Professional Careers: Contradicting the Assumptions


My husband and I both have professional careers. Whenever we are introduced to new people, the innocuous question of our careers inevitably presents itself. The response that we are a doctor and a lawyer earns approving smiles or comments like how we are “set for life.” There’s no denying that we will probably be financially comfortable in no less than five years. That, however, is little consolation when the past few years have been a swim upstream. The life of newlywed professionals is an extensive boot camp that wears on our emotions and our wallets.

In truth, we question if our professional career choices were for the best. There are certainly wonderful days on the job where all our decisions make sense, but those feel few and far between at this point in our lives. My husband and I admit that if we had fallen in love in college, our eagerness to settle down may have derailed our professional dreams. Would that have been the better life? We’ll never know. Until we reach the point where the ends should theoretically justify the means, three major issues weigh heavily on our hearts.

Source of Misery #1: Our Education

professionalBelieve it or not, my husband and I won’t grumble too much about our professional education in terms of its rigor. Sure, the bar exam resulted in a true nervous breakdown on my part, and medical school isn’t a walk in the park. Nevertheless, we completed these arduous years with fellow sufferers whom we relied on for breaks in the monotony. There were happy times amidst the studying, and friendships were made that continue years after graduation.

Our gripe is the time we spent earning our education. Whether we’re overachievers or gluttons for punishment, my husband and I each earned two graduate degrees. These years ate away most of our twenties, and we felt as though we were in adult limbo. Our childhood and college friends were getting married and having children while we had our noses in books. I even missed a dear high school friend’s wedding in order to take my required ethics exam.

We envy those able to enjoy life as a young married couple. We feel we missed the time for splurging on trips to Europe or living in a tiny downtown condo. Our married life began in a suburban subdivision, and we started talking about having children a year into our marriage. Yes, we both seek to be parents, but we would have preferred to live without the ticking of the biological clock that commences at age 30.

The majority of our professional friends are also achieving milestones later in life. Most were married in their late twenties/early thirties, and only a small handful have become parents. The taboo topic of whether we wish we had picked alternative careers rarely surfaces, but our friends openly lament how they are last to the parenting party or missed the gleeful binge-spending opportunities.

Source of Misery #2: Our Finances

professionalThe student loan horrors that befall professional educations aren’t a secret. The cost is typically more than university tuition, and this debt is added to a stack of undergraduate loans. The often-overlooked dilemma is that most starting positions don’t offer a salary that puts us on the fast track to paying off our six-figure debts. Due to a largely saturated job market, attorneys often resort to paralegal status or positions completely out of the legal field simply to make a living until the more desirable jobs materialize. Medical students graduate to the world of residency where they work 13-hour days, six days a week, at an hourly rate below minimum wage. As a new college instructor, I am paid according to credit hours taught. Although our debt repayment can be adjusted to be “income-based,” losing a chunk of your already meager paycheck adds insult to injury.

Perhaps the most disheartening of our financial woes is the longer-term effect of our debt. My husband and I recently received a surprising blow by a mortgage broker. We excitedly made our appointment with what we thought was a realistic calculation of our budget. With the completion of my husband’s medical residency, we were eager to use his new paycheck to move out of our cottage-style home. This would certainly not be a dream home, but one with features like a garage, dining room and backyard with patio or deck.

We were (somehow) completely uninformed that the BANK decides how much our monthly payments should be. Even though we saved whatever we could to show that we had money reserved for payments, that amount isn’t taken into account. Our large student loan debt heavily reduced the mortgage we could take. We also learned that spouses with lower salaries are advised to be left off the mortgage, as greater debt only reduces the sum the bank will grant you. In general, the debt/income ratio for mortgage calculation is designed to crush the hopes and dreams of young professionals. We recently wondered why our attorney friends had bought such a tiny new home. Now we know they were merely victims of the nefarious mortgage brokers.

Source of Misery #3: Our Social Life

professionalI blame the television show “Friends” for giving me false hope of what my twenties and thirties would be like. I didn’t expect to spend all day in a coffee shop, but I assumed I’d have an outgoing group of friends who were available for get-togethers and outings.

Instead, most weekends are “Netflix and Chill” nights for my husband and me. Our friends moved away upon completion of graduate school, often to locations where they did not already have a friend or family base. Medical residency is particularly brutal, and you can only hope that a computer program properly matches you with your top choice hospital/city for employment.

Our jobs consume the majority of our weekdays, and locations like hospitals and universities are not watering holes for the socially inclined. I’m the youngest professor by decades in my job, and my husband only interacts with a dozen or so individuals on a regular basis. While they’re his age and marital status, he often needs a breather from his “code: stroke” teammates. We’re exhausted on the weekends we don’t have to work and use our free time to make our Target runs, mow the lawn, or cook food for the week. We have virtually no hobbies and don’t belong to any organizations that introduce us to fun-loving individuals.

When we ask our professional friends if they have active social lives, we breathe a sigh of relief to hear that they, too, are friendless. Similar relief occurs when we run into our younger co-workers in Walmart on a Friday night. We all seem to have one or two friends in the area where we live, but hardly enough for an active social life. Most of us envy our peers who returned to their childhood hometowns with a long-standing group of social compatriots.  We speculate that we will become friends with the parents of our children’s peers, but fear that is merely a pipe dream.

There are other woes in our professional lives such as the inability of a lawyer to move freely about the country due to jurisdictional red tape. Exercise is impossible after a 12-hour day. Lastly, there is pressure for one of us to muster an upbeat attitude when we’ve both had horrendous days at work. We’re both beleaguered but half-heartedly remind each other that there are only a few more years of these conditions.

It is a harsh reality to accept that our lives feel beyond our control. It saddens us to think that career stability is a driving force behind our life’s satisfaction. We trudge through our workday wishing that others would realize that our lives are not nearly as gilded as they may imagine. Instead, we’re envious of those who achieved their personal life goals far earlier than we will. I suppose the grass truly is greener on the other side.

Read more of Nancy’s work.

>About Nancy Rapp
Nancy Rapp is an attorney and adjunct instructor of law. She is married to a neurologist, and her hobbies include: writing, teaching dance/fitness, cooking and spending time with her loved ones.
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