You’re sitting in your sensible yet status-conscious automobile, listening to some podcast or sports show or stock jocks as the rush-hour traffic inches you along, closer and closer to your exit.
Or, you’re mashed onto the subway with your fellow rush-hour commuters, swept in the wave of jostling and dead stares until the train reaches your stop.
Since youth, we’ve been taught that commuting each day to your nine-to-six (assuming you can leave your office at six in the evening) is one of those uncomfortable yet inalienable marks of adulthood, just like a mortgage and student loan debt and car insurance.
We watched our parents put on their business suits and pantyhose and squeeze their feet into shiny shoes that looked tough to walk in.
We listened to the traffic reports, organized our lives around train schedules, and said things like maybe if I leave at 7AM, the 405 won’t be so bad.
We coined the phrase work hard, play hard – as if those work and play were opposing manifestations of the same desire.
What if someone told you there was another way?
I spent most of my twenties as a corporate attorney at two top global law firms – one in NYC, and the other in Hong Kong.
By most standards, I was a success. I graduated law school, passed the bar, and started as a corporate lawyer in Midtown Manhattan all before the age of twenty-five.
Two years later I moved to Hong Kong to join another BigLaw behemoth, trading ESPN and H&H Bagels for adventure and xiao long bao.
Three years shy of thirty, my 2007 W-2 weighed in at just south of $300k. I owned it all – expense-account omakase, Paul Smith blazers, corporate retreats in Phuket, an apartment overlooking the skyline – but it was pwning me.
My soul gasped for air. Back-to-back 300-hour months spent tethered to my BlackBerry left me lawfully shredded, enslaved by two-inch thick offering circulars I’d draft and redraft and proofread and re-proofread, often at midnight on a Saturday.
Never in my life had I been so afraid of a stray comma, a sentence in italics that should be in bold italics.
Life hurt so good, but, sometimes, it just hurt.
I had the job, the apartment, the wardrobe: but what I lacked was time. Time to achieve the goals that sang to my heart. Run a sub-three marathon. Visit the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan. Sleep a solid eight hours a night, just once.
So, why didn’t I do something about it!
Inertia’s a barnacle that clasps onto your soul, so I’ll admit that I didn’t actually do anything about it until I had to.
On a Friday morning in the summer of 2008, my boss – managing partner of one of the world’s largest and most preftigious law firms – cracked open my office door. Ripping off my earbuds, I wheeled around my swivel chair to face him.
“Meet me in the conference room at noon?” he instructed. My veins turned to ice. Friday morning. Conference room. The professional version of can we talk.
As I fidgeted in the conference room chair, worst-case scenarios pinwheeled through my mind. I heard rumblings of stealth layoffs from U.S.-based colleagues. Wasn’t Asia immune? Maybe my boss just wanted to check in. Or maybe he’s staffing me on a new IPO. But as he closed the door and fixed on me a grave stare, I could almost hear the Rains of Castamere play in the background.
After finishing, he thanked me for my professionalism and left the room. An implosion started in my chest and bloomed outward.
I looked down at my corporate disguise – pencil skirt by Theory, Ferragamo kitten heels, Celine handbag. A seven-year old in her mother’s clothes. Freshly unemployed.
What do I do now?
The answer hung in the air, frayed with failure and freedom and all manner of four-letter words.
Whatever the hell you want to.
Six months later, I met my old officemate for lunch at a popular work-drinks haunt called the Armani Bar. The place looked, tasted, and smelled as swish as its nomenclature would suggest.
“You look ten pounds thinner and five years younger,” she gushed. “How are you?” A simple phrasing of a complex question. Where to begin?
My new job in legal headhunting, which allowed me to work from anywhere with WiFi and a power source?
My most recent half-marathon, where I broke 1:25 for the first time?
How I logged in a solid seven hours of sleep last night?
Her BlackBerry buzzed with imperiousness against the lacquer tabletop. Mine was tucked away in my purse.
“I work in my underwear,” I told her. “It’s amazing.”
I meant every word.