Monday, August 31, 2009

Thank You - an unlikely expression of gratitude this Monday

It was 6 years ago, just around this time of year – time for my annual review. I was practicing employment law at a prestigious law firm in Orange County, and while there were some bumps in the road, I felt overall I had been performing quite well in my second year of practicing law. That is, until I heard my review.

Two partners came into my office, shut the door, and sat with me to discuss my review. Nothing strange so far – this is standard operating procedure around the office when review time came around. But the contents of the review would rock my world.

Negative. Disappointing. Underachieving. These were the words spoken to me at my review. I have to admit I wasn’t used to hearing these words. I could feel the tears stinging my eyes as I willed myself not to cry in front of my bosses. My mind was spinning – how was it possible that I thought I was doing so well when they obviously think otherwise?

And then a strange point was raised during my review – “Melissa needs to be here during normal business hours.” Wait, what? I finally snapped out of my stupor – what did THAT mean? I worked A LOT. I worked weekends, late nights, very early mornings. I worked in the office, at home, at coffee shops – any place I could will myself to spend another hour working on motions, memos, outlines that always needed to be done yesterday. They were making it sound like I was some sort of cracked-out addict that could only stumble into the office after 1pm. I assure you, this was NOT the case.

When they left my office to let me “digest” the contents of my review I finally became ANGRY. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but I had done some fabulous work for several clients, and none of that had been acknowledged or addressed at my review. Nothing positive came out of that meeting. It was horribly unfair and maddening. But I worked up the nerve to walk into one of the partner’s offices to tell him that my review was incomplete. I rattled off some of my greater accomplishments that year – items that were conspicuously missing from my review. He sheepishly agreed with me, but the dye was cast.

Shortly after that review I started looking for a way out of that place.

Little did I know – I took my first step towards melissa brandman photography that day.

I can see that now, 6 years later. Even so, the pain of that review is still incredibly raw. It was embarrassing, humiliating to sit there and listen to one negative point after another, all delivered with a half-smile. Especially after all of the times spent away from my husband, away from friends and family. All for work. All for this stinking review. It is hard to write about it, even now.

Little did I know:

· I was so miserable being in that office that I would take a photography class at night to bring some fun into my life.

· 6 months after that review I left my job to become a deputy district attorney – a job I had dreamed about since I was 12 years old.

· Later that same year we would move to the Bay Area, where I had to leave my dream job behind.

· I met many amazing people during my time in the Bay Area that inspired me to work for myself – to become the boss I always hoped for.

· That every career experience I’ve had since that day, the day of that horrible review, would give me the strength, the fortitude, and the courage to start this photography business.

So today, I say thank you to the two partners that sat me down that day for my terrible review. Thank you for giving me a reason to leave law firm life behind – I have never looked back. Thank you for showing me how ill-equipped I was to work in an office from 7-7 (if you’re working at a bigger law firm there is no 9-5 day. You’re lucky to get an 8-6 kind of day).

Because of you, I never worked in a large law firm again. I worked part-time after my older daughter was born, and I even switched practices to better accommodate my family and my life. I know to never again sacrifice my marriage or my family for my job.

Today, I have a life I never dared dream of – and I have you, dear partners, to thank (in part).

So thank you, from the bottom of my heart.


heidistitches August 31, 2009 at 7:16 AM  

That was an amazing story. I can't even imagine people using words like that to describe you. I would have to stop them and ask them who they were talking about because that couldn't be you! I believe you really have found your calling! Your photos always inspire me. I've never been into photography, but when I take a photo, I actually think about what I'm doing...because of you.

Mary Marantz August 31, 2009 at 7:52 AM  

so awesome!! As one former lawyer to another, I am SO proud of you!!

Katie August 31, 2009 at 8:21 AM  

Kudos to you, Melissa. Thank you for sharing that story - you inspire me to follow my dreams!

Sweet Pea's mommy August 31, 2009 at 8:52 AM  

wow. who knew that one review would change your life and your whole outlook!!
great story and i'm so happy that you are happier now!!!
congrats to you!

April August 31, 2009 at 9:13 AM  

So nice to know that even though we may not be able to see God's plan for the future we can be confident to know that he has a plan and more than likely it is better than we could have imagined!

lawmom August 31, 2009 at 9:42 AM  

As a former fellow employee of your "prestigious Orange County law firm" I am so proud of you that you found a way out of that soul-crushing environment and have chosen to follow your dreams. I have no doubt you will be successful beyond your imagination - with your talent and intelligence it's inevitable

Teresa August 31, 2009 at 10:28 AM  

Thank you for sharing your story. It made me stop and rethink (and remember) some of the events in my own life. There is much to be thankful for. You're an awesome photographer, too!

Anonymous August 31, 2009 at 3:32 PM  

The ultimate "BOO-YAH!".

Melissa August 31, 2009 at 9:15 PM  

Thanks everyone - I'm glad sharing my story seemed to resonate with a lot of readers (however painful it was to recall). I didn't see it this way for a long time, but those two partners did me a favor that day. I had no business working there, certainly not long term like I had planned to do.

It's been a windy, twisty road, but I'm grateful for the journey - and I'm looking forward to what's ahead...

bso September 1, 2009 at 10:38 AM  

So glad that your road has led you to meaningful relationships with family and friends, meaningful work, and (gasp!) the time to enjoy both.

Very excited for you, Melissa!

Alexandra September 3, 2009 at 6:49 AM  

Great story! Keep doing what you love!

Jen September 6, 2009 at 8:08 AM  

Melis ~ that is a heartwrenching, but really fantastic story! Thank you for sharing this with us, we can all relate to a moment like yours. All that hard work in law school and at the law firm lead you to an amazing new career! So happy for you.