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The Failures of Success

I recently turned down a promotional opportunity. In fact, a promotional opportunity to a new position that was strongly created with me in mind that also came with a not-insignificant pay bump. Aspirational capitalism achieved!

I had been excited about the idea of the change when it was first floated months ago. Ideas are great! As are abstract ambitions to do more, go places, take the hard road, never settle, etc.

I even had delusions about liking to take on new challenges so I don’t get bored with my work.

And then the job change became a looming reality and not a theoretical potential way off down the road in a vaguely defined future.

For the new position, I had to go through a full employment application process with multiple rounds of interviews. And my biggest take away from all these interviews was that the new position was going to be… hard.

Very tight deadlines. Very large case load. No breathing room during the day in general or, god forbid, the wiggle room to just take an occasional day off on short notice when you’re not feeling your best and need a bit of a physical and/or mental break.

And, even more problematic, I was going to lose my schedule flexibility. I unexpectedly gained the freedom to manage my caseload as I wanted to in the day-to-day nitty gritty details through working from home since the start of the pandemic. My current position is almost exclusively paper based and operates independently from my colleagues. So long as I’m checking and responding to work emails during the day and can take the very occasional phone call or video meeting, I simply don’t need to put in a straight 9 to 5 chained to a desk.

For example, during the recent summer months, I was often working from 8am until 6pm or later. But I was also often “out of the office” for at least one, if not two, 45+ minute stretches during the day dropping off and picking up children from summer camps. I also get to just take time for myself, both for the less inspiring moments like medical appointments and CWBA committee meetings, but also the days where I just want to spend a little extra time sitting outside for lunch because it’s a pleasant day and the sun feels nice.

But here’s the thing. My hours are met, my case load is managed, and my employer often gets more than a full day out of me due to my own lingering guilt about serving as a glorified taxi service (I bring snacks!) during the work day. But I can still just take the time I need, when and how I need it, to deal with everything else in life outside of my career. Not to brag too much, but sometimes I can even carve out a little bit of time for doing something that brings me joy.

Turns out that I like that arrangement. A lot. I love the freedom to do what I need to do during the day, because I am an adult and capable of managing my work load and ensuring that cases are timely taken care of and my work is high quality and I am meeting all of my employment obligations.

And I simply did not want to give that up.

While there is probably some level of money (and monetary desperation) that could potentially motivate me to prioritize things differently, I really really like how things are right now.

And so, I broke the cardinal rules of attorneys always clawing their way to the top and smashing ceilings. Because I like being able to drive my kids to school in the morning without stressing about traffic and sit outside on my back patio for lunch, and every so often just take a few hours truly for myself. My life is worth more than titles, prestige, and money, and intangible things like general happiness and stress levels are worthwhile components of the equation.

As John Green (quoting Annie Dillard) said, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. And I want to spend my days doing more than just being productive within the confines of aspirational capitalism.


Marty Whalen Brown is a Staff Adjudicator at the Office of Appeals in the Colorado Department of Human Services. She holds a J.D. degree from the University of Colorado Law School and clerked at the Office of the Presiding Disciplinary Judge under the Colorado Supreme Court after graduating.

116 views2 comments


Love love love this so much!


Great piece. Thanks for the reminder we're all running our own races.

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