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Dr. Rob vs Philalawyer: A Running Conversation on the Intersection of Work and Life - Conclusion

Posted Oct 10 2008 2:08pm

Philalawyer gets introspective in the final portion of our conversation on work and life. Read the first two parts here and here, and special thanks go out to him for taking the time to shoot the breeze with me. Check out his new book here.

On Exhaustion

PL: We haven't had a robust economy for the past seven years, no matter what the administration says. We're in a prolonged "productivity cycle." Companies have been cutting down expenses and getting more and more out of fewer workers and I think a lot of people are at the breaking point, stretched beyond what they can handle, peppered with new responsibilities and technology marrying them to the office more than ever before. I'm sure you see that. My question is, when do you think we snap? As I think Hunter Thompson noted back in 2004, we've been teetering on the edge of a "national nervous breakdown." How close do you think we are to that right now? Do you think we'll eventually snap, get off this "work > spend > work more > spend more" cycle any time soon? Do you think we need to?

Dr. Rob: We only need to if we want to be happier people. When I worked in nursing homes I was with people who were grappling with Erikson's Final Stage of Life: Integrity Versus Despair. In other words, at the end of life we need to look back and say either "I did the best I could with what I had. I lived a good life," or "I didn't do what I wanted with my time here. I fucked up." All of us likely have a bit of both, but when I spoke with the elderly and asked them about their greatest regrets, I heard a lot of "I wish I hadn't focused on work and money so much. It was draining and it didn't really do much for my happiness. In fact it was pretty exhausting. I would have been happier if I had kept it simpler."

I don't know if we'll break from this cycle. Younger people who are entering college and the work are still entering unfulfilling jobs for the money and the toys it can buy. TV and film still portray wealth as unequivocally sexy. "Accumulate as much possible, no matter how much you have to work to do it." I think we have a long time before people really see this as a Potemkin Village. I know that's a pretentious choice of words but that's what happens when I'm pissed off about something!

Dr. Rob: Let me ask you this: what do you think you might say when you're addressing the Final Stage of Life, especially as it relates to work and law? You've railed against it and I can easily see why. You were part of the cycle you described. And yet your job and its flaws led you to become a blogger, then a writer, and now your words and ideas reach more people. 99% of people won't reach as many ears. Was it worth it?

PL: I'll say I took a chance, succeed or fail. I'll also say it was involuntary, that I never had an option, that a book or books or a screenplay or whatever else I might have in my head were going to come out one way or another at some time and stifling them, keeping them stuffed inside while I watched the silliness of what went on around me was impossible. I'll have that luxury, I think. It won't have been all forced or deliberate. I'd have lost my mind not making fun of the things I have.

As to litigation in a town like Philly, I'll say it brought the fuel, the "White Whale," a perfect carnival of idiocy to lampoon... So many hapless actors in such confused straits, pretending to know so much - so many comically inflated egos taking themselves so seriously. And it made me a better writer, I'll give it that. Law's a great schooling for writing. Cuts out all the passive voice and noodlings a novice like me would otherwise indulge.

Was it worth it? Yes. Whatever happens, I ran this thing as far as you can, and will probably take it further. Didn't let the talent rot. Caught myself before I got too pragmatic, jaded and sensible and remembered, if for only a couple years, a little of that confidence you have when you're young... What I had before law, before I started seeing the down side and risk in everything around me. Before I started thinking in terms of hedges instead of upsides. Before I started watching my words, playing everything close to the vest and 'maneuvering' in all my interactions.

Litigation's a paranoid business. It's not right, not human. It's a thing that should never be corporatized, turned into a business as it's been, or at least as I saw it. The courts were never intended to become instruments of business strategy or places for the opportunistic to throw all sorts of claims at the wall to see what might stick, what might grab them a payday. Woven into the very concept of the word "lawsuit" is the acceptance that at least one the parties was too indecent to be able to settle a dispute any other way. I can't believe that there are enough congenitally indecent people in the world to justify the number of lawsuits in our courts. Something's broken down in our society. People have either degraded to the point that we think courts and claims are totally normal venues for us to try to get rich or bleed someone into conceding to what we want or advocates have poisoned us so badly that we think their inherently duplicitous arguments (one side is always lying) are natural instruments of commerce, or wealth redistribution. I think the practice of litigation and the filing and defense of lawsuits ought to resemble Bill Clinton's description of abortion - something that should be "safe, legal and rare." Emphasis on the last.

So yes, I'm sitting here drinking a Fort Collins Brewery IPA, listening to the "The Nile Song" and thinking, yeah, it's worth it. If nothing else, music sounds a lot better these days. I mean, hell, the stock market's folding, banks are collapsing, we're about to elect a President who doesn't know jack about the economy and it's pretty easy to say, "Fuck, this is the end of the American Dream." I don't know. Maybe. Probably not. But I know is this. Gilmour's guitar sounds amazing. And I can remember, almost exactly, how the tune made me want to lose my mind when I was in high school. You know... All that pent-up energy you used to have? How you wanted to fuck everything you saw. The way you looked at every day like something to attack? When it wasn't all a series of monetizing events? I like the way songs wind me up again these days. Makes you feel connected, the way you're supposed to be.

No, no regrets. Not now, at least. Not here. It's a good time to be writing.

By the way, this Fort Collins stuff is really good. They should make me a paid spokesman. Fort Collins Beer, For the Introspective Drunk!

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