Career path blockage exacerbated by adaptation and relative comparisons

Not only are promotions hard to come by in most law departments, because the pyramid of senior positions narrows rapidly, but two other elements of our sense of happiness toss in monkey-wrenches. One is that bliss doesn’t last: once you reach the coveted rung of Assistant General Counsel, your euphoria subsides fairly quickly – you adapt. The once sought-after goal becomes accepted fairly quickly: “Is that all there is, my friend?” So the career path continues to stretch ahead and you don’t feel all that great for too long about your success.

Second, “happiness may not depend on our absolute level of well-being but on how it compares with the well-being of those around us,” in the words of in Eduardo Porter in his book The Price of Everything: Solving the mystery of why we pay what we do (Portfolio/Penguin 2011) at 71. If there are no other AGCs, you preen with pride; if you reach a level that has five peers, and all are more senior and better paid than you, your step up the career ladder leaves you feeling only so-so. For these two reasons, adaptation and comparison, the already-difficult march along the narrowing career path becomes even more problematic.

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