life purpose frustrations
November 14, 2006 8:00 AM   Subscribe

What is my life purpose? Am I currently living it but am too ungrateful to realize it? More inside... [LONG]...

I am a 29-year old, Hispanic, gay female. I am an attorney and working as in-house counsel for an international beauty products manufacturer. I oversee the litigated matters for the company ranging from products liability, employment, environmental and regulatory matters.

I am currently in a 4-year relationship with a woman who has a 5 year old son (she is in the middle of a custody dispute with the biological father after the child informed a therapist that his father was touching his genitals and licking his ear and face). We live in a very conservative part of Florida (north Florida). We have a very good relationship in that we get along very well, sharing similar interests. I am also very involved in her son’s life and he lovingly refers to us as his “two mommies.” I am originally from southern California (since the age of 18) and my partner is from South Florida.

I have been a practicing attorney since 2002 having worked in bankruptcy and the title insurance industry. I don’t feel like the law is my “passion” but I don’t know what else I would be doing with my life. I went to law school because I didn’t know what else I wanted to do with my life and I felt I had to do something. My only other hobbies are reading and baking. I really enjoy baking. I try to do so every chance I get. Many have suggested I open my own business. On the other hand, my parents think that the next logical step for me is to open my own law office. While that seems practical, I don’t know if I want to do law for the rest of my life. My current job is OK considering that my boss is in Europe. Nevertheless, he micromanages everything me and my colleagues do. This really stifles how I do my job. I am not really learning anything as I have to go to him for every step I take in any given case I am handling. His main concern is maintaining the department budget as low as possible. He does not understand that litigation in the US is very expensive and very slow. My salary is close to $80K/yr.

I don’t really like where I live as it does not have many things to do for fun and is not the most “open” environmental for someone in my situation. The upside is that I live near my parents and sisters but my sisters do not plan to stay here for a long time as they feel like me about this city. This city is more like a stepping stone in my future. I would really like to live in California but I know it is very expensive. However, I think I could be paid more over there considering I have 4 years of working experience as an attorney. Also, with this custody dispute going on and the presence of the father (who, coincidentally, was not in the child’s life until my partner met me) in the picture, I am sure my partner will be restricted as to where she can move with her son. I would consider living in South Florida (anywhere but Miami) but salaries are generally so low in Florida! Also, I don’t know how successful I would be in finding a job I really enjoy down there. The main problem is: what is my ideal job? I hate litigation, I am a good communicator both verbally and in writing, I am a team player (not competitive like the typical lawyer) and a hard worker. I enjoy working in-house as I don’t have to worry about billable hours and the competitiveness of the big firms. It is also a lot more laid back than the stuffiness of big firms. However, I want to be in a place where I can learn new skills, hopefully be mentored and feel inspired by what I am doing or at least feel like I am making some kind of contribution. I don’t really know what my life purpose is or where I am headed in life. Anyone have any advice for someone in my situation? Should I stick to what I have been doing up to now and be grateful for what I have? I sometimes feel like I am never satisfied and probably never will be instead of being thankful of the things I already have in my life. Like my mom always tells me,”Nothing is perfect.” Is my life pretty good that I should stop complaining? If so, why do I feel like I am missing my true path in life? I always feel like there is something bigger and better out there for me.
posted by workinprogress to Work & Money (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Just to address a very small part of what you wrote:

I love cooking. My work has nothing to do with cooking. A while ago I was feeling restless in my line of business. I was talking to a friend of mine about this, who knows that cooking is one of my favorite past-times. Wisely, instead of advising me to look for a job cooking, he asked me "Well, what is it you like about cooking? How can you apply that to your current career?".

Thinking about my work like that has helped me enjoy it more.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:10 AM on November 14, 2006

Welcome to the hedonic treadmill. No one gets off alive.
posted by Human Flesh at 8:11 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don’t really know what my life purpose is or where I am headed in life.

I think that's pretty normal, workinprogress. You might be better off first asking "does life have a purpose?", because if the answer is "no", then you'd spend a lot of time searching for something that you could never find!

Anyone have any advice for someone in my situation?

Yes, I do. Make more time in your day-to-day life to play, laugh, waste time on frivolity, and love those around you. Work really isn't that important, especially when you are in the situation you describe. Work is what you do to support the time for the good stuff. Bake, play with and cherish your stepson, kiss your girlfriend. Go play frisbee. Do you enjoy alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs? If so, be sure to make time for that, too.

Should I stick to what I have been doing up to now and be grateful for what I have?

Yes, but see my points above. The more play and love you generate the more grateful you will be.

I sometimes feel like I am never satisfied and probably never will be instead of being thankful of the things I already have in my life. Like my mom always tells me,”Nothing is perfect.” Is my life pretty good that I should stop complaining?

Well yeah, duh. It seems you know the answer, workinprogress.

If so, why do I feel like I am missing my true path in life? I always feel like there is something bigger and better out there for me.

Not everyone can be Napoleon, or Shakespeare, or Einstein, or whatever. Is it that you feel you need to do something "big"? I think that your true path is to try to enjoy what's here, now. What, fresh cookies and hugs and love aren't good enough for you?

There is only one path, workinprogress, and you are on it. Just be sure to enjoy the trip, I promise you it will take you to all sorts of interesting places, once you realise that where you are right now is one of the interesting places I am talking about.

Good luck to you. Don't forget the part about playing and loving, it's the most important.
posted by Brave New Meatbomb at 8:28 AM on November 14, 2006 [2 favorites]


Kudos on a great response.
posted by ImJustRick at 8:49 AM on November 14, 2006

Life is a test, a short and gruelling phase in our eternal existance.

In the pre-existance, we wanted to be like God, our Father in Heaven, but we needed to gain a physical body and experience the rigors of mortal life just as He did. That's why we are here on earth, to be tested and to be like our Father in Heaven. To be with Him in His glorious presence one day.

However, mistakes would be made during our short lives, and there are real possibilities of failing, so a plan was set in place whereby our deficits would be paid for. God's only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, would pay for our sins with His own perfect life in what is called the Atonement. He would also, in His brief sojourn on the world, leave us with a perfect example on how to live life. That is why Jesus Christ is the only One who can help us succeed.

For a start, I suggest you read the gospel of John in the New Testament of the Bible. Pray about it.

Write to me if you have any other questions.
posted by dropkick at 9:12 AM on November 14, 2006

I don't mean to hijack or derail your question, so please forgive just one more comment.

Regarding the hedonic treadmill: yes, be careful of this, it might be what is driving you to feel the need for "something bigger"... the bigger thing that is right within your reach is all the extra positive energy the play and love will generate - absolutely FREE OF CHARGE! No purchase necessary!

Regarding the Jesus Christ stuff: please be careful of these Old Thinkers, workinprogress, they have a hidden agenda, and don't necessarily have your well-being and happiness as priorities.

All the best.
posted by Brave New Meatbomb at 9:36 AM on November 14, 2006

You're a bit scattered. You're in a 4yr relationship with someone in a kid and you want to move to CA? Would you want to take them with you or do you really want out of that relationship?

Work is work. What you write sounds like what a teenager might think, you want to be inspired etc. Most jobs just aren't like that. Change your work so that it is challenging, but don't go looking for the lawyer job that will help you change the world, because if they exist, they don't pay.

As far as making a contribution is concerned, there's a five year old kid there whose life should be taking up the better part of your spare time. Make a contribution by trying to improve that one life and you'll learn how hard it would be to improve many lives. What BNM said, play more, with the kid, and learn to explore and appreciate the world through their eyes.

And you'd do well to appreciate that most people who make a "contribution", i.e. one that is very public, tend to never see their families or have tortured emotional lives.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:21 AM on November 14, 2006

The purpose of your life is to discover the life you want within it. I don't know what will work for you. What worked for me:

Reading all the Joseph Campbell I could. (the short form -- follow your bliss, enjoy the moments)

Reading Pema Chondron's "When Things Fall Apart" I'm not a Buddhist, but thinking through things the way she set them out and meditating on things helped me sort out what I truly wanted vs. what I told myself I needed to be happy (Her other books say all the same things).

Spending time with the people who love me focusing on the world - going to the zoo with my daughter was better than therapy, and slightly cheaper

Getting a dog made me net happier. It gave me a little dose of success and unconditional love whenever I needed it

Separating fufillment through work vs. fulfillment through life. I still try my hardest at work and get as much pleasure from it but tell myself "I am not my job"

Creating things -- whether they are beautiful cakes or short stories or paintings or a lovely garden

Sometimes, I get bogged down in the little things, what my boss thinks, worries about looks, whatever. I give myself a moment to think through things, enjoy the lovely things in my world and make tangible plans for things I want to accomplish.

IMHO, you're never "done" with life. There's never a "I've finally got the right job. I can coast." "I'm in the right city, everything will work out now." "I've got the perfect partner, we can live happily ever after."

Yes, a job can make you happier or sadder, a partner can make you lonely or fulfilled, helping raise a child can make you proud or stressed. But those things come bundled. You don't get to go, "Yeah, I'll take the nice, the fulfilled, the easy, the comfy."

As a professional writer, I'd caution you about starting a bakery because you love to bake. Sure, I'm good at what I do, but the joy of something when you marry it to your income is tenuous at times. But Hugh Mccloud said it better.

Only you know what life is right for you, but only you can make whatever life you're in right for you, too.

Good luck.
posted by Gucky at 10:34 AM on November 14, 2006

This isn't meant to be a "smart" answer, but I've always thought that life is what we do while we're wondering what we're "supposed" to be doing. Better to spend less time wondering and more time living. Concentrate on what you love. And especially, as you make choices, make them in concert with your partner and with respect to the best interest of the child. You *are* the two mommies. :-)

If you love being an attorney but are tired or corporate work, have you considered looking into glbt family law? There is a huge need for this, especially in states like Florida where we have so few rights. If you opened your own practice in a part of the state where there are glbt persons (such as yourselves) but not a lot of gay-friendly lawyers, you might find yourself working on things that are personally rewarding and enriching for your community.
posted by Robert Angelo at 10:46 AM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, just looking at your other questions, I gather that you've been struggling with this for awhile, at least a year. Perhaps this is the point where a professional counselor's opinion would be useful.
posted by Robert Angelo at 10:49 AM on November 14, 2006

I was going to mention your previous questions as well. Seems like its time to look for some outside (professional? or at least more in-depth than the internets) advice/help. Or to suck it up with the job you are at (most people here would kill for $80k/year) and focus more on love, hobbies and passions.

(ps I just answered a related question here that might give you food for thought...)
posted by iurodivii at 12:19 PM on November 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

suck it up with the job you are at (most people here would kill for $80k/year) and focus more on love, hobbies and passions. . . .

iurodivii said it well. Don't make work the focus in your life. It's a job. Seriously, there are few people who love their job. Instead, focus on your passions and hobbies. Bake up a storm! Share your goodies with friends or those in need! Find fulfillment outside of work. Don't let work define you or rule you. Do your time, then come home and live your life!

Best of luck and may the rest of us be able to live our lives!
posted by Sassyfras at 12:28 PM on November 14, 2006

@Brave New Meatbomb:

Regarding the Jesus Christ stuff: please be careful of these Old Thinkers, workinprogress, they have a hidden agenda...

Hidden agenda? This agenda is so "hidden' even I don't know what it is! Maybe you could fill me in.

...and don't necessarily have your well-being and happiness as priorities.

Not to sound callous, but you're right. The happiness of workinprogress is not my priority - it's her priority - and she is trying to do something about it by asking questions and seeking truth. Good for her.
posted by dropkick at 1:25 PM on November 14, 2006

WIP, I actually find myself in a similar situation. I'm a successful executive at a fast rising company. I have a wonderful wife (no kids though) and I get to travel. My job is actually quite a bit of fun sometimes, but all in all it's become uninspriring over the last few years.

But enough about me... the point I'm trying to make is that first, you're not alone. Take it for what it's worth, but I always found a lot of comfort in knowing that the situation you find yourself in is not unusual (and in fact universal). Second, you do have a good life but its OK to want something more fulfilling. Just keep in mind that what you find fulfilling changes over time. Life, as far as I can tell at least, is about experiences and those you share them with. You're surrounded by a positive, loving group of people... but its OK to want to be somewhere you're more comfortable. The only trick is that you have to consider your partner's and partner's child's feelings/needs. It can be a tough balance sometimes, but if you all love each other - which it sounds like you do - then a good compromise can be met.

With respect to your job, in my opinion - and given the limited knowledge I have of it - I'd say leave as soon as you can find another job (or industry for that matter) that you can enjoy and which pays the bills. Life is too short and work takes up too much of your day to spend it doing something you don't enjoy. Now, don't make any rash decisions... sometimes you can just hit a professional lull - but if your heart isn't in it and hasn't been for some time you need to leave. Not only is it what's best for you but it's also what's best for the company.

Sorry to ramble, but it comes down to this - follow your heart, do right by those you love, work hard, play hard and all will work out OK in the end. No one on their death bed ever wishes they spent more time at the office. Be around those you love as much as you can and make your profession something that fills you with joy. Because once your income meets your basic needs (comfortable living, food, etc.) everything else just distracts you from the important things in life.

Best of luck...
posted by tundro at 3:02 PM on November 14, 2006

Geography: California has manufacturers of health and beauty products. Neutragena (part of Johnson & Johnson, a good company, gay-positive) is one in LA. Whether they would hire in-house lawyers, I don't know. Places who hire professionals generally foot the bill to move the entire family. My partner and I do this internationally every few years (or less).

As for meaning of life: I think you're mostly living it. You've got a bit of family going there, where you can grow love. What better way to spend your salary?

You might get some feel-good if you could arrange your life and schedule to make room for some pro-bono work, you'd know best where and how you'd like to apply that. Lawyers can be heroes, you know.
posted by Goofyy at 11:37 PM on November 14, 2006

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