Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently launched the new social network LeanIn.org devoted to helping women encourage each other to "lean in" to their careers. Going forward, HuffPost Women will be featuring posts from women reflecting on the moments in their careers when they "leaned in" -- pursued their ambitions despite their fears -- or "leaned back" -- focused more on other aspects of their lives so that they could lean in with more energy later on.
I didn't go to law school to become a lawyer, per se -- let's just say I was leaning in to some strong suggestions from my parents -- but my nebulous goals of someday becoming a writer were just that, nebulous. So when everyone was applying to law firms it never occurred to me not to: the infrastructure of What Was Done was hard to ignore. I took a job at a white-shoe NYC law firm, with an office, business cards and a fat starter paycheck.
What Was Also Done: hours and hours of proofing and copying, taking a thick stack of marked-up documents and running the changes, all-nighters on assignments handed down at 5 pm, tracking billable hours in six-minute increments. I don't fault my former law firm for running their business like a business or expecting their new hire to be worth the obscene rate she was billed out at, but fun it was not. Infrastructure, however, it was -- in spades. That Upper West Side rent check ain't gonna pay itself. Welcome to the golden handcuffery of late '90s entry-level law.
I went a year without writing anything more than fantastically creative emails. I was eating at many fine NYC restaurants but I'd forgotten why I'd gone in the first place. So I started to pick it back up. I wrote small stories here and there, then bigger ones. Some were even written for money. I signed up for a writing class and snuck my first assignment on a yellow legal pad in a partner's office while he read through my memo. It would become the first thing I ever got published in the New York Times. When that happened, I closed the door and jumped up and down in my office.
Gigs started to come. The writing started to crowd out the law.
Quitting was inevitable, but scary all the same. I had gotten really used to a paycheck, and to knowing that the work would be there for me, every day -- all I had to do was show up. When I stop showing up, so does the money. D'oh.
There was...feedback. What about all I had built? Did I have to upset the apple cart? Couldn't I keep my little writing habit on the side? By this time I had my own office. Bonus time was mere months away. Wasn't it more sensible to find a nice balance?
It probably would have been...but the writing was crowding out the law.
And so, I quit.
I packed up my office. I received my last paycheck. At my goodbye party, numerous drunken lawyers wished me well and told me how lucky I was. And brave. (Is it brave if you don't yet realize just how hard it is to be broke? Ah well.)
On Monday morning, my first day as a free agent, I emailed my editor at the Canadian Press and told her I was now a full-time writer. She said, "Oh good! We need someone to interview David Bowie tomorrow, can you do it?" I jumped up and down in my apartment. There was no need to close the door.
This post originally appeared on LeanIn.Org.
Have a "Lean In" or "Lean Back" story of your own? Please email it it in 500 words or fewer, along with a headshot, bio and personal photo to email@example.com.