Carolyn Hax: With a baby on the way, he wants a career change

Carolyn Hax
Columnist July 26, 2012

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

I did a lot of career-shopping in my 20s (just turned 31) and, after spending the past two years in an unstimulating desk job, I’m feeling the itch to try something new again. I am becoming obsessive about the idea of applying to law school.

The problem? My wife is pregnant with our first baby, and she is strongly opposed to my giving up a decent, stable income for loans and instability.

I see her point, but within a few months I will be miserable where I am. Does the beginning of fatherhood really mark the end of my right to make decisions based on what makes ME happy?


D.C.

Did you read your own question? And see how whiny and self-centered it makes you sound?

No, the beginning of fatherhood doesn’t mark the end of your chance at happiness. It is the end, however, of your seeking happiness without regard for the way your choices affect your family.

In fact, that whole me-me-me jig was up with “I do,” but apparently your wife either didn’t hold you to it or hasn’t been as reliant on your stability as she’s about to be. Maybe she assumed you’d “settle down”; her mistake, if true.

So, a couple of suggestions for making unselfish but personally sound decisions.

1. Think more broadly about your restlessness. Since you’ve also become “obsessive,” there might be a diagnosable third party here, maybe an attention-deficit or obsessive compulsive disorder, or similar. Please get screened; chadd.org is a good place to get started. Also consider that your restlessness is as much an emotional habit as a professional one. When the going gets tough, the tough don’t look for immediate gratification. Not as catchy, but I like it better.

2. Treat your wife as your teammate, not opponent. Brainstorm together about careers that offer stability and stimulation.

If you resent wife or kid for cramping your professional style, then you’re more likely to need an attorney than become one. You made these choices, and produced a dependent — so, you signed up to place your child’s needs above yours and your wife’s equal to yours.

“Equal,” for what it’s worth, doesn’t mean she keeps your ambition in a jar. It means you find a way to scratch your career itch that isn’t just about you.

Re: D.C.:

As a law school professor, I can’t stress enough how time-consuming and stressful law school is. You will not get to spend any time with your child for those three years, beyond one hour a night. You will be in $100,000 of debt. Unless you go to a top five or so (seriously — not a “top 25”) law school, expect to spend the next 20 years with LESS disposable income than you have now. And you might not have a job at all, with no ability to free yourself of those loans through bankruptcy. Unless it has always been your dream to be a lawyer, DO NOT GO.

Anonymous

I’m just the messenger here.

Re: D.C.:

I’d just add, if he’s unhappy about his boring desk job, law school is probably not the best scratch for that itch.

Anonymous 2

. . . said the lawyer dryly, chained to his or her desk.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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