Sunday, September 28, 2014

Truth and Freedom

Today is a hard day for me: it's the seventh anniversary of the due date I was given when I learned Ben and I had gotten pregnant. On the one hand, I am grateful that there is no permanent bond tethering me to Ben. On the other, I feel the loss of the child that is not here.

For a fleeting moment, I thought of reaching out to Ben because he's the only other person who might remember the significance of this day. This is an old (and bad) habit. I've given into this type of impulse in the past at times when I was not clear on malignant nature of his behavior. From those experiences, I've learned that contacting an abuser in a weak moment is a terrible choice that opens the door to manipulation and invites further abuse.

It was easy to reject the impulse to contact him this year because I have access to truth. Knowing the extent of his lies and betrayal, and recalling that he has also leveraged other women's personal misfortune or tragedy (e.g., divorce or death of a loved one) to start or attempt to start abusive relationships, made the right choice glaringly obvious. On days like this, it is easy to appreciate how fortunate I was to see Emily's text message in June. Pulling on that string unraveled his fabric of lies and provided much needed clarity.

That I ever thought Ben was the only one I had to turn to for consolation about the lost pregnancy, when he was the very person who decided it must end is absurd. It speaks to how much perspective I lost and how isolated I let myself become. I'm working to make sure I never find myself in a comparable position in the future.

Recovering Expat

During the time that I was in Tokyo, I lived in a corporate apartment. The downside was that it was a small studio apartment with sterile decor that never felt like home. The upside was that utilities and housekeeping services were included, and everything (even rent) was direct-billed to the firm.

Now that I'm a recovering expat, I'm adjusting to fending for myself again. It took a decent chunk of time and money to arrange the logistics for my move and to set up services in Austin. Before ordering internet, I remembered to check with Ebates (affiliate link) and got a great cash back deal.

(With the holiday season coming up, I thought it would be worth mentioning Ebates to those of you who do a lot of online shopping. Basically, you visit and then click through to the site where you want to shop. If you make a purchase, you'll receive a percentage of your purchase as cash back in a quarterly payment sent to you by Ebates. I've been using Ebates for more than five years and it's fun to get a check in the mail every once and a while.)

In addition to setting up basic services, I'm back to driving and all that it entails--new driver's license, car registration, maintenance and gas. It's time, money and mental bandwidth that I wasn't spending before. Don't get me wrong, I'm loving the return to independence, but I can also appreciate how effectively the firm tailored my life in Tokyo so I had just one thing to worry about: work.

Here's to returning to the real world!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Giving Notice

In case you are new to the blog, a little context might help with this post. I am a fourth year big law associate. My relationship with the firm started as a summer associate in 2008 and continued with a second summer associate gig in 2009. I started full-time in San Diego. Since that time, the firm relocated me to LA, sent me on a secondment in Orange County, relocated me to Tokyo, and then sent me on secondment in Tokyo. I've viewed all that moving around as highly disruptive to my professional and personal development. This is why I didn't have to think too long before accepting an offer from another employer.

The funny thing about big law is that you don't really have one boss. As a result, depending on the size of your group and the number of offices that you work with, you might end up having to say "I quit" over and over again. My process went like this:

(For obvious reasons, this is a highly restrained telling of the sequence of events.)

First, I met with the relationship partner for the secondment. This was a contentious conversation. I had assumed that because (i) the secondment is a longstanding and continuous arrangement--with a new associate rotating in each year, and (ii) the work I've been doing did not include any long-term projects, it would not be unduly burdensome if I were to give notice and quit. The partner did not share my view of the situation. I gave him a longer notice period than I had intended, but he was not satisfied.

Second, I spoke with the administrative partner for the office. This would have been the first conversation had I not been out on secondment. No problems here.

Then, I emailed the partners in LA. If I hadn't quit, I would have been returning to LA to work for them beginning in January. These are good guys who gave me a place to work when I needed it the most. Replies included "I'm terribly sorry we couldn't give you a better experience" and "we have the highest regard for you."

Next, I emailed the partners in SD. These guys aren't concerned about my whereabouts, but they were the ones who hired me in the first place so it seemed right to let them know I was leaving. Replies included "thank you for being so gracious about the... relocations" and multiple replies along the lines of "I want to apologize... for not providing... the [expected] work opportunities."

Finally, I met with my GM at the secondment. I wish I could talk about this conversation in more detail, because it was interesting from a Japanese business culture point of view. What I can say, is that:
  • Japanese companies like this one offer "permanent" employment to their employees in exchange for extreme loyalty. At-will employment is strange to them. Quitting is scandalous (for the permanent employees; I've seen many secondees quit during my time at the company).
  • My GM had to submit an application to HR, who then granted permission for me to quit. This was bizarre to me given that I do not have an employment relationship of any kind with the company. The firm has an agreement with them to provide a secondee, but I am not a party to a contract with either the firm or the company.
I struggle with disappointing authority figures so there were some pangs of guilt and sleepless nights after the conversation with the secondment partner, but quitting was the right to do.


Friday, September 19, 2014

Back to Austin

Over the course of four years, the firm moved me from San Diego, to LA, to a secondment in Orange County, to Tokyo and, finally, to a secondment in Tokyo. I hated moving frequently, but I felt I had no choice but to follow the work. I needed the opportunity to accrue experience, earn the paycheck that would pay off my loans, and build a strong financial foundation; and in those early days the job market for junior corporate associates was so bleak that I didn't see any alternative. So I put on a brave face for the firm, packed up my stuff time and time again, and made do.

I had run the numbers and knew, long-term, life would be easier if I saw this through to the end of my fourth year. By that time, I would have enough experience to be marketable as a lateral in Austin, the city where (I thought) my long-term boyfriend and I wanted to make a home together. My loans would be paid off and my down payment savings goal would be met. When the going got tough (and it often did once I was in Tokyo), I would think of how great it would feel to have everything come together at the end of 2014.

This past June, I discovered that my boyfriend had been cheating throughout the duration of our nine year relationship. Not just a fling here or there, but multiple, simultaneous long-term relationships. It was a discovery that shook me to my core and left me questioning everything. Specifically, what impact would this have on my plans to move to Austin?

It took time to clear my head. When I was ready, I sat down with family and friends and talked through the idea of continuing with a move to Austin. I started out convinced that I had to give up on the plan out of fear that our paths might cross by coincidence one day. Numerous friends pointed out that it made no sense for me to banish myself from Austin when he was the one at fault. Hehad been just one of many reasons I had wanted to return to Austin. No need to change my plans on account of him.

I submitted my resume and deal list to three firms. The first submission was met with silence. The second led to a phone interview. While the second firm was deliberating, the third led to an offer that I accepted.

It's been a long time coming, but I'm finally headed back to Austin!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Signing up for Barbri

For reasons I'll explain in greater detail in a future post, I'm taking the bar exam in a new jurisdiction this February. Someone else is footing the bill for my exam preparation, and that someone wants me to take Barbri's course. Problem is, I don't know much about Barbri because I took Kaplan's complete course to prepare for the California bar exam.

To the other attorneys out there: do you think it's necessary to supplement Barbri with the PMBR course or any other material? I have foggy memories of folks complaining about Barbri's multiple choice practice questions, but maybe that's just the KaplanPMBR kool aid talking.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Baseball in Tokyo

Generally, Japanese people love blending in and being part of the group. In the Japanese company that I worked in, we were encouraged to wear dark suits with white shirts (no bright colors or bold shirts lest you stand out!), and we went to lunch together (daily), ate dinner and drank together (often), and even did a little group cheer at the end of a night out (seldom). It's so different from American culture, where many of us are raised to try to stand out, be unique, and deserve a gold star.

A byproduct of the focus on supporting the group is that (generalizing again) Japanese people make amazing fans. At baseball games, I'd heard that the fans sang songs and had special coordinated cheers. It was something I wanted to see.

So I went to a Yakult Swallows game. The team is named after its owner the Yakult Corporation, which is known for selling probiotic dairy products. Baseball and probiotics strike me as unlikely bedfellows, but they make it work: one of the swallow mascots runs around with a big yogurt container strapped to its back (I thought it was a jet pack at first, but that doesn't make sense... why would a bird need a jet pack?).

Swallows swag!

The game was at Meiji Jingu stadium, in Shinjuku. They started building the stadium in 1925--Babe Ruth played there in 1934! Check it out:

Meiji Jingu Stadium

On this particular night, the Swallows were playing the Yomiuri Giants. The team is named after (you guessed it) its owner the Yomiuri Group, a media conglomerate. Both the Swallows and the Giants are based in Tokyo so this match up was a bit like the Freeway Series or any other crosstown rivalry in the US.

The fans were as diehard as I hoped. There were self-organized brass bands in the stands; but the best part was when the Swallows scored a run, all the Swallows fans got out their umbrellas and waved them around while singing a song.

There was a lot of food and drink for sale. Beer girls in short skirts with kegs strapped to their backs hiked through the stands. There was ice cream, BBQ ribs, pizza and a substantial sausage platter.

There were cheerleaders too although their uniforms were much more tame than what we see at pro sporting events in the US.

After one of the innings, these ladies in full kimono took the field:

To announce the fireworks:

It was a lot of fun watching the spectacle. The actual game wasn't too bad either!

PS: You can buy your tickets from the copy machines or ticket machines inside 7-11 or Family Mart.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Bear with me, guys. I have a handful of Tokyo posts left in me.

This one is about omiyage, the gift of food that you're expected to bring back for your coworkers when returning to the office from a business trip or vacation. You can read more about it in this WSJ blog aptly titled "Thinking of Work While on Vacation."

During a typical week at the Japanese office where I was seconded, I would receive two to three omiyage. There are about 100 attorneys in the department and our practice was not only to bring omiyage upon return from vacation or business trips, but also to bring omiyage on our last day of work. Given that the company is constantly rotating permanent employees to and from other departments or subsidiaries, and that the secondees (roughly 1/4 of the department) are always coming and going, there is cause for lots of omiyage.

Here's a picture of my favorite omiyage from the entire year, a chocolate in the shape of Mt. Fuji (or Fuji-san, as they call it).

After a trip to the US, I brought the team Reese's Peanut Butter Cup minis because they are one of the few American sweets I've never been able to find in Tokyo. Turns out they aren't sold in Japan for a reason--my Japanese coworkers didn't seem to like them at all! If I were to do it over again, I would just pick up some Japanese sweets from the stores that carry omiyage boxes in the airport. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Down Payment Savings: Goal Met

I'm going out with friends tonight to celebrate meeting my down payment savings goal!

I've been looking forward to having a place of my own for many years. When I was in my early twenties, all of my friends seemed to work for builders and mortgage banks so we spent a lot of time talking about home ownership. Thanks to free flowing capital, help from family, spouses and trust funds, and relatively affordable new housing in Ladera Ranch and Talega, it seemed like everyone soon had a beautiful new place to call home. Meanwhile, I was living in an apartment saving for law school. Oh, the envy!

It wouldn't have been possible to meet this savings goal so soon, while also paying off my student loans and meeting retirement savings goals, if it hadn't been for the opportunity to work in Tokyo on an ex pat package. The generous currency supplement and company housing enabled me to send a large amount of cash to my down payment savings account each month. This (together with relatively frugal living) is how I was able to meet this savings goal with no help from family or a partner in less than two years.

Today, I am filled with gratitude for the earning power that law and business school provided, the good fortune that enabled me to obtain and maintain a big law job in a tough economy, and my financial discipline. There were a lot of sacrifices along the way and I always imagined I'd be buying my first home in a different context, but I want to keep the focus on the positive. I've been enjoying the process of working with a realtor and loan officer and am so excited to find a place to settle down and call home.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Me Before You

I just finished reading Me Before You by Jojo Moyes on MC's recommendation. (Thank you, MC!) This is light reading for a weekend or holiday. Do yourself a favor and tuck some Kleenex in the back cover before you get started.

I liked this image:
"The thing about being catapulted into a whole new life--or at least, shoved up so hard against someone else's life that you might as well have your face pressed against their window--is that it forces you to rethink your idea of who you are."
Been there. It makes no difference whether what I see is beautiful or horrifying, I can't help but change.

This book made me think about who I was before, during and after I met B. While with Ben there was something about his behavior that was off--that I couldn't pinpoint. Now I know the reason I felt that way was because he was maintaining secret, separate lives with other women throughout our nine year relationship. I had no clue how pervasive the narcissistic and emotional abuse, and resulting anxiety was, or how far-reaching its effects, until it was all over.

In the last 20 days or so, I have felt an incredible calm, a clarity of mind, and watched in surprise as many elements of my life have fallen into place with minimal effort. What a welcome change! My friends have observed that I seem relaxed. I'm sleeping better than I have in years. My mind feels sharp.

Said another way, I feel like myself again. I am so relieved. So happy. I had gotten to a place where I thought I had lost any connection to this version of myself. I'm lucky to have found my way back.