I am a 35-year-old attorney who works in-house for a public agency. I’m a civil litigator and have found that litigation makes me feel like absolute s***. I try to bring as much humanity and empathy to my practice as I can, but it often backfires. My opposing counsels (usually male, usually older) regularly take advantage of my attempts to treat them and their clients with basic decency. So if I want to be successful and represent my agency (which provides a very important public service) well, I usually have to be ruthless, conniving, and cold. It’s not who I am and the feeling of trying to be “a shark” is killing me. Constantly dealing with people who are lying, cheating, and engaging in gamesmanship is exhausting and depressing.
So why don’t I just quit? Because the job is cushy beyond belief.
Here are the golden handcuffs: I’m paid extremely well for a public-service job ($160,000-plus) and my agency offers four weeks of vacation plus lots of paid sick time. I work 40 hours on a busy week. My office offers hybrid remote work so I’m able to work from home two days a week. They contribute 12 percent to my 401(k). The insurance is great and costs my husband and I less than $50 a month. I’ve worked here for five years and have been following the rules (very closely!) for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, so I expect to have the remainder of my significant law-school debt discharged after another five years of payments. My bosses are kind, funny, trusting, and flexible.
I’ve shared with my bosses to some extent about my discomfort with litigation, and they’ve talked to me about potentially taking on other roles at the agency. But the only roles that I would be qualified for that don’t involve litigation are unlikely to be open anytime in the next few years.
My husband and I are also hoping to get pregnant later this year. I feel like an insane person for even CONSIDERING leaving this job, but I’m so depressed and crushed by the work itself. Be real with me, do I need to just suck it up and stick it out? At least until I pay my loans off? Is it unlikely that I’ll ever find benefits this great again? Or is it worth taking a hit on all the benefits to feel more energized and less demoralized by my work?
Gilded and Gutted
The answer I’m going to give you isn’t the answer that you’re going to like, but I’m going to give it to you anyways.
You must do what’s best for you.
One of my mentors, Myleik Teele, frequently answers questions from her audience on Instagram and often tells them that “the answer is in the question.” You’re asking if you should leave your firm because you have a desire to leave right now. Everyone’s threshold for discomfort in their job is different, and you’re not wrong for wanting to leave even though you have great benefits.
Five years is a very long time to “suck it up,” so I definitely do not recommend that strategy! If you’re feeling depressed and crushed by the work now, it’s time to start to explore your options. Your mental health will only continue to suffer if you’re spending 40-plus hours per week in a job that makes you feel terrible, as it’s likely that this discomfort will slowly bleed into other areas of your life.
In chapter 12 of my book, I talk about “How to Know When It’s Time to Go” and reiterate that I never recommend leaving a job without having something else lined up — unless you’re able to sustain yourself while you wait to land something new. The job search can be stressful, and if your bank account is dwindling at the same time, that can be a recipe for even more stress and anxiety. Based upon your desire to start a family this year, continue to work toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and move into more fulfilling work, I recommend a two-tiered approach.
First, fully explore the option to move into another area of your firm. Consider your transferable skills as well as the direct experience you may have. Internal candidates typically have a much easier transition process into roles where they do not have direct experience, because they have relationships with people who can vouch for their work. Since you’re a high performer who is feeling unsatisfied in your current position, your agency may want to retain you and do their best to make something work in your favor. Determine where you’d like to move to and begin having conversations with your manager and stakeholders in that area. Be honest about your timeline and reiterate that you love the firm and would love to stay, just in a different capacity.
At the same time, it’s important to begin an external search to better understand what opportunities are available to you. Have you researched other firms with similar benefits? Often, we accept that we have something great and don’t consider that there could be another company with comparable — or even better — benefits than what you currently have! Change that thought around and acknowledge that you having the benefit at one firm means it’s more likely that you can find it at another. Your experience doesn’t have to be rare; it can be the standard. Start by looking at your competitors. See if you can determine what their benefit packages look like by doing your own research, and also reach out to professionals in your industry. Attend events for your local bar association to begin networking.
Family planning is a serious endeavor, so when you’re evaluating your options, be sure to consider any longevity benefits you’d receive by being at your employer for over five years. It’s common for women to remain at their job to maximize their tenured status and time off when planning to have a baby, versus starting a new job knowing they’ll be taking significant leave within the first year or so. For example, if you remain at your current company, you may be eligible for a standard maternity leave and be able to use any vacation time you have banked to maximize your time home with the baby. When you move to a new company, however, you may need to return to work after your standard maternity leave because you haven’t yet accrued enough time.
Whether you hold out a little bit longer or embark upon a job search, the choice is ultimately yours. However, I want you to know that being in a better work environment is possible whether you opt to move to a new department or a new company. You described your managers as kind, funny, trusting, and flexible, so lean on them as you explore all of your options.
Career and leadership-development expert Kimberly Brown helps readers make sure their next move is the best move, here, every other Wednesday. Have a question for her? Email email@example.com (and read our submission terms here.) Listen to the Your Next Move Podcast here.