Friday, October 31, 2008

Pyro Follow Up

It’s been one of those weeks when the reality of the worst economic downturn in generations is nothing but a faint echo outside my office window. Things are actually PICKING up here at the office and I’m just trying to keep my head above water.

But hey, why worry? I have my Halloween costume ready to go and the promise of copious libations and assorted mischief is definitely in the air. :)


For now, I wanted to share the following narrative. It’s something I put together in response to some questions I got this week. I hope this adds some context to my previous post. As always, constructive comments, complaints, and annoyances are always welcome. Have a great weekend everyone.

Why did you burn your law diploma?

At some point, I realized that a great deal of my self-worth was tied to being a Harvard law grad. Burning my degree was just a way to continue this process of simplification. I still have fond memories of Harvard. My three years there were the most intellectually stimulating, most meaningful of my entire life. But, ultimately, I want to live my life on my own terms without needing a piece of paper to justify my own worth.

Was there a trigger to your move to shun excess and pursue a simpler life?

After years of working 12-hour days, giving up countless weekends and canceling vacations at the last minute, I just had enough. I eventually realized that I was slowly losing my life, one billable hour at a time. In the end, it makes no sense to trade 90 percent of your waking hours for a chance to buy expensive clothes, be seen at fancy restaurants, and indulge in all sorts of excess. More recently, a friend of mine was diagnosed with terminal cancer. There is nothing like being made aware of your own mortality to help you focus on what truly matters: family, love and friendship.

How far have you come? Are you downsizing, or is this more of an attitude shift?

I've been taking small, deliberate steps since last year to simplify all aspects of my life. Thus far, I have decluttered my house and have arranged for the sale of most of my furniture. Up next, leaving my job, selling my house and taking some time off to figure out next steps.

If you've already begun shedding material gains, is there anything you miss?

Not so far. Embracing voluntary simplicity does not imply that you have to accept abject poverty or that you need to reject all material comforts. Voluntary simplicity encourages you to shed anything that does not have genuine value to you. In my case, I no longer find a need to patronize Citronelle on a weekly basis, or head out to Vegas to spend a couple of thousand dollars every chance I get. I now spend money on things that bring me meaningful joy. And it just so happens that most of these things are so cheap, they are practically free.

Why did you want to become a lawyer in the first place? What were your expectations coming out of law school?

The honest answer is that I went to law school because I didn't know what else to do with my life. I had a vague sense that I wanted to work in the public interest field, but I did not know in what capacity. In the end, I was seduced by the prestige of all the law schools that accepted my application and by the opportunity to make a difference. And then the reality of incurring $120,000 of law school debt plus the allure of making a six-figure salary changed everything. By the time I left Harvard, I had already bought my first $1,000 suit.

Is there a way for you to continue on a legal career path that will satisfy your desire for simplicity?

I am definitely interested in transitioning into the public interest field. Finding a legal job that satisfies my intellectual curiosity, assuages my moral convictions, and allows me the opportunity to explore my other interests is a priority.

Why chronicle your transition so publicly in a blog? Is there something cathartic about blogging openly, or does committing yourself in public force you to stay on course?

I started the blog as a way to keep track of my progress. At first, it was just a matter of outlining all of the things that were not working in my life and figuring out practical ways to resolve them on my own. Early on, I found that interacting with other people who were confronting similar issues was another way to brainstorm and encourage simplification. There is something about anonymity that allows people to drop their guard and be open about the things they want out of life. I have learned that there is great value in sharing yourself with others, even in the shadows of anonymity.

What have you learned about yourself and what other lawyers are going through in regards to work/life balance issues?

I have learned that there are other ways to live my life and that I should follow my heart, no matter where it leads me.

I've also learned that there is something seriously wrong with law firm life. I've been blogging for five months now, and I am still surprised by the sheer number of e-mails I receive from other lawyers who are dealing with some of the very same issues I struggle with. I think there is a yearning out there for a way to reconcile the demands of a legal career with other life goals. Many lawyers feel that they have rejected important aspects of themselves in exchange for a life they no longer feel they want to live. They feel trapped because they have to pay a mortgage, student loans, private school tuition, etc. ... but have no idea how to get out.

I think it is important to emphasize that not every lawyer working at a law firm is unhappy. Some of my very best friends have thrived in that environment and are genuinely happy. If you derive genuine, meaningful pleasure from the profession and can overcome all the obstacles that this lifestyle places on your personal life, then you have it made.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Follow Your Dreams

I’ve been thinking about doing this, in one way or another, for a while now. But I was never really sure if I would be doing it for the right reasons. Not to mention how silly it sounded whenever I brought it up to people. But this weekend it all came together: the weather was beautiful, the trails were inviting and freedom seemed just around the corner. So I went for it.

This is NOT a knock against Harvard. Or a calculated criticism of legal education. Or even a rejection of elitism, per se.

Sometimes you just need to say goodbye to your past in order to move forward.

In the end, it was just a piece of paper. Nothing more. I would rather live my life on my own terms than be a person that needs a piece of paper to justify their own worth.

A special thanks to M for helping to put this video together. I think it looks pretty cool, particularly if you click the "Watch in High Quality" link right under the YouTube video. What do you think?

Thursday, October 23, 2008



This past week has been a swirl of list-making, planning, scheming and dealing with all sorts of practical minutiae that come with my new status as a “soon-to-be unemployed attorney.” With every errand done and call made, a whole new life is taking shape, one that I have been seeking, in one way or another, all of my adult life.

One of the first things I did this week is come up with a draft budget that I am hoping to put in place once the Plan is finalized. For the Excel nuts out there, you can view it here.

As you review this budget keep this in mind: apart from generally trying to not buy big-ticket items, I have little to no sense of how to truly economize. I feel a little like Bush senior when he didn’t know the price of milk in the 1992 election. The fact is that when you work the hours I do you hardly have the time to really notice the price of things you buy. Your instinct is to go into a store and get what you need as quickly as possible, put it on a credit card, and not worry about it. Ahh, the insanity of yuppiedom...


The truth is that I have been living in la la land for years and only now am I getting a taste of real life. I’m going to need some time to adjust and figure out how to get my bearings. So, please be kind. It’s not easy being a recovering yuppie:

[Cue the basement of the local community center]

Jack: “Hi. I’m Jack. I’m a Yuppie.”

Group: “HELLO JACK!”



As for the budget itself, here are some observations:

*Two areas that I think I can work on right off the bat are Personal Spending and Groceries. The former, I am certain I can get down to the $300 and even the $200 range. I definitely hit a couple of bars every week with some of my buddies, but that’s not all that expensive. The amount of the latter is just a placeholder. I just don’t have any idea what I will need to spend until I start to take stock of what I buy every month.

*Miscellaneous is a catch-all category. I’ll probably expand this as I work on this budget going forward.


I am SO excited about some of things that I have planned for the next couple of weeks. One thing in particular makes me smile whenever I think about it. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 19, 2008




I’ve gotten quite a few emails/comments on this question. The short answer is that (1) it was inevitable; and (2) something happened this week that made chucking the Plan the most natural thing to do.

On Inevitability

I think Jennifer said it best:

“I thought this might be coming. :) Based on my experience, once you mentally check out of a job you cannot check back it. You're done, even if you don't know it yet.”

The truth is that while I have been practicing law for the past few months I’ve already pretty much checked out of the profession. It’s hard to be an effective lawyer when your eyes start glazing over while reading contracts. It’s hard to build good client relations when all you want to do during conference calls is to throw the phone against the wall. It’s hard to draft good work product when you no longer care whether that one case is cited correctly.

Seriously, how can I continue coming into an office wearing $1,500 suits when my mind is in Alaska, or in a van somewhere out west, or on a freight train in North Carolina, or on a sail boat in the middle of the ocean. In the end, I came to the conclusion that leaving earlier than next year was inevitable after I asked myself this question: How can I continue to live in a prison voluntarily when I’ve found the key to freedom?

On Living

If leaving my job earlier than next year was inevitable, the only question on the table was when, precisely, I would leave. That answer came to me on Wednesday. An old friend came to town that night and we met for a couple of drinks. After catching up a bit I told him about my new commitment to voluntary simplicity and about leaving my job, selling the townhouse, even this blog. He seemed genuinely happy for me, which was strange coming from him. The last time I saw him he had been drinking Patron between two very expensive-looking women in the VIP section of some exclusive club in NYC.

Jack: “Dude, seriously, you look different.”

Friend: “Really, how so?”

Jack: “Well, I don’t know. Just different. Maybe more…serene…happier?”

Friend: “Well I am happier. I’m leaving for Botswana on Friday. Doing a safari and then heading to South Africa.”

Jack: “What! No fucking way! YOU are doing a safari?” I laugh out loud.

Friend: “Jack, I’m dying.”

Long silence.

Jack: “I’m so sorry”

Friend: “Don’t be sorry. We are all dying Jack. It’s just that some of us are dying a little faster. The key is to not live your life as if you are already dead.”

At that moment I decided to quit my job.


I approached my mentor the next day to let him know I was thinking of leaving. He was very supportive. There are still some details to figure out but by February or so I will no longer have any connection with big law firm life.

I am now one step closer to freedom. I feel lighter. I am serene. I am ready to live my life.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bring it on!

I’m jumping. I don’t give a shit. I have been living in the dark for a while now and enough is enough. Sure, you can have tons of fun in the dark. Believe me, there have been times when the booze has been fantastic, when the partying, the women, and the meaningless self-importance of being an asshole lawyer have all been exquisite, convenient distractions from genuine happiness.

But all of that is over as of today. I have to save my soul. I can’t continue giving up bits of myself every time I walk into this office. I can’t go to sleep every night knowing that I can’t live my life for yet another year. More to the point, I can’t stand those exquisite, convenient distractions any longer.

Life is short, my dear reader. Take the time to think about this fact carefully: you, my dear reader, can die tomorrow. Now, I know you *think* you already know that, but if you would just indulge me once more, let me repeat myself: YOU (yes, you! the person reading this right this very minute) CAN DIE TOMORROW. This is a fact and not some trite Dead Poets Society slogan.

I want to live my life furiously, with tons of traveling, love, friendship, bicycling, and some serious fucking in between. I want to have the time to figure out who this Jack person really is. I want to have the opportunity to be reckless, but only in the pursuit of knowledge, experience and, ultimately, meaningful wisdom. I want to live my life as if everyday is my last day on earth.

The first day of the rest of my life starts today. No more waiting. No more bullshit. Details to follow.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Townhouse Status


So, I’m finally getting a handle on the whole townhouse issue. Last week I talked to a couple of advisers and got all the relevant info sorted out. The bottom line is that I can start the sales process at a moment’s notice, depending on how things shake out with my job, the economy and every other ball that is still up in the air. This is an awesome development and has allowed me to breathe a little easier this week. Here is a summary of my thought process on this whole issue:

As I mentioned in an ealier post, the options on the table are the following: (1) rent; (2) sell; (3) short sale; (4) deed in lieu; or (5) foreclose. At this point, it is pretty clear that it makes no sense to rent the townhouse, unless I am prepared to kick in a not-insubstantial amount to cover the mortgage every month. This wouldn’t be a problem if I actually expected to be able to sell the townhouse for some kind of profit in a couple of years. However, that’s just not realistic. Selling the house outright is probably not going to work either given the state of the market and the fact that even if I were to find a real buyer they might not be able to secure financing (banks are basically turning down people with great credit due to the credit crunch).

One option that I’ve already discounted is to just walk away and let the banks foreclose. It’s something more and more people are doing the longer this housing crisis continues. On my end, I am the perfect candidate for walking away. As I’ve mentioned before, I paid literally nothing, nada, 0, zip, to buy this place. The mortgage was fully financed and the seller paid all closing costs. All I did was put my stuff in a moving van and unload when I got there. As for the monthly mortgage expenses, let’s just say that after getting a check from my tenant and annualizing my home interest tax deduction I’m paying a ton less than what my peers pay for housing. Put it another way, since I moved into my townhouse I am actually SPENDING LESS $ on housing than anyone I know. Bottom line, I don’t feel as if I have anything invested in this house so why shouldn’t I just walk away outright?

The answer is it would be the worst possible decision. Aside from all the moral qualms that walking away from a mortgage elicits, anyone who does walk away may face a ton of tax liability, not to mention the fact that the banks may come after you to get their money back. This is stuff that I just do NOT want to deal with in any way shape or form.

Which basically leaves me with two viable options on the table: a short sale or finalizing a deed in lieu. There are some drawback to both options, but nothing insurmountable or horrendous.

So, to sum it all up, I will most likely put the house up for sale first and see if I get any bites. If not, I will just negotiate a short sale or, if that fails, a deed in lieu. Not the most simple process in the world. But hey, there is nothing wrong with facing some complexity in order to secure long-term simplicity.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Biking Simplicity


[Yes, my dear reader, this is, in fact, the very first image of Jack posted on this blog]

I took advantage of a couple of cool, clear mornings to do some serious bike training this past weekend. By Sunday night I had ravaged the Mount Vernon trail, the Capital Crescent, and a good chunk of the Rock Creek trail. No way am I approaching the likes of Jill (Up in Alaska) or Nancy (Family on Bikes), but 83 miles isn’t too shabby.

There is something so elemental about bicycling. It is the most selfless way to see the world around you. There is no gasoline, no power steering, and no seat belts. You move forward as one should move through life: by sheer will and determination. Those who bicycle regularly always find a sweet, contagious rhythm that mere novices can scarcely understand. It’s a rhythm full of wind and sweat and rushing empty spaces. It is a rhythm I hope to never forget.
At one point on Saturday I ended up in Bethesda, which is apparently the third wealthiest neighborhood in the nation, behind Newport Beach and Greenwich, Connecticut. Seeing all the beautifully manicured families, trust-fund babies, and annoying yuppies made me think about my future.

Sure, I was (1) dripping with sweat; (2) wearing my 40-year-old-virgin nerd biking helmet; and (3) wearing biking shorts that screamed “seriously, I want you; no I NEED you to stare at my junk!!”


But as I walked through the streets of Bethesda no one batted one eyelid. I was, presumably, one of them. I wonder how I would be treated walking down this same street a year from now. Would I seem different? Would I act differently? Would it really matter?

As I made my way back home on my bike it all became very clear. Life was just too simple and beautiful for me to give a shit.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

State of the Blog

[Photo: Wikepedia]

Seeing as Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity (“AVS”) is celebrating its fifth month of existence I though it would be appropriate to provide the following in terms of feedback/commentary:

Comment Moderation
If you recall, I briefly considered moderating comments after a spate of questionable comments. I’ve decided to leave things as they are and let people post what they want. While constructive criticism is always appreciated, any post that smacks of unadulterated venom will be ignored. I hope other posters will do the same. My hope is to provide an environment in which people can be as honest as they want to be without encouraging unnecessary mischief. I may have to revisit this issue if I ever get inundated with spam.

Blog Structure
Over the past couple of months I’ve added several lists on the right-hand side of the blog. These include:

*“The Plan”: These posts outline my overall strategy for leaving my job and attaining my own version of freedom.

*“Simple Stories”: This is a collection of posts that focus on simple, joyful activities that, at least for me, make life such an amazing, beautiful adventure.

*"Top Posts”: These are posts that, for whatever reason, resonated with me long after I wrote them.

Blog Features
Here is where my ignorance becomes plain and clear. As I navigate through the blogosphere I always encounter interesting gadgets and programs that people have added to their blogs. Sometimes it is fairly easy to discern their utility. Sometimes not. The bottom line is that AVS is probably due for a good spiffying up. If there are any specific features that you think might complement the blog let me know. I’m hoping to add an image/video feature, but beyond that I am still a little stumped.

Photo Attribution
How embarrassing! Being a lawyer I should have instinctively realized that if I add images from elsewhere on the net I should also credit the relevant source. I will definitely do this from now on.