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Boxed In: How to Avoid the Cardboard Life

bigstock--129279815“So what do you do?” a well-meaning acquaintance inquires.

And with that innocuous question, I default into a long-winded explanation. “Well, I am a transitioning attorney interested in writing but I am also passionate about politics. And did you see that land preservation article? What a fascinating subject!”

An uneasy smile creases her face before she gently steers the conversation into another direction.  

Perhaps I should have just said underemployed attorney.  

For many professionals, the Great Recession scalded — plunging us into a jobless ether. As the economy trickles to life, we have subsisted on freelance positions and menial temporary jobs. Since graduating from law school, I have been a journalist, writer, communications guru, political organizer, consultant, development professional, legal reviewer, business owner, and tutor. Try explaining that during a five second grip and grin.

Among the millennial set, job adaptability is expected — even applauded. But among the forty something and older crowd, the responses are damning.

“Why can’t you just get a job and stick with it?” the greybeards moan. “You need to stick to one thing!”

Apparently, there is an unwritten rule that you and your job are married ’til death do you part.  Sounds like a loveless marriage to me.

Sorry — that’s not me. Just like any marriage, I want to be in a give and take relationship. I want to constantly learn, dissecting and digesting morsels of knowledge. And if my (work) partner doesn’t satisfy my intellectual curiosity, it is time for a divorce. Or annulment.

Yes, there are countless fields that interest me. And my intention is to delve into all of them — despite the senior set’s growling protestations.

But instead of characterizing us as flaky or indecisive, try these descriptors on for size: curious, fearless, empowered. They fit us Renaissance souls better than any pair of tailored jeans. We just don’t think outside the box; we redesign it to fit us.

Unfortunately, in today’s economy, specialization is revered. I am not an attorney; I am a contractual attorney focusing on complex jurisdictional litigation yada yada yada. As these legal colleagues mindlessly drone on, I reflect on my experiences as a jack of all trades and chuckle. I am a journalist focused on policy organizing. Or is that a policy organizer focused on emotional intelligence. “What would my elevator speech be?” I chuckle

And then an epiphany — and fitting metaphor — sings my synapses. Why don’t I just take the escalator? I will get to where I am going — even if it takes a bit longer.


Boxed In: How to Avoid the Cardboard Life

Matthew Loeb

Matthew Loeb, a Seattle-based attorney, is a mental health advocate. You can contact him at

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APA Reference
Loeb, M. (2018). Boxed In: How to Avoid the Cardboard Life. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Jan 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.