Rarely does a conversation stick in your memory verbatim. Even more rarely are those words borne out in as dramatic a fashion as the memory I'd like to share with you.
Back when I was a corporate lawyer, another colleague (I will call him Dan) and I were staffed on the same client. While we worked on that project, we formed a brief, if superficial, friendship as people often do at work. We made the occasional mid-day coffee run together and went out for beers a couple times.
Heading back to the office from one of these excursions, we discussed work and office politics. My reaction: "Whatever. It's just a job. It's not who I am."
Although Dan was driving, he turned to me slack-jawed and incredulous. "What do you mean? What's more important than that?"
"My family and friends," I answered. "That's what matters."
Dan looked at me as if I were cuckoo. Realizing no minds would be changed in the conversation, we dropped it. A few months later, he left the firm. A few years later, I left the practice of law entirely. Demonstrating what little passion I'd had for my legal career, I immediately stopped paying attention to all law, business, and tech-related news unless a deal made major headlines.
I got another job, and two years later I stopped working altogether when my son was born. I haven't been employed since.
A few years ago, I stood in my kitchen and flipped through a magazine. Much to my surprise, Dan's grinning face stared at me from the pages of Time magazine's list of most influential people. While I'd been wallowing in motherly oblivion, Dan had started a very well-known, influential, and successful company. "Huh," I thought, "I guess he got what he wanted." Since then, Dan's likely made millions of dollars. I imagine he is very happy.
Standing in the same spot in my kitchen this week, I flipped through another magazine to find Dan featured in an article. It was interesting to me because it detailed how he'd gone from our coffee runs to the pages of the magazine. It wasn't your average profile, however. Dan has been accused of sexual assault.
It's a he said-she said situation, and the article was very balanced--it made Dan seem like a guy who would do it and she a woman who would make it up. If anything, the article on balance seems to come out on Dan's side, but not without creating a very unflattering portrait of him. The article portrays him as a guy people curry favor with but don't really like.
The article got me thinking about that brief conversation so long ago. I'm fairly certain that Dan wouldn't be too impressed with where I've ended up--an unemployed mom who writes a little blog read by a few people. He, however, has all the trappings of success--wealth, fame, and influence. By most metrics, Dan is the success.
I'm not famous. Even the people who live in my house don't much care what I have to say. I haven't earned a cent in nearly ten years. But I chose a path that favored what was important to me. Before I was married or had children, I knew that my career was not my identity; it was a job. As I told Dan, my friends and family are what mean the most to me, and in that area, I am a smashing success.
I commend Dan for achieving something that was essential to him, but I don't envy him for a minute.