Two guys from my high school. One year apart.
Hipster plays in jazz band with Lawyer. They have the same academic advisor, and fall into a casual friendship.
Hipster has trouble in school. He plays drums and guitar, but struggles to maintain the grades. It’s nothing to do with behavior – everyone likes him. The academic advisor does his best, but after failing a few courses, Hipster’s expelled. He ends up bouncing from school to school, and manages to graduate, then heads to a halfway-decent state university known for partying. He spends most of his year there jamming with his buddies and soon drops out. They start a rock band, smoke dope, wear tie-dye, collect Grateful Dead tapes and call each other “dude.”
Lawyer thinks it’s a shame Hipster got kicked out of school. His own grades are A’s. He wins academic prizes, a scholarship to study in England, and advanced placement at Harvard, where he graduates magna cum laude. He heads to a first-tier law school, and places near the top of his class. An offer arrives from a white shoe firm.
Stop the tape.
We know what happens next:
Hipster grows a beer belly, loses the tie-dye and winds up working in a call center. He moves into his old bedroom at home and turns morose. His parents mumble excuses about dyslexia.
Lawyer makes partner and earns a million six. He purchases a loft in SoHo, a little country place upstate and a vintage Porsche. His parents seek opportunities to smugly mention his doings to their friends, who hate them for it.
Here’s what actually happens:
Trey Anastasio’s jam-band, Phish, becomes an international success. He plays sports stadiums and records with Herbie Hancock. He’s worth millions. His parents are pleased.
Lawyer – that’s me! – sinks into abject misery at Sullivan & Cromwell, and gets the shove after his second year. I do a lot of therapy, change careers a couple times, and become The People’s Therapist. I don’t make much money. My parents are relieved I’m not a depressed lawyer anymore.
My point: Being a pothead jam-band guitarist might be a better way to get rich than becoming a lawyer. Especially if that’s who you really are, and being a lawyer isn’t.
It’s a rare thing to get rich. It has to be. Rich means you have more money than everyone else.
If you want to get rich, you have a choice. You can do what you love and hope lightning strikes. That worked for Trey. Or you can sell out and go where the money is.
If you’re banking on the second option, know this: Being a lawyer is a lousy way to get rich. Law puts you in massive debt, and lawyers are poorly-paid compared to finance types and accountants. Also, thanks to the almighty billable hour, you end up working around the clock.
Many lawyers wind up gazing across the divide from lawyer to hipster with a twinge of regret. Their “burn-out” friends might flounder and muddle along from job to job, but eventually, as a hipster, you’ll probably find yourself, get your act together and emerge from the experience – without debt. You also get to wear tie-dye, sleep late, smoke awesome weed, and call people “dude.” You might even find your soul.
Lawyers burn out a lot. That’s when you realize you need some time to flounder and muddle too – but by then you owe $200k to a bank, so even if you hate law, you have to stick around to pay off your ransom. That kills more years, in addition to the three already consumed by law school.
You lose the critical years Hipster spent finding his groove. Essentially, you sacrifice your twenties – an essential decade for floundering and self-discovery.
Everything isn’t rosy for Hipster – all that floundering and muddling can take its toll and it doesn’t always wind up like a fairy tale. But Hipster accomplishes necessary work towards personal growth. He’s allowing the play side of his life to express itself in his choice of work – and every once in a while, Hipsters turn into rockstars. That’s because, when you do something you love, which speaks to who you are and expresses your passions, you tend to get good at it.
As a therapist, it isn’t my job to change anyone – or to tell you what to do. My job is to create awareness of your own your thoughts and feelings, so you can get yourself where you want to be.
But consider becoming a hipster.
This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.
If you enjoy these columns, please check out The People’s Therapist’s new book, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning
I also heartily recommend my first book, an introduction to the concepts behind psychotherapy, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy
(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)