Les Miserables

I find myself engaged in, what one writer has astutely called, a miserable job.  I work as an attorney, which is a very specialized line of work these days, like medicine.  My specialty is Insurance Defense, otherwise known as personal injury defense work.  New York requires vehicle owners to purchase auto insurance in case their vehicle hurts someone, or someone’s property.  If an insured does actually hurt someone and that someone sues the insured, the insurance company assigns an attorney, like me, to defend the lawsuit. 

My job is miserable because insurance is a lot about actuarial science, underwriting, and dollars and cents and not a lot about people; neither employees, claimants, nor insureds.  It’s miserable because the effort I expend to do my job (1-2 years litigating each case) far, far exceeds the value of the outcomes achieved by me doing my job (saving the billion dollar insurance company a few bucks here and there).  But the real trouble with this job, the most miserable factor for me, is that it all but strangles my soul to death.

It’s like in the movie Jerry Maguire.  Jerry was a successful sports agent who became downright disheartened by the state of the industry–the athletes’ moral turpitude and avarice, and his role in championing them.   Jerry’s soul was troubled to the point that he was compelled to draft and distribute a manifesto decrying the situation in the industry.  His manifesto circulation resulted in him being forced out of his cushy (unsavory) job and into a work life that aligned more closely with his personal level of integrity. 

In real life, look at Oprah’s story.  At the beginning of her career she was reassigned from her job as a hard news reporter into the human interest news category.  Oprah realized afterwards that the involuntary reassignment was a tremendous relief.  Why? Because hard news was hard on her soul.  A good day in broadcast news involved calamity, chaos, and destruction both around the community and around the globe.  Humanity’s loss was the reporter’s gain.  Her reassignment meant a transfer from the dispiriting to the uplifting.

Humanity’s loss is, likewise, my bread and butter.  Opposing those who are injured and pained is how I earn a living (never mind that, by and large, these plaintiffs lie about and exaggerate claims of injury).  Championing the negligent (who, by and large, lie and exaggerate to convince those interested that they are not responsible for causing said plaintiffs their injuries) is my expertise.  As I listen daily to liberal embellishments (including those of fellow attorneys), as I file motions and serve demands to gain leverage to settle cases for less money than that demanded, as I rush early from home, fight the rush hour commute, and arrive at the courthouse only to spend hours sitting and reading while awaiting the transaction of routine court business, I am mindful of how little it all matters, and how small this practice makes me feel.  I am mindful that once I dreamed of impacting the world.   I am mindful that that dream is alive still, gasping for breath most of the time, but still alive.

Thus begins my Tuesday considerations of Mastering (or at least Managing) the Miserable Job/Career.



15 responses to “Les Miserables

  1. Otto Haugland

    Your post was helpful.

    I am at the other end of that spectrum, having left a financially rewarding job to follow what God has called me to do. Looking back sometimes, like today, I only see the positive side of my former position.

    Over Christmas I even applied for a similar position with my former employer, but they only considered in-house candidates. God is in charge.

    Your narrative reminded me of what I had run through my head during my past daily sales duties (at the same time daydreaming about my passions). You brought me back to reality.

    You lifted my spirits

  2. Oh, A. This really touched me. Your pain is palpable. And your words beautifully laid out, for all the world to see.

  3. Whoa. Bravo. This is powerfully honest writing! And I want to encourage you–just being a person of integrity in such an environment has a much more powerful impact on the world than you might realize.

    Also, you don’t know the end of the story yet. You are still in chapter 3 or 4 of a long novel. : )

  4. Pingback: Les Miserables : HighCallingBlogs.com

  5. Found you via Marcus. I want to encourage you to never allow that flame of desire to find meaning in work and life to die out. Maybe this is a season. And maybe the lessons of the season will ultimately be used in a new and better season for you.


  6. RLP’s comment reminds me of a piece I just wrote about that strange time when we realize we need to put something off but we don’t quite know what we shall put on in its place.

    Still, spring eventually overtakes winter, and the seasons do change in time.

  7. Otto, I think your comment would’ve made more sense to people if I hadn’t made a few changes after you commented.
    LL, Mark, and RLP, thank you for your encouragement. I am surprised myself at the emergence of these sentiments. I was only going for a simple introduction to a few weekly installments of encouragement for those of us on challenging jobs. The truth that you all mention, that to everything under the sun there is a season, is kind of where I’m hoping to go with this. Probably.
    BTW Mark–I’m pretty sure that this title came to mind because a day or so before I’d read your interview with the movie man. My gratitude debt to you (and LL) grows daily and is ridiculously large. Thank you!

  8. Found a little quote this morning, from Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God, which I thought you would like…

    “…we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatest of work, but the love with which it is performed.”

  9. Hey Alease, that was great. I subscribed to your blogs twice, but they don’t come through, so I will have to check frequently.

    Thanks again for the referal to http://www.accountingweb.com ! =)

  10. Hi A,

    Yes, our work is …well, what it is (being an insurance defense attorney myself). I understand the frustration and the smallness of it all, sitting in courtrooms every day among the masses, fighting and fighting and fighting to save insurance companies with billions in assets a few thousand dollars. What a way to live.

    However, I realized some time ago that misery in our work is part of the plan of God. It is part of the world system created by Him to hold us to Him and to draw us to Himself. In Genesis we read that after The Fall God tells Adam: “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;… By the sweat of your face you will eat bread…” Genesis 3: 17a – 19. Futility and frustration in work is ordained by God. But still, being in Christ is a reprieve from the futility because He helps us through our days. Living in the Holy Spirit means that this life and this work is not all there is. Praise God!!!

    However, we ought not to be surprised and dismayed by difficulty in work, and the fact that so few people are happy in theirs. This should
    be comforting to know.

  11. milestogob4isleep

    [THANK YOU for your comment Brenda! I’m hoping the rest of the gang follows your lead. :-)]

    “Futility and frustration in work is ordained by God…we ought not to be surprised and dismayed by difficulty in work, and the fact that so few people are happy in theirs.”

    Brenda, you’ve triggered a fault line of mine and I’m having a bit of an earthquake of a response to what you’ve commented. So please don’t take offense. Yes, God is our sustenance in day to day living, even in our mundane work (which, by the way, parallels a chapter I just finished in L.L.’s new book, Stone Crossings–definitely recommend—where she says our call may not be to grandiosity but to faithfulness in the day to day things), BUT I do not think that futility in work is ordained by God.

    Initially in the Garden work was not onerous to the man. So if grueling work was part of the curse, and now we are free from the curse, then shouldn’t we be free from grueling work as well? Solomon repeats three times in Ecclesiastes something like, ‘there is nothing better for man under the sun than for him to find satisfaction in his work’. Work matters. Work should not deplete and dismay, particularly when we give the best of our time and talent to these jobs. Especially not for those of us in Christ. I would say not only should we be surprised and dismayed and alarmed and troubled by dissatisfaction at work, but when we feel this way, we are honor bound, our human dignity demands, that we investigate whether or not there is congruence between our selves/lives and our jobs, and to make any and all adjustments that may be required if there is not, no matter the cost. Like my friend who is a very successful salesman. When he came to Christ he could no longer find satisfaction in the paycheck attached to selling nicotine products. At great cost to himself and his family, he left his job. Ironically, he is now a very successful salesman of life saving emergency equipment that is required to be installed in commercial properties.

    We are not robots, just doing what we are programmed to do. God has endowed man with soul and spirit, both of which need to be made alive and fed. We are not excused from investigating the cry inside of us that demands loudly, or requests in a whisper, more. We ought not be surprised by work misery…you say? Yet, we are, so many of us. Because we, in our humanity, dare to hope for, to imagine, to expect better. We cannot, and should not, help doing so. You might say that the satisfaction that we seek is found in Chirst, not the job. I would say, then, that there should be no marriage, or childbirth, or touches and hugs, or diets and gyms, or home ownership, or ownership of any kind. Neither should there be any exercise of authority, why should anyone aspire to dominion in any way? Yes, Christ is our all, but the “our” is a human “our”, and as much as we humans have need of love, affection, dominion and ownership, despite our relationships with Christ, we also have a need for meaningful work.



  12. A, I definitely think there’s a place for meaning in work. And I liked your passion in bringing that forward.

    This is why I am a book and blog writer and not an advertising copywriter anymore. I just didn’t want to sing the praises of baby wipes and air fresheners even one more time! : ) (Of course, the path wasn’t a straight one… I went through a teaching stint in between and circled back to writing later.)

  13. Many thanks for your response, Alease. However, I firmly believe that discomfort in work is a real truth about life. Yes, we strive with diets and hugs and touches and the things in life that separate us from the other creatures. However, the job that we have in Christ is to be His ambassadors, inviting the world to be reconciled to God. Above all, that is our task. The many ways in which we earn a living are merely the vehicles through which we display the one we serve.
    The examples of work that we have in the bible simply do not display tasks of ease. Everywhere, work is work. Take the example of Paul, who labored for the Gospel, arguably the best worker after Christ, who was “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing; persecuted and forsaken…but not destroyed.” 2 Cor 4: 8-9 NASB. His labor was intense and uncomfortable. Yet he did it by the grace of God.
    So it is for us. I look around each day and it’s not just young attorneys who wish they’d taken a different path that are uncomfortable at work. The majority of people are. Even the ones with the what seems to be “the perfect job” have some source of discontent.
    In Christ, however, we have a reprieve. The discomfort of work and the hope for what we perceive to be better keeps us at the feet of our Lord, storming heaven with prayer for His intervention. It keeps us filled with gratitude when our prayers are answered, and reminds us that we serve a Savior who is real. It keeps us moving through life, seeking better ways to contribute, and from an eternal view, allows us to reach out and share the influence of Christ along the way. Frustration and futility in work are what keeps us reaching up and outward. Good.
    I must say it is refreshing to have a place to express oneself. Thank you for sharing, Alease. 🙂

  14. You should be fired. Why? For the reason stated in the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident….” You defend the lying threats and dangers to society though you are aware of their lies and gaming of the system…and you use your efforts to deprive the injured and wronged of due or just compensatation … granted, many of these plaintiffs are liars and gross exaggerators themselves.

  15. milestogob4isleep

    LL–the world is so very grateful that you traded in plugging diaper brands to write the words on your heart.

    Brenda, Brenda, we disagree, alas. I want to say so much to win you over to my side but I’ll save it for the article that I’m hoping to squeeze out of our divergence of opinion. Yes, it is wonderful to have a place to express oneself. I can’t wait until I’m able to stop by your blog on a regular.

    Dboys–I can always count on you to be the same. I don’t know that your humor translates so well on the page, though. Nonetheless, I smile.

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