Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Is it time to slow down?

03 Oct 2007, ST, Mind Your Body

Wendy Chua K. Wand

The writer is the founder of Wand Inspiration and author of All Kids R Gifted and Break To Dawn.

Q I am 35, have been working in a prestigious law firm for seven years and am likely to be made partner in one or two years.

Although I used to enjoy my work, I am now starting to question if I am cut out for this. I work such long hours that I am always tired, and I have no time to exercise or spend time with my friends and family. I am contemplating a career change.

Recently, my mother was diagnosed with cancer and I realised how little time I may have with her. I am also single and would like to get married and have a family.

Of course, there is no guarantee that I can find a man to love, or even begin to date. It has been years since I have dated. Is it ridiculous to say I want to reduce my working hours, or to change my career, because I want to stay home more and have time to date?

I am concerned that I will make a career mistake and regret it; if I am not happy, however, money and status are meaningless. Please advise.

A For most people, the mid-30s is when they start to reflect on the meaning and purpose of their lives and careers. If they have yet to create meaningful emotional connections with significant others, they are likely to have a sense of emptiness. Some deny this emptiness; others immerse themselves even more deeply in their work. Some others face up to their internal questions and so decide to make changes to their lifestyles and careers.

Your distress is exacerbated by your mother's illness and your desire to find a life partner.

How much time do you spend with your mother? How would you describe your current relationship with her - warm or distant? How would you like this relationship to be like for the remaining days of her life?

I am sure your mother appreciates the physical comfort that your money can give her. Nevertheless, she would crave your company and encouragement even more. When people think they are dying, they may have a sense of despair and wonder if they have lived their lives well. If your mother receives your care and attention, and you show your appreciation for what she has done for you, she will be happy to know that she has created a precious and worthy person in you.

How much will you regret if you lose her now, without giving her your time and showing her your love?

Your desire to date, find someone and be married will be welcomed by your mother. Of course, you must want to enter into such a commitment with confidence and personal conviction.

The risks inherent in dating and falling in love are that you may get rejected or the relationship may not work out. Compare that risk with working hard, clocking the billable hours. It looks like there is more guarantee you will succeed at a career than in love, so it's no wonder many single people choose to pay more attention to their careers.

How much is this interpersonal risk important to you?

I think that you need time to discover yourself - who you are, your strengths and contributions, your weaknesses and your goals.

If you are working long hours every week, when will you find the time for your mother, yourself, and dating? How can you recharge yourself?

You have options.

Discuss with your present firm if there are other roles you can play, depending on whether you are willing to take a pay cut or make a change within the organisation. If you are happy with the organisation and it appreciates you, you may be able to create a new role for yourself there.

The advantage of this is that you do not face too many changes while you are facing possible changes in your family. Be open with your supervisors regarding your mother's illness, and go to them with some workable solutions. Can you serve fewer clients? Can you slow down your progress towards partnership?

If this is not workable, there are roles in other organisations in which your legal training and experience can come in handy. Some lawyers have switched to become in-house counsel for organisations so they have more regular hours and serve only one organisation. They accept that they are giving up some benefits.

It is not ridiculous to make changes to your career so you have time for your mother and for a social life. You make that choice with maturity. Bear in mind your purpose for making this change, and be steadfast in pursuing your goals. Don't let other people tell you it is wrong.

It is your own life, your mother and your future. Live it wisely and with love.

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