It’s been 2.5 years since I gave up my career as a lawyer.
For about 2 of those years, I have struggled with a new and rather unwelcome feeling – the feeling of being irrelevant.
If you are retired, semi-retired or between jobs, what I am going to say may strike a chord with you. The rest of you workers, please keep reading anyway.
The irrelevant thing started more or less as soon as I finished my work routine. I would open my shutters in the morning and look around the close, where I live, to see who was already going off to work, just as I was starting my day. I pictured the car journeys and commutes they would have to make, the newspapers they would buy, the phone calls they would make en route. Then I imagined them all at their desks or rushing off to meetings and I felt, well, kind of stationary.
Later, when I went out and about to do my jobs for the day, my eyes would be drawn to people in dark, smart work clothes, striding purposefully ahead with a work bag in one hand and a take-away coffee in the other. That was me, once, I thought, picturing myself on the way to and from court or in an important meeting. I was one of those worker bees, buzzing purposefully through my working day.
The irrelevant thing intensified when I spoke to former work colleagues. I realised that the space I had occupied, for many years, had totally and swiftly closed around me, like a ripple in water after a pebble has been thrown into it and sunk without trace. Where I used to feel an affinity with my fellow workers, and would happily swap stories, over a glass of wine, about “work days from hell”, I no longer quite got it when those conversations started up again. I felt removed from that working world, as if I was looking at it from a great distance, barely able to see what was going on. I felt invisible, irrelevant.
In fairness to myself, it was never my intention to stop working. I planned a very belated gap year, to do some long deferred travelling and to re-energise myself, both mentally and physically. Thereafter, I intended to look for work again, outside the law. I had a few ideas about what I might like to do, but not much clue how to go about it.
Personal circumstances intervened in my plans, meaning that my life was overtaken by the need to support dear relatives and friends whom I have since lost. Sadness and grief subsumed me for a while. Still and occasionally, that little voice would chip away, asking me to justify who and what I was. I couldn’t do it, which rather added to my woes.
Eventually though, I emerged from a very difficult couple of years, somewhat damaged and bereaved. I and my partner, who also suffered terrible loss, got a beautiful Labrador puppy who has helped us to repair, immeasurably. We also had tremendous support from friends and relatives. I have a much “smaller” job now in terms of pressure and responsibility, but I am working in adult social care, where there is a lot of work to be done. I have learned to blog, despite being useless at the whole technology thing, and I have lots of “small” plans and ambitions for what I want to do in the future. I rarely have any time to spare. In many ways, I am more content now than I have ever been.
I do keep a weather eye on matters legal. The other day, I stumbled across an interview on You Tube. A guy I was at uni with, who has climbed to the very top of the legal tree, was being questioned about the legal profession now and in the future. This guy has had a stellar career and continues to be very relevant in the legal world. All credit to him for a great deal of hard work and for his ability. It suddenly struck me though, in a light-bulb kind of moment, that all of us, one day, step away from jobs we have done or roles we have occupied, of whatever sort. In employment terms, we may leave to go on to something new, or to nothing at all. In personal terms, we may complete a role that befell us, such as waving off children into their adult lives. As soon as we finish the particular role, the waters will close around us and another pebble will be leaving its impression. And, hey, I now see that is completely ok. When all’s said and done, it’s life, it’s the dynamic of life, constantly changing and moving us all on. It happens to all of us, at some time, wherever we stand in the world. No point getting depressed or upset about it. For me, it’s a fact of life that simply must be recognised and accepted.
More than that, being unleashed from those jobs and roles which, we felt, anchored us in the “real”world, can be extremely liberating. It can free us to do all sorts of other things, even to be different people, if that’s what we want. It can allow us to try things, to abandon them, to learn new skills and to really be and find our true selves, for as long as health, strength and finances allow.
So I would say, to my 26 year old self, go ahead, try to make something of yourself and try to make some mark in the world, if you feel you must. But don’t get caught up in or diverted by any notions of status or importance, because you may have your moment in the sun, but if you do, you must also take your place in the shade. It’s part of the inevitable cycle of life. But however you get there, the shade can be a comfortable and productive place to be, where you will find the freedom to be and do what you want, rather than what you think you should.