Thursday, September 24, 2009

GUEST POST: My Date with Jack

[image: api.ning.m]

Today Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity is inaugurating a series of guest posts from fellow bloggers, friends and assorted “simple living” cronies. The intent is to encourage ongoing dialogue regarding all aspects of the voluntary simplicity/simple living movement. Each approved guest post will be published as written without any editorial oversight so long as the following guidelines are observed:

*Posts must be at least tangentially related to the voluntary simplicity/simple living movement or must focus on a topic previously covered on the blog.

*Draft posts that are critical of me, the blog, and/or the voluntary simplicity/simple living movement are ABSOLUTELY ENCOURAGED. However, please note that posts that contain unnecessay venom and vitrolic insults will not be published.

If you would like to submit a guest post feel free to email me directly with a brief description of the topic you would like to tackle. Note that certain suggested guest posts may be declined for editorial reasons (topic may have already been covered by a previous poster; draft post is poorly written, etc...).

MY DATE WITH JACK
The following guest post was written by Nancy Vogel, author of the Family on Bikes blog:

My Date with Jack
“What if he really is a pompous ass?” I thought to myself as I sat on the bus for the 4-hour journey into Medellin to meet Jack in person. “What if – for all his talking about making these fundamental changes in this thinking - he’s still that pretentious, arrogant, puffed-up son of a bitch he talks about?”

The internet is a strange place – you meet people and forge friendships without ever knowing what they look like. Jack and I had read each other’s blogs for well over a year, emailed many times, and even talked on the phone. I had told many people about my lawyer friend who was making the transition to a life more simple, yet I didn’t even know his real name. What if, after all that, he really was an asshole I wouldn’t want to be found within shouting distance of?

But then I walked up to the door of the museum we had agreed to meet at and he walked out with his boyish grin, and all that was forgotten. Here was Jack – in his old brown t-shirt, jeans, and three-day-old beard. The Jack I had pictured after all.

Gracious, kind, gentle, giving, and warm as the summer sunshine, Jack was the kind of person I could sit and talk with for hours – which is exactly what we did. We chatted in a cafĂ© while drinking fresh lulo juice, we chatted as we walked the busy streets of Medellin towards the bike store, and we chatted while in the taxi to the mall.

In so many ways, Jack and I are on the same journey. I suppose I started a couple years ahead of him, but we’re on the same path. I remember those days all too well – those days when I struggled with the idea of giving up all I had worked so hard for, of giving up the American Dream I was supposed to want, of walking away from society’s expectations to make my own way on this planet… It was fun to listen to Jack voice the exact same thoughts I went through a couple years earlier.

But there were still a few strings attached – strings pulling him back. Or maybe they are ropes. Or cables. That uppity lawyer mindset doesn’t relinquish its hold easily.

“I’ve got to go buy a pair of shoes,” Jack said. “Want to come to the mall and help me pick them out?”

Shoes? New shoes?

“I’ve been invited to a law conference tomorrow,” he explained. “And I need to be dressed for it. I’ve borrowed a suit and tie, but don’t have any shoes.”

I admit it – if it had been me I would have borrowed the suit and then worn my Birkenstocks rather than go buy new shoes. But I digress…

And so we found ourselves at a posh, swanky mall filled with generic high-priced shops looking at stylish Colombian leather shoes. Is this really the Jack I thought I knew?

“I love my 3-day-old beard!” Jack told me, “but I think I’ll have to shave it off for tomorrow. I don’t want to, but…” Those old law-firm expectations obviously still have their grip on him in some ways – those bony fingers still have the ability to reach in and wrap themselves around his new-fangled way of thinking…

But what I love about Jack is his utter honesty – with himself and others. He’s grappled with the fundamental ideas of what’s important – what’s really important. He’s one of those rare individuals who has the courage to thrust aside all those expectations placed upon him – from his colleagues, his mother, his friends, and yes – from himself. He’s looked at the demands of society and come to the difficult conclusion that the American Dream may not be all it’s cracked up to be after all.

24 comments:

Debbi said...

Nice post. And, OMG, that's so funny about the shoes. What is it about lawyers (and I speak as one who used to practice law) that make them (I mean, us?) so attuned to meeting the expectations of others? It's true. Once you're allowed in that "club," you're expected to adhere to the dress code. No George Michael beards. No Birkenstocks.

Frankly, I'm happy to be done with that whole scene.

(Psst--hey, Jack. Even if you still want to practice law, you can be your own kind of lawyer now. You don't have to follow the dress code. Keep the beard. If they don't like it, f*ck 'em.)

Jon said...

Speaking about giving up what we have built over the years and meeting others' expectations, I found it even harder in a conservative Asian society. My family has a hard time to understand my temporary break from a promising career. But deep inside me, I'm glad I have given up some material possessions and embarked on a spiritual journey.

donna said...

great post
i agree debbi- dress and have your facial hair to suit you Jack. You don't have to try and fit in or impress anyone by wearing the right stuff. You are great as you are. Deep down they'll be envious of you for having the confidence to be who you are.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. I don't know what you have up your sleeve professionally, Jack, but I have a feeling it's big and important. If wearing appropriate shoes and shaving gets people to listen to your ideas and take you seriously, do it.

Jack said...

@Debbi,

Well, unfortunately, dressing the part is important, depending on the kind of law you are are involved in. I'm all for noncomformity, but I'm very much aware that perception (from a client, from fellow attorneys, etc...) counts a great deal in this profession. Don't see having to do the clean cut look as any great compromise, so long as I've freely chosen to embrace a certain profession.

@Jon,

I am glad for you as well. The key is to align, as much as possible, your internal barometer for happiness with what you are doing day in and out professionally. Sounds like you have just taken a first step.

@Donna,

See my response to Debbi. Dressing the part comes with the territory. Besides, I actually LIKE wearing suits once in a while. Shaving, though, does get annoying.

Lauren said...

Love it! Great post! I read this blog and find myself wishing and hoping that I could someday reduce life to a backpack and a pair of sturdy shoes, and just start walking. In the meantime, i think that my vacations here and there will have to suffice with replenishing the simplicity of life every now and again.

Anonymous said...

I think the bigger point here is why Jack feels the need to meet the expectations of those at the conference. Could it be that, deep down, or maybe not so deep, he knows he'll go back to the law before too long?

I hate to be a skeptic, but I'll go ahead and call this now. Jack got laid off in the round of big firm layoffs and figured he'd blow off law firm life for a while. He's either hoping to score a book deal out of this blog, or he's planning on finding a law job if he can't.

Jack said...

@Anonymous,

Well, I don't think many of my former colleagues would think that what I have "up my sleeve" will be all that important. But it will be important to me.

As for dressing appropriately at that conference, it was just that...you can't expect to be at a law conference (at least, the one I attended) wearing ripped shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops. It's just disrespectful. I'd rather dress nicely and do the law conference thing like everyone else.

@Lauren,

Nothing wrong with enjoying your vacation and living a simpler life withinn the context of the life you already live.

@Anonymous,

"I think the bigger point here is why Jack feels the need to meet the expectations of those at the conference. Could it be that, deep down, or maybe not so deep, he knows he'll go back to the law before too long?"

See my response to anonymous above. I don't think I was meeting anyone else's expectations at the conference. I was meeting my own. Conferences are usually conservative affairs and dressing appropriately is important to me. I don't see what point I would be making by wearing flip flops.

"I hate to be a skeptic, but I'll go ahead and call this now. Jack got laid off in the round of big firm layoffs and figured he'd blow off law firm life for a while. He's either hoping to score a book deal out of this blog, or he's planning on finding a law job if he can't."

If you were a regular reader of this blog you would know that I've very much considered the possibility that I could have been laid off if I had stayed only a few more months after I left BIGLAW. And who ever said I wasn't looking for a law job? I've been looking for one that embraces my inner values since even before I left my firm.

stiffie said...

Now I know why I'm not a lawyer: They'd frown upon my jorts. Even with their awesome fray.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1v1PyPsI30

Debbi said...

Are you the same Jack who took that bike trip? :)

Okay, okay--I see your point. But I still think there's a happy medium between expensive suits/shoes and "ripped shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops."

I agree that appearances count (the legal profession gets a bit pathological about it, IMHO, but that's me talkin'). Nonetheless, I think one can dress respectfully without completely knuckling under to straight-laced conformity. I'm just sayin' . . .

And I am curious now about where you'd like to take your career, based on the dress code concern. I know attorneys who work in offices or at jobs where dress simply isn't as much of an issue as it is at high-powered firms.

I realize you're talking about a professional conference, but who were you dressing to impress?

Anonymous said...

There is definitely a happy medium between ripped shorts and spending $$$ on shoes. The fact that you didn't understand that fact says quite a bit.

Even if you weren't laid off, I think the reality is that you were on the way out somehow. Perhaps you were one of the many, many associates who weren't cutting it on the partner track and couldn't find a lateral in this economy. That's probably a better bet now that I think about it. Every year young associates who realize they fell off the partner track migrate out of their firms seeking alternatives. Your difference is that you sold it as a lifestyle change.

I really want to believe otherwise, but every one of my bullshit detectors goes off reading your blog. I could be wrong, admittedly. I just don't think so.

Jack said...

@Stiffie,

Oh, stiffie, you are always on the money. :)

@Debbie,

"I think one can dress respectfully without completely knuckling under to straight-laced conformity. I'm just sayin'

...I realize you're talking about a professional conference, but who were you dressing to impress?"

I think that's a very good point, but, at least for me, this whole issue is one of context. The way I look at it:

1) I am not going to be wearing a suit as I bike across the country. Just as I am not wearing flip flops to go to an important conference. Not sure Nancy explained this completely but I just didn't have ANY shoes to wear to that conference. My choices were: flip flops or to buy something that I could use then and in the future.

2) I actually LIKE wearing a suit and tie occasonally. Not sure if you would describe that as comformity, but I wouldn't be happy wearing anything else if I can help it and have an excuse to do it. I honestly don't see it as impressing anyone. Nothing wrong with wearing what you want to wear.

3) If I eventually end up attending an event that does not require wearing a suit, I can always choose that "happy medium" you describe.

4) the bottom line is that my only regret about attending that conference was that I had to shave. Urgggg...

Jack said...

@Anonymous

"There is definitely a happy medium between ripped shorts and spending $$$ on shoes. The fact that you didn't understand that fact says quite a bit."

Please see my response to Debbie above. I am assuming you are also an attorney so let me just say:

(a) I am confused why a fellow attorney could, in any way, assume that another attorney would NOT understand the intricacies of dressing "business casual" at a legal conference...(b) as I mentioned above, I actually LIKE wearing suits and would wear one every single time over business casual dress for these staid legal events. The alternative would be to wear something I actually DON'T like to assuage some nebulous rebellious fashion streak you seem intent on ascribing to me.


"Even if you weren't laid off, I think the reality is that you were on the way out somehow. Perhaps you were one of the many, many associates who weren't cutting it on the partner track and couldn't find a lateral in this economy. That's probably a better bet now that I think about it. Every year young associates who realize they fell off the partner track migrate out of their firms seeking alternatives. Your difference is that you sold it as a lifestyle change.

I really want to believe otherwise, but every one of my bullshit detectors goes off reading your blog. I could be wrong, admittedly. I just don't think so.”

I'm also confused by the suspicious tone in this paragraph.

(a) First of all, I was NOT even close to being considered for partner when I left my law firm. While I'm not all that interested in specifying my actual class year, I left several years before I was even in the partner track mix.

(b) Although this is all speculation at this point, I think its fair to say that I would, ABSOLUTELY, NEVER be able to “cut it” on the partner track once I was actually in the mix. You only have to read a bit of this blog to realize that. Why in the world would I want to kill myself working 90 hour weeks when I can have a glass of wine in Sonoma, bike over Hoosier Pass in Colorado, or have my Sundays free (as I do today) by living the life I am now living?

(c) I'm not “selling” anything. I honestly, truly, find it sad that your first instinct is to look for something self-serving or calculating in this journey. This blog brings me no income. I am NOT interested in writing a book about my journey. I don't even like referencing articles in the media that discuss this blog because I find that to be self-promoting. Are we so jaded in our society that we must look for some hidden agenda in everything?

I am now, finally, living a life that makes sense to me. I don't need anyone's bullshit detector to legitimize what I have come to believe is the only life worth living.

frugal zeitgeist said...

Oh man. . . I still owe you a guest post. When are you in New York next? I'd love to meet up with you once more before I write it.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll give you credit...I really didn't think my comments would make it past "moderation."

To address my suspicion...yes, it's probably true it's sad we're so cynical. I think you would agree, though, that when dealing with those in the legal profession, there's a good reason to be cynical.

Now I should clarify...I believe you were unhappy with your job. Most people in biglaw jobs are unhappy. The problem is most are also status driven narcissists so they accept their unhappiness in exchange for fulfilling those needs. My main suspicion stems from the apparent lack of any "big" trigger that caused the disconnect from your job. I have a feeling there's more to the story. Maybe it's innocuous. Maybe not. I just think there's a lot more here we're not hearing. (Which of course is perfectly fine)

You're right, though, I probably shouldn't be so cynical. It's possible my bullshit detectors are failing me...anything's possible.

Debbi said...

Okay, I will make one final comment, then I promise to shut up about this.

I actually LIKE wearing suits . . .

I gotta tell you, this is the first time I've ever heard anyone say that. If it's really true that you enjoy wearing suits (as opposed to wearing them because they make you feel "more important" or give you the aura of having a higher status), then fine--whatever floats your boat.

And I understand that you might want a pair of decent shoes for such an occasion. But Italian leather shoes from a high-end mall? I can appreciate the desire for good quality shoes, but surely I'm not the only one who found this ironic.

I'll end with this thought. Have you ever read "The Maltese Falcon"? It's a great novel that they turned into a great movie that is, almost word-for-word, the same as the book. However, the movie omits one of my favorite parts: the Flitcraft parable.

Rather than relating it myself, I'll point you to a link, where you can read it: http://www.fallingbeam.org/beam.htm The text is right out of the novel and starts with the set-up for the parable. I URGE you to read this all the way through. If you think about it, I believe the story's potential relevance to you will become quite clear.

I don't know what your career plans are, so I can't say for sure that you're doing a Flitcraft. But I think all of us can learn from the parable.

So (keeping the parable in mind), here's some final food for thought: Has your journey really taken you somewhere new? Or have you simply arrived back where you started?

Anonymous said...

This guest post concept and the first post reminds me of that old joke, "Okay, so enough about me. What do YOU think about me?"

Concojones said...

@Debbi: you can actually get to love wearing a suit. They're an acquired taste. I hated suits while in college, but started to love wearing them after a few months in working life.

Nancy said...

Gosh Jack - I never intended to open a can of worms! I totally understand about liking to get dressed up - if I could figure out some sort of excuse to get dressed up on a semi-regular basis I would get me one of those fancy-schancy dresses. And I do understand that you wanted shoes for more than the one day - but it just sounded so odd to me that you would go buy shoes for one day!

Anyway, carry on. Take care, and we'll see you somewhere in South America!

Anonymous said...

Jack,

I stumbled upon your blog and spent half the night catching up on your transformation from Biglaw attorney to liberated journeyman.

I was a junior level associate working in Biglaw until earlier this year when I was laid off among the masses. However, I had considered leaving the firm anyway, and as I read more of your blog, I found myself recalling many of the same emotions you felt up until you walked away.

While I have no student or consumer debt, no condo, and no financial shackles to speak of, I did not amass the riches that you did, so I have significantly less time than you do to figure out my long term "plan." I look forward to seeing where your path takes you.

Unfortunately, I have not closed the door entirely on working for a law firm, as I have no other definite career options at this point. Additionally, while it seems that you sincerely put your all into furthering your career as a lawyer, I feel I barely got my feet wet. I still have ideas that simply a change in firm or practice area will make my life more pleasant, although it's hard for me to say whether this simply more hope than belief. With that said, I wonder if there are blogs out there of lawyers who have chosen to both live simply yet stay in Biglaw, or if those two notions are simply irreconcilable.

I wish you all the best.

Jennifer said...

Dear Sir,

You have not posted a quarterly report of your progress since Q12009. Please advise.

No, seriously. I just found your blog and am going through the same process. I wanted updates on how you are managing the townhouse, student loans and/or everything else.

I went back a bunch of posts, but couldn't find info. Did you sell the townhouse? Are you looking into the nonprofit work so school will service your loans? If you have sold, where do you live? If not, where do you plan to live? How is the budget holding up? Did you get rid of all of your things?

Jennifer
www.livinginmycar.com

Jack said...

@frugal,

No worries. Write what you want and let me know when you are ready. Not heading back to NYC for awhile. I do hope everything is well on your end.

@Anonymous,

"I think you would agree, though, that when dealing with those in the legal profession, there's a good reason to be cynical."

Nothing wrong with that in context. I just wish it was different all around. Makes me sad.

"My main suspicion stems from the apparent lack of any "big" trigger that caused the disconnect from your job."

I think you should read back to some of the earlier posts. While I would not define any of the stuff I discuss as a trigger, I think it should provide some hard answers.

@Debbi,

Definitely, truly, completely love suits. Always have, always will.

As for the shoes I bought, they were not Italian and while they were on the expensive side, they were bought with the idea that I will use them for a long time. Prefer to buy quality stuff, which saves money in the long-run.

And no, not ending up in the same place at all. In all the ways that matter, the complete opposite.

Jack said...

@Anonymous,

"This guest post concept and the first post reminds me of that old joke, "Okay, so enough about me. What do YOU think about me?""

Welcome to the world of blogging my friend.

@Concojones,

Maybe it was watching the Godfather for the first time when I was 11...always loved suits...

@Nancy,

No worries. That's the beauty of these guest posts...you allow someone else to present something from a different point of view. And yes, will see you sooner rather than later.

Jack said...

@Anonymous,

Do NOT let anyone ever tell you that one way of doing things is the only valid way to live your life. Believe me...there are people on both sides of the fence who tend to discount the value of what lies on the other side.

If you still have an urge to pursue a Biglaw career totally go for it. Depending on the practice group, it certainly feels like sometime next year things will fall back into place recruitment-wise. Give it another shot and see if it makes sense for you. But to answer your question, I haven't heard of a single person that can claim to be able to straddle both sides (simplicity/Biglaw career) all that well. That said, there are plenty of lawyers not in Biglaw who probably do.

@Jennifer,

"Did you sell the townhouse? Are you looking into the nonprofit work so school will service your loans? If you have sold, where do you live? If not, where do you plan to live? How is the budget holding up? Did you get rid of all of your things?"

Townhouse is being rented; nonprofit stuff will have to wait; planning to live nowhere in particular at the moment; budget was busted a while back, but for good reason; and yes, got rid of everything not essential (bike stuff aside, 3.5 suitcases worth of stuff). UFFF....no worries, planning on blogging about alot of this stuff going forward.