20 years of life wasted.

That’s what I thought when I saw this article talking about big law firms culling partners.

Working as an investment banker you get to see the “worst” of what it’s like to be a lawyer, at least a securities lawyer, and boy, you’d have to really love the law to do that job.

Now, of course many of them do, but others who I’ve met over the years are in the legal profession for the same reason many people are in “top” jobs:

At some point in time, they thought being a lawyer was a top job.

They’re right, it was.

So too was being an investment banker, private equity partner, hedge fund manager, consultant, etc. but today nearly every profession is under significant threat.

As the article states, “Being made partner at a big law firm used to be seen as a brass ring of prestige, wealth and security. But it turns out that it is not so secure after all.”

Just like many “good jobs” of the past, being a lawyer isn’t so good anymore. And with more supply than demand for legal services, the prediction is that all law firms are going to be slimming down.

When the jobs of auto workers and grocery store checkout clerks go away, we’re not surprised, but when top jobs become less attractive, it creates far bigger problems for one main reason.

“Top Jobs” Cost A Lifetime of Dedication

Someone up for partner (or equivalent) in an investment bank has spent the bulk of their adult life anchored to their job.

They’ve checked email and voicemail non-stop. Eaten dinner at their desk half their life. Spent many nights red-eyed staring at the screen while the sun was rising.

Many on Wall Street and in the legal profession finished an undergraduate and often graduate degree, taking on a bunch of debt just to get started.

With an ever-increasing cost of education and cost of living, and compensation in early years merely so-so, many up and coming professionals are still paying off their student loans all the way through to the level of senior associate, and are reliant on making partner, and getting to keep a stake of the winnings, just to get ahead.

Many years as a partner in a law firm or on Wall Street can still be a fabulously lucrative position, but, the claws-out game of reaching the top, and getting culled, or facing lower compensation, or the prospect of the partnership blowing up (e.g. look to hedge funds), should make any ambitious professional question their choices.

That is, especially if you see your career “linearly.”

Stop Seeing Your Life Linearly

A reason I quit Goldman Sachs was because I saw a better use for my thirties.

I had “sold” most of my twenties to the firm, and I figured, if I was going to be working until my fifties anyways, well, why would I “invest” the best years of my life in a job I merely liked?

If you see your career linearly, that is, you look ahead from your current seat, and all you see is that next step ahead of you, then, well, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Best case scenario, you’re crushing it at your firm, you’re driving plenty of your own relationships and have the potential to drive revenues, and you will be in as good a position as you can be. Then you hope the business doesn’t blow up.

If the firm works, it can be a great investment, but, you also run the risk of splattering 20 years of your life against a wall of work, and never making it to the promised land.

On the flip side, you can see that, irrespective of where your business is headed, you have equipped yourself with an incredibly valuable set of skills and experiences that are highly transferable.

And when you stop seeing the only path of your profession as the partner track, you realize, in fact, you have many choices that are more likely to get you what you want.

Originally published at medium.com