoming an entertainment and intellectual property lawyer. I graduated from college at twenty and law school at twenty three, having been on the Dean’s List, a published member of a law journal and the president of a major student organization. I had taken internships, both paid and unpaid, attended numerous industry conferences and began building a professional network. I had also committed my weekends to researching law firms in New York and coordinating a huge mass mailing, but still I graduated without a job.
I did everything right.
After a year of temp work, I accepted my first associate position at a small law firm in Midtown. I never wanted to work at a small firm, but I was grateful for the opportunity and worked eighty hour weeks for three nasty bosses and a meager paycheck until I simply couldn’t take it anymore. A few months later, after sending hundreds of resumes and applying on average to twenty jobs per day, I found my current position, where I intended to stay for only two years. It was a junior level associate position, in the areas of intellectual property, corporate, and trusts and estates law. All three of those areas interested me, the salary was somewhat better and the hours less insane.
I worked hard, built relationships with my clients and earned praise from my boss. But in the fall of 2008, business slowed and gradually, my intellectual property practice began to decline and I was forced to take on work in areas that do not interest me at all. I also have not received a raise in several years, and given the size of my firm, there is no opportunity for promotion.
Throughout my time here, I have remained active in bar associations and industry groups. I have attended many conferences, programmed events and continued to build my network. I have actively been looking for a new position in two different cities since 2009, and have found NOTHING. I told myself that if I was forced to stick around long enough to celebrate my fifth anniversary with my current firm that I was done with law. I saw that day come and go on September fourth of this year and I’m still here.
It is so hard for me to walk away from something when I have never had the chance to do it in the way that I have wanted.
I worked hard.
I have convinced myself for years that I had something in my back pocket. There is an intellectual property firm nearby that I frequently collaborate with and I have wonderful relationships with the partners there. However, when a position there opened several years ago, they took my resume but never called for an interview. Ultimately, they hired an entry level candidate for the position, and told me that is what they had budgeted for at the time. A few weeks ago, that attorney left. She moved on to a wonderful firm, as did her predecessor. I was never even informed of the new opening, and this time, they hired someone with credentials more similar to mine. Just not me.
Today was going to be such a good day. I woke up early and ran a sweaty six mile speed session in Central Park. I came to work and when I had a quiet moment, I signed on to LinkedIn. That’s when I got the news. That’s when the day went to hell.
I don’t want to be one of those people who spends their whole life trying to do one thing, and never succeeds.
I am thirty-one years old. I have an amazing husband. I live in an amazing city. I want an amazing career, too.
How can I know when to give up on the dream?