[This post was first published in November of 2012]
Thanks to Hollywood, Johnnie Cochran, and John Grisham, most people don’t know what being a lawyer is really like. The problem is not so much the ignorance part — after all, most people, including me, don’t know much about what a lot of other people — ombudsmen, key grips, U.S. senators — really do. The problem is that the vacuum of ignorance has been filled with all these stirring and romantic images of mysteries being solved and justice being served. Yes, there are also malign and nauseating images of criminals avoiding punishment and profit being made off of other people’s misery, but those images aren’t necessarily the ones enticing young idealists into law school. And so sometimes these folks end up sitting in a windowless office beneath their framed law degree, reviewing boxes of documents and volumes of case law, and wondering why they are wasting their considerable talents on such mindless minutiae.
The same thing can happen to any talented worker in any of a gazillion different kinds of work. Whatever it is that makes you feel you are good enough to pursue a chosen career of importance, interest, and ingenuity will almost certainly at some point clash violently with the reality of routine and drudgery. Whether your goal is to succeed as a surgeon or a soldier, an artist or an architect, at some point the exquisite always collides with the mundane.
It’s like imagining James Bond raking leaves. The archetypical ruthless sophisticate bending his back to the most tiresome domestic task? Just try to picture any of his cinematic avatars in cargo shorts, T-shirt, and a wide-brimmed hat, struggling to keep the yards of suburbia pristine. I can maybe see Roger Moore from his A View to a Kill days, but otherwise it’s like trying to divide by zero.
And yet . . . if the fate of the British Empire did come down to extreme lawn care, I have to believe that 007 would not only trade his Walther PPK for an Ames True Temper No Clog Rake (or better yet, a signature rake), but also carry out his groundskeeping mission with the same vigour, precision, and resourcefulness he devotes to assassination and seduction. Would he wish he were in a car chase in Morocco instead? Almost certainly.
But would he take what pleasure he could from eliminating deceased foliage efficiently, yet with a splash of flair? Again, almost certainly. After all, Bond loves a challenge, and what could be more challenging than doing something you really don’t want to do — and doing it well?
I’m not saying Bond wouldn’t consider quitting MI-6 if it turned out his double-oh was demoted to a mere “license to kill weeds”. No one should stick to a rough patch if it turns out to be a treadmill. But when you encounter a situation in which it feels like your unique skills are being wasted, remember two things: first, sometimes you just have to pay your dues, and second, it may well be yet another opportunity for you to show the world, and yourself, just how super you are.