You may have heard the story about the flight attendant who assisted an elderly gentleman by giving him a pillow and a blanket, and then asked him if he was comfortable. The man replied, “I make a living.”
When I was young, my parents were not comfortable, but they insisted that I obtain a university education. They expected me to earn whatever I could in the summer to fund my education, and they agreed to cover the balance. Luckily, this was back in the days when university and law school were affordable in Canada.
My first summer job involved handling metal immediately after it was taken out of a blast furnace, and I did so with ‘holy’ gloves. I do not mean that they were blessed. I mean that they had holes in them. It did not occur to me to complain about the gloves, because the permanent employees also had ‘holy’ gloves, and they dared not to complain because jobs were scarce and they had families to feed.
On occasion my boss also had me operate punch machines, which were old and did not have many of the safety features that are now required. A number of the long-term employees were missing fingers.
My next worst summer job was sweeping parking lots.
Although I remember applying for some advertised jobs, I do not recall ever getting any of them. A few of my jobs were obtained through connections that my parents had, and others from my own connections. Although I did not understand it at the time, I now recognize my privilege.
None of these jobs paid well, but they were all valuable because they taught me what people without privilege do to support themselves.
They say that childhood is what you spend the rest of your life getting over. We all come to the practice of law with our own baggage, and I have observed that it is our character strengths and flaws that determine our success in the profession. Which law school we go to and how well we do in law school is less of an indicator of future success than our own character.
During my time in the profession, I was forced to endure many lawyers whining about how hard they worked and how much stress they were under. I sometimes joined their pity party, but I always tried to remember that the tortured lives of lawyers still compare quite favourably to the hard, sometimes dangerous, and often monotonous work that so many people endure for so little money.
From my vantage point in retirement, I can see clearly now that there are too many lawyers who cannot see clearly now. Many of us do not grasp how much better we have it than so many. We believe our own complaints, and do not feel gratitude.
We might be happier if we could get over ourselves, take a break now and then from trying to earn more than our peers, and do some good. Perhaps we could raise some salaries for the little folks in our firms or free up some time to provide mentoring to our Associates. Maybe even shave a hundred hours off of the billable hour targets.
It might make us happier.