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A Necessary Delusion

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I'm feelin' rough, I'm feelin' raw, I'm in the prime of my life.

Let's make some music, make some money, find some models for wives.

— MGMT, Time to Pretend

I felt the hangover before I could open my eyes. The all-encompassing jackhammer greeted me with such force that I didn’t have the cognitive load to ask the important question: Whose bed am I in? Vomiting couldn’t cure this, and neither would coconut water, greasy food, or any other mythical remedy. This was the kind of hangover that makes you beg for a chemically-induced coma so you can sleep through the worst of it. Vodka, Red Bull, some nefarious concoction masquerading as innocent jello shots, and champagne; yeah, that’s what did it. It’s always champagne that sends you over the edge.

Seriously though, whose bed am I in?

“I really need an aspirin,” said the girl now emerging from under the covers.

Seeing her was the spark that ignited the mental montage of the events leading up to this morning—the graduation party, the late-night liquor run, the after party, the guestroom, and…

“I can’t believe that happened,” her friend said walking out of the bathroom.

It was at that point my hangover became self-aware because it decided that it would not be ignored. Have you ever wondered what a Tommy Lee drum solo sounds like from the drum’s perspective? Still, recovering from a brutal hangover with these two girls was miles ahead of the other thing I was supposed to do that day, which was attend my college graduation.

Anytime one reaches a milestone I think it’s only natural to reflect on what brought you to that moment and to speculate about the future. I’m graduating law school soon and these last days are nothing if not a grind. My immediate future entails finishing the semester and studying for and taking the bar exam. Finding a post-graduation job would be nice as well.

The more distant future is what raises questions. I admit that I’m one of the many who went to law school for the wrong reasons. The kid waking up hungover with two girls didn’t want to go to law school. He was shooting for the Wall Street fantasy. Then the bubble burst and like so many other short-sighted fools he went to law school to ride out the recession. Maybe, like an arranged marriage, I’ll learn to love the law over time. Maybe I’ll join the public sector. Maybe I’ll say Fuck the World and go off the grid, tend bar on some tropical paradise and nail newlywed wives in my off hours. The point is there are options.

Pipe dream or no, those options are what keep me going during these final months. When life becomes a grind it’s the hope of a payoff that makes us persevere. The die-hard cynics love to ridicule optimists as being delusional. What they don’t understand is that the delusion is a survival mechanism. We have to believe that we’re the shit. We have to believe that we’re special and that the odds don’t apply to us. Ask a roomful of first-time newlyweds how many think their marriage will end in divorce and I’d bet no one’s hand would go up even though statistically nearly half of them will end up separated or divorced. The very necessary delusion of our own self-importance is the great motivator that keeps us moving forward. After all, why would I want to pass on my genetics if I didn’t think they were worth passing on? What would it mean for the species if no one was cocky enough to think the future world couldn’t survive without a part of them running around?

The trade-off on this of course is that people go too far. The necessary delusion causes people to overreach well beyond what they’re capable of. Accordingly, optimism needs to be tempered at times with a healthy dose of cold realism. Knowing your limits is important, but so is the confidence necessary to push those limits. Sometimes you hit a wall. Sometimes you smash through it.

So while the tropical island fantasy is fun to indulge in, basking in it for too long only leads to resentment and an existential “What’s the point of it all?” rage that I just don’t need right now. Losing yourself in fantasy doesn’t do anything to improve your reality. The reality is even if I decide I want to remain a practicing attorney I will never want to work in big-law. The truth is I don’t want to work for any firm, regardless of its size. The idea of being under someone’s thumb for the long-term, especially a lawyer’s, is bloodcurdling. Going solo or eventually starting my own boutique firm would give me the freedom I crave that working for someone else never could. The other viable option is to go in-house somewhere. The problem with in-house is that it found itself as the new lawyer fantasy after the big-law fantasy shattered. That doesn’t mean I can’t get in, it just means I’ll have to work harder for it and find the right path (read: connections) to get me there. And of course I’d still have a boss, but the environment and nature of the work is at least more appealing than big-law.

For now I just hope no interviewer asks me some version of the “What’s your five-year plan” question because there officially is no plan. All I have is a general direction of where I want to go and the confidence that I’ll get there one way or another. If all else fails, I’ll partner up with my chef friend and open a bar. Most bars close or change ownership after the first year*, but I figure I’ve seen enough episodes of Bar Rescue that I can beat those odds.

I’m nothing if not optimistic delusional.

* The common 90% statistic people throw around is made up and not backed by any hard research. The actual percentage of bars and restaurants that close within the first year is something like 60%, which is still a high number.

[Read more from Shadow Hand]

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