Professional Goals

So I have a job offer in California, which is somewhat open-ended. This means I have some time to think about what I want to do. Different people have been giving me different advice. The best advice I’ve got has come from several different sources, and worded in different ways, but it amounts to the same thing: what are my long-term goals?

In terms of my living environment, an objective assessment of Tennessee is that it’s not awful. Comparing East Tennessee to the high desert city in California where the job offer is — the same city that I was a teenager in — I find that the various environmental factors related to geographic location are kind of a wash:

East Tennessee
+ Glorious spring
– Bitterly cold winter, oppressively hot summer
+ Low cost of living
– Low earnings potential
+ Starting to make some good friends here
– Provincial local attitudes by general populace
+ Low population density
– People drive as if frontal lobotomies were fashionable
+ Attractive and green local environment
– I’m allergic to everything in the attractive and green local environment which actually has pretty bad air pollution

California’s High Desert
+ Ability to earn more money than here
– High cost of living, high taxes
+ Familiar with area, already know several people there
– Logistical nightmare moving there
+ Greater familiarity with California law and legal procedures
– What good is a Tennessee license in California, especially one I’ve used for less than a year? (The California license has some marketability here)
+ Fewer allergens in the environment
– Extreme temperature changes, high winds, dust, and air pollution
+ Proximity to activities I enjoy like diving, wine-tasting, and shopping at Trader Joe’s
– Living in a very densely-populated area seems much less attractive now
+ People drive appreciably better, on average
– Auto insurance rates are probably triple what I’m paying now

In other words, there is no promised land of milk and honey. Yes, there’s a lot to consider from a lifestyle perspective. But when I try and distance myself from my present dissatisfaction with the area and my aversion to “going home” back to the desert, I realize that I can probably create a lifestyle there for my family and myself that is, on balance, about equivalent to what I’ve achieved here in Tennessee. The Wife should be able to find work wherever we go — whether that’s here, the desert, Nashville, back in the Los Angeles municipal area, or some fifth alternative we haven’t really contemplated yet. Nowhere is perfect, and I’m probably guilty of idolizing parts of California that I realistically won’t be able to live in for some time.

That leaves me to consider what is going on with me professionally. There is only one certain thing: I need a professional change. But where that change takes place, and what my career looks like after that change, is a very open question. There’s a few things that are definite: I want time to spend with The Wife and the critters. I want an intellectual challenge in my work. I want a job that uses my mad writing and research skillz. I want stability, calm, and a more structured, professionally supportive environment than I’ve had previously. Ideally, I would have some autonomy and a high degree of trust from the people I work with, and a management regime that represents an ideal blend of “A” and “B” personalities — get the work done right and on time, while permitting the freedom and creativity necessary to achieve true excellence. I do not want heavy administrative burdens interfering with my law practice; I want someone else to be in charge. I like going home and leaving my professional concerns at the office door. Of course, financial compensation sufficient to support a reasonably comfortable lifestyle is part of the picture, too, but more and more I’m realizing that it’s only a part of the picture.

Such places and jobs do exist; I think that the job in California would offer these things to a substantial degree. More and more, I’m thinking such places must exist here, and I just haven’t found one yet. Some people I know here are making discreet inquiries on my behalf about possibilities elsewhere, and I definitely want to see what they come up with before deciding anything. But aside from putting together a list of things that I want and do not want, I haven’t really got a clear picture of what that job looks like. Finding an ideal job is not something that is easy to do and certainly not something that can be done overnight.

So if it’s going to be six of one, half a dozen of the other as far as geography is concerned, then other facts have to come in to play. As one friend told me, it’s more important what you’re running to than what you’re running from. I should have a clear vision of what the place I run to will look like. Once I have that, it will be easier to know which way to run. But for now, I have to spend some more time thinking about this. Is that ideal professional situation in the academy rather than a law firm? Is it in a big corporation or is it in a courthouse or maybe a government office? Some form of media, maybe? A big question. Will it be in an area I have a lot of experience in, like business disputes or employment law? Or will I have to learn one or more substantial new areas? I’m not opposed to the latter idea, but I’m probably more marketable within existing areas of expertise. How much will I be concerned about the transaction costs of making the change? If the new position, whatever it is, doesn’t work out for whatever reason, how will all the job-shifting and moving about the country look on my resume for the position after that?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions yet, and until I do, I can’t really make a decision about my offer in California. Is this what is meant by the term “mid-life crisis?” If so, I hope I’m having it early since I hate the idea that 35 years of age could be part of the “mid-life” segment of my overall life cycle. I was kind of hoping I was still young.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. First of all, you are still young… In my observations, a mid-life crisis encompasses more than just a career-related dilemma, it causes you to question every aspect of your life: friends, family, personal habits, even self-esteem. Your list of plus & minus is a good, objective way to maintain perspective on the situation. The right choice becomes more obvious with the passing of a little time.

  2. Comrade, you have a crisis, period — nothing “mid-life” about it. “Mid-life crisis” implies a crisis related to one’s age, i.e., “I must finally face that I am too old to ditch my mid-level executive job, become a rock superstar, and bed supermodels.” Conversely, your crisis involves a job that is at best unstable, and, at worst, exploitive. This is worsened by other unpleasant conditions, mainly geographic and demographic ones. Don’t feel guilty for being unhappy with an unworkable situation, especially when you’re looking for a solution. Those hurricane victims you were comparing yourself to would be happy to have your house, but I bet they’d be looking for another job if they were you. The fact that your situation is preferable to, say, dying of dehydration while tethered to a hill of flesh-eating ants, or watching your family massacred by neighboring villagers, does not make it good or even tolerable. I think it’s best summed up by that old proverb about feeling bad about having no shoes until you meet the guy with no feet, and then knock him down and steal his wallet and finally get some damn shoes.

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