Admin, Biglaw, Health Care / Medicine, Old People, Partner Issues

The Lament of a Thirty-Something

When I was a kid, I thought only white people had to worry about being thirty-something.

I’m back. I got sick, again, with pretty much the same kind of acute sinus infection as I had the last time. It’s the second time in six months some stupid illness has completely floored me by making it hard to see and think — I definitely need at least one of those faculties to do my job.

Last time, when I got back, I was just happy to be alive and looking for somebody to blame. This time, I’m depressed. It’s probably because I was sitting the doctor’s office, and I was whining and in incredible pain and petulantly demanding answers as to why I’m having all these health problems and the guy says to me: “Well, you are getting old.”


I’m not the only one. And it occurs to me that, once again, I’m in much better shape for this new phase of consequences than I would be if I was still at a Biglaw firm. Because while I need to refine and hone my skills in my mid and late thirties, associates at top law firms need to gun it. They need to take their suddenly aging bodies and turn every morsel of ATP into billable hours if they want to make partner. And they need to do it now….

I know a lot of thirty-somethings are in great health, have stayed in shape, and are totally ready for the rigors of getting the last promotion they’ll ever need. To those people, I say “f**k you,” and hope you enjoy the extra five or ten years you’ve bought before your body becomes a faltering mass just like everybody else’s.

For me, and some of my friends, years of hard living (emphasis on the living, not so much on the hard) start to catch up to us in our thirties. It’s not that we can’t do what we used to do. We can. I can. That first Saturday of March Madness, I’ll be in a bar with a drink in my hand from start to finish.

But I’ll only be subconsciously aware of “Sunday.” And Monday will be when the hangover kicks in. And it’ll be Wednesday before I feel remotely like I’m 100%. When you get old, you lose the ability to recover.

Which really sucks if you are a Biglaw associate, because just as you realize you need more time to recover after putting in an 80-hour week, you get less. Maybe you spend the first four or five years of your career billing 2000 to 2200 hours. You’ve done well. People like you and your work. You wake up as a 32-year-old, sixth-year associate, and you think, “Hey, if I buckle down, I’ve really got a shot at this thing.”

But it’s a gear shift like no other. You’ve got to go from the low 2000s to the high 2000s, or even 3000 hours. That takes you from an “intense” job to a “there is no life, there is only job” job. My first year I billed 2350. My second year I billed 2800-plus. My third year I quit.

And that’s when I was in my twenties and I could still find a reliable hook-up and had a gall bladder. Now? If I tried to do anything for 2800 hours a year I’d die. I wouldn’t “get sick” or “have an episode,” I’d straight-up die. My body would say “Oh, we’re going to watch birds in the park for an hour for the 2,687th time this year? F*** you, lights out Holmes, catch you in another life.”

But some of you guys out there are going to do it. My friends who stayed are hitting this point now. Some of you are going to manage your aging bodies while gunning them to their maximum tolerances. You’re going to put in 10,000 hours over three years, billing time and schmoozing clients. You will get a big fat partnership draw as your reward. And it will be amazing, and people will be proud of you.

But it’s another separation point. Being in your thirties at a law firm is like getting to the final heat after a day of sprinting, but then right before the final race starts they shoot everybody in the legs, hand out tourniquets, and say, “On your mark, get ready…”

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