For better or for worse, I’ve been at this job long enough that this state of affairs isn’t exactly new. And the interesting thing is that, because it’s familiar, I’ve been able to notice a few things this time around:
For example, my body really is physically weaker when I don’t eat or sleep. Seems obvious, but I’d never seen it play out quite so starkly until this week at the gym. I’ve been recording the results of my workouts to track my progress, but this week I’ve made no progress — in fact, I’ve gone materially backward in my results. I don’t have the strength to lift the weights I normally lift, and I don’t have the endurance to ride or run or whatever for as long as I normally do. My muscles feel sore and fatigued prematurely. Why? Well, I’ve also been tracking calories and sleep, and I see that I’ve been averaging between 1,000 and 1,300 calories most days for the past two weeks, and getting only about 5 or 6 hours of sleep each night. It’s hard not to see a causal link between these numbers and the way I feel.
Another observation: I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I hate M&A work. As in, flames on the side of my face, heaving breath, type of hate. M&A is short for “mergers and acquisitions” and it’s the category of corporate law that involves buying and selling of companies. I haven’t done a ton of it, but it’s supposedly one of the “Things I Should Know” to be a successful corporate lawyer; every year my professional development advisor at the firm encourages me to get more M&A experience. The role of an associate in an M&A deal requires, among other things, incredible stamina and focus, an ability to sift through and synthesize enormous amounts of information, and a level of organizational skill and attention to detail that borders on the supernatural — all things that I think I’m particularly good at. Only here’s the thing: It stresses the hell out of me. The work schedule is relentless and demanding, entirely unpredictable, and completely out of my control. And I hate, HATE not being in control. I’m working on an M&A deal right now, and I’m watching as all these things play out again, as they do every time I’m on an M&A deal: I perform well and make people happy, but I feel out of control and miserable. So I’ve decided that from now on I’m going to do everything I can to avoid M&A work, even if it hurts my long-term prospects at the firm. There are other types of work that I’m equally good at that don’t destroy my life; surely I can develop a practice that will let me do those and not do M&A.
Speaking of stress and control, when I logged into the computer this morning, I literally had about three full days’ worth of work to do, including three major projects that were all supposed to be done “as early as possible this morning.” Earlier in the week I suspected this might happen, and so I had been working long hours to try to ward off the train wreck, knowing full well that it was probably futile. It was very stressful and unpleasant; there was too much to do, too many demands, and too many unpredictable twists and turns. This morning it all came to a head: Everything was finally due, everyone was breathing down my neck, and it was physically impossible for me to satisfy everyone. And guess what? As soon as I realized that, all the stress and pressure went away. Poof. Because there’s a great release that comes when you realize that things are finally beyond your control and there’s just nothing you can do. So I turned on my focus music, stopped taking calls and ignored emails, and churned out work all day long. By the end of the day, sure enough, I’d finished two days’ worth of work; the third went undone. Those clients just weren’t going to get their thing tonight. Knowing that I’d gain nothing by staying up all night I called a car and went home. Because that’s life, folks, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I’m not out of the woods yet. Tomorrow will be hectic, and I’m a little terrified for the weekend — mostly because, in addition to needing to finish everything that I didn’t get done today (plus everything that was already on my plate for tomorrow), my cousin Kirt will be staying with me from out of town and I have a dirty apartment, no food, and no idea how I’m going to be a decent host if I’m stuck working all weekend.
But things will work out in the end. They always do. And then, next weekend, I get to fly out west to see my family. By then hopefully this will all be in the past.