“So what do you do” asks the doctor as I lie on the examining table. “I’m an attorney” I respond. She pauses for a brief moment and glances at me “Oh. What kind of law do you practice.” I tell her “I represent low income children with disabilities with their education access problems at school.”She smiles, “Ah! you’re one of the good ones!” and resumes the exam.
I’ve had this conversation more times than I can count though sometimes the conversation, with friends and colleagues, continues further down the road:
“So have you bought the BMW yet?”
“Now K can retire while you make the big bucks!”
“Ha! All the Coach purses you want now huh?”
“Aw come on just buy it, you’re an attorney now!”
To which though I smile inwardly I feel awkward, “I’m a public interest lawyer. I don’t make a killing.” And then with those very close who I tell how much I make, a look of incredulity often follows with: “Well that’s noble” or “Are you INSANE?!?!”
I won’t lie. I am proud of what I do. From teacher to attorney my professional choices have always been about helping the helpless. I do it because I feel blessed and I feel that to whom much is given much is expected. I believe we can live in a just society and I want to be on the front lines of making this happen. I believe I am fulfilling my faith and I know I am making a difference.
I could end this post there. You’d think I’m a good person who doesn’t care about money who is beyond worldly things. But you see, this isn’t necessarily true. The struggle, it still remains I’ve found.
As a teacher I made little but teacher’s salaries do not vary widely. Not so for lawyers. I have friends who graduated in my class who make four times as much as me. I have certain perks too, most of my weekends and evenings are my own. I have pride in my work and enjoy what I do. Also, contrary to what many think, that if the job doesn’t pay much it was easy to get, I had to fiercely compete for this job so no one can say I’m less worthy than my corporate big wig counterpart.
But when people tease me about K retiring or inquiring when the closet for my designer bags will be built, I feel a strange sense of guilt that I could’ve indeed been quite rich had I chosen a different path. Perhaps I’m struggling like the people on the Brazilian island I visited years ago where its people lived a simple life for centuries as close to heaven as I’ve ever seen, until TV showed them the things they did not have. Then they began to feel unhappy with their circumstance.
This feeling of guilt and confusion over my career choice unsettles me and I have no way of fully reconciling it within myself. I don’t want a thousand dollar purse and I don’t want the corporate life. I’m for the most part happy with what I have and am aware of how fortunate I am. Perhaps its simply living in a society which shows through its ads, movies, credit card pushing lifestyle, that it values things having things acquiring things being judged on how many things and what sort of things you have. Perhaps these concepts have seeped into my subconscious like a virus. Perhaps its a common thought by others in my shoes and if I ride this feeling out, much like the common cold, this feeling will pass.
“It’s a mystery to me. We have a greed, with which we have agreed and you think you have to want more than you need and until you have it all, you won’t be free. Society, have mercy on me I hope you’re not angry if I disagree. Society, crazy and deep I hope you’re not lonely without me.” -Eddie Vedder (Society)