Are You Happy?
by Jonathon Miller
Job seeker welcomed to the rest of his life.
By Jonathan Miller
When I attended the University of Colorado law school, my résumé opened a lot of doors; my GPA quickly closed them.
For that reason, I interviewed all over the country. Each rejection made me want the job more. So, in the spring of my third year, when I received a letter from an international law firm in New York, I brimmed with enthusiasm and anxiety. This was my last chance to make it to the big time.
The firm’s reception area had spartan yet powerful Asian decor. The secretary told me that the partner would be right with me and let me peruse the Wall Street Journal. Reading the Wall Street Journal while on Wall Street was inherently cool.
After an anxious half hour, the partner ushered me into his office. He was a dour man in his late 40s, almost a caricature of the grumpy dad you see in sitcoms. A stack of half-opened files lay on his desk, each meticulously catalogued with yellow, blue and only one pink Post-it notes.
"We don’t get many people from Arizona who want to work here," he said with a slight sniffle.
"No, I’m from New Mexico. I went to law school in Colorado."
As he talked about the firm, I was mesmerized by the international litigation he handled. The size of the deals, the reputations of the participants, the travel, the excitement and of course, the money were staggering.
His "war story" covered the near calamity of crossed cultural signals in a Tokyo deposition. I almost told him my own international "war story" involving a search for a drunken buddy in Juarez, Mexico, but thought better of it.
After about 20 minutes of tales of Rotterdam, Kuala Lumpur and those bastards over at Baker & McKenzie, he started glancing back at the one pink Post-it note on his desk. His world was tugging him back.
I needed to say something. Something innocuous that would keep him going and keep me in this magic place.
"Any more questions?" he asked, picking up the file.
"One more, an easy one," I said. Like any great trial lawyer, I would ask a question I was sure he could answer.
"Are you happy?"
For some reason that question hit him like a ton of bricks. He actually slumped, stunned.
"No one’s ever asked me that before."
He avoided my eyes and turned instead to the pile of files on his desk. He made a few attempts to talk, but thought better of it each time. He glanced over at the door, then at the windows as if his cohorts might listen in to what he was about to tell me. Finally, apparently satisfied that the coast was clear, he spoke to me in a hushed voice.
He told me about his crushing workload, the trans-Pacific travel playing hell with his immune system and how he wished he’d pursued his dream of being a concert cellist. He was especially distraught today because an impending merger might cost him his job. He fingered the pink note. Then, as I sat there in amazed silence, he told me about his divorce and how much he missed seeing his children grow up. Forty minutes of searing confession later, he looked at me relieved from the catharsis.
"I guess the answer to your question would be . . . no."
There was a knock at the door and his secretary rushed in. His 4:30 was waiting outside. He nodded to her and then nodded to me. It was time to go. I noticed that he was filling out a form marked "Interview with candidate Miller."
As I flew back to Boulder for my last round of exams, I remembered the last words he said to me as he glanced up from the form:
"By the way, what were your grades again?"