May 4, 2009

Growth Spurt

I came into work this morning to find a very complimentary email in my inbox. Last week after my work load slowed, I pitched in with a project to help another team that's prepping for trial. I worked late on this project and spent the better part of a day completing it in a timely manner. I volunteered to help so this task had no bearing on any of my cases. It wasn't my case, well at least it wasn't my case any more.

Around this time last year, I was working full time on this particular case. And up until this point last year, this case had comprised close to 80 percent of my working paralegal career. It was around this time last year that a few personality conflicts came to a head and as a consequence, this case - my case - was given to another paralegal. Soon thereafter, I requested to be taken off it entirely.

I'm not gonna lie. It sucked. In the aftermath of this conflict and some terrible annual reviews, I questioned a lot of things - my work ethic, my intelligence, my ability to read people, my dedication. Most of all, I questioned how exactly I could get out of this mess.

I was carrying some pretty big grudges. I analyzed every word between myself and the parties involved, every email that was exchanged. I tried to find a person, other than myself to blame for my situation. But no matter how long and hard I thought about it, I kept coming back to the fact that I had made some bad choices. My actions lead me there.

I've had a number of jobs since moving to Chicago. As a young 20-something finding my way in the big city, I held the title of reporter, content developer, receptionist, full time student and paralegal. And that was all just within my first two years. The title of paralegal, I've held longer than all others. It's a fact that is still somewhat surprising to me. I moved here a young budding journalist (or so I thought) fully expecting to be recognized for my talent and snatched up immediately by the Trib or the Sun Times. When the jobs I wanted didn't come as easily as I'd expected, I took ones I didn't necessarily want. But these jobs all offered me one thing - the opportunity to continue living in this great city.

It was about a year and a half into my stint as a Chicago resident. I was swimming in debt and working a dead end job for the meanest person I've ever worked for when I realized it was time to grow up. My current situation was not where I wanted to be and my chances of being called by any publication, local or national, was waining by the day. I needed a change and something that would put me on a sturdier footing than my journalism degree could provide. At that point, my dreams had morphed. These dreams, not as glamorous as globe trotting famous journalist per se, included paid off credit cards, a savings account and a well paying job surrounded by intelligent people. My friends often ask what it is that made me want to be a paralegal. I can say that it began with intentions of becoming a lawyer, but I knew even if I didn't make it that far, that the title of paralegal held far more realistic opportunities than my undergrad degree. This position with it's starting salary paid what would have taken me at minimum another decade to make as a journalist. In short, I wanted some stability. Stability had been sorely lacking from my first two years in Chicago.

I started my present job the week after I finished paralegal school. Even with an internship under my belt I had a lot to learn. I jumped in head first and soaked up as much as I could. My second year, when I saw the reputation I had built for myself come crashing down, I realized just how much more I had to learn. But I dug in, and I learned as much as I could from my mistakes.

Looking back at this past year - my third year - I am starting to realize some of the ways I have grown during my Chicago journey. I can say had I been faced a few years ago with the same challenges I endured last summer, I wouldn't have stuck around. My paralegal job would have been just another entry on my resume. I would have told myself there's better out there, I can do better, it's their loss for treating me this way. And I would have been gone. That explains why I held three different jobs within my first year in the city.

When the going got tough last year though, I didn't bail. I stuck around and proved I was more than other people's worst assumptions of my character. It's part of growing up. Whereas before, it was easier to run, I now know I'll face my challenges head on. I can't run away from a job, a relationship, a challenge at the first setback. Mike and I would have thrown in the towel long ago if I hadn't opted to stick around and muddle through all the tough stuff. But it's the muddling through that makes the difference. It's the muddling through that has made me feel strong and more self assured. I know my worth, and I'm willing to stick around and define it instead of running off to what may be the next best thing. And today, I learned the rewards for such actions can be sweet.

The email this morning was from one of the attorneys who last year questioned my ability and dedication to my job. His email was to my direct supervisor. It said that since he wouldn't have the opportunity to review me this year, he wanted to let my boss know that I was of great assistance to the team on an emergency project. He went on to say that I stayed up late working on this project, one that he described as mundane but important. His email was incredibly complimentary and incredibly unnecessary. He went out of his way to make sure my boss knew that my help was appreciated. After of year of proving I have value at the firm, it's nice to know that those who once said the opposite are seeing differently.


Megan said...

That's awesome! Kudos on being recognized for your hard work and dedication. I think it's awesome that you stuck this out and proved yourself. I'm totally impressed by your gumption.

Jekel said...


Dorrie said...

You rule. =)
I can't believe it's your 3rd year there already... wow!