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Why Employment Law Is a Lot Like a Divorce

I've heard family and friends state that I was "wise" in choosing something other than family law as my focused choice in law.  The reasons always mentioned centered on the emotions, the inability to leave the work at home, the pain it must involve, the personal aspect of divorce... and on and on.

They don't understand how similar to a losing your job a divorce can be. Both can have lasting physical, emotional, financial and psychological effects.

In America, more than in most countries, we define ourselves by our jobs.  We often introduce ourselves by stating our career.  "I'm a lawyer," or "a nurse," "a magician."  You can be a daycare provider, a hotelier, or a waiter. When is the last time you heard someone introduce themselves as "mother of two, master of the garden, and head of trash removal at home."

When something occurs that terminates the ability to define ourselves in the most basic way it can be as traumatic as a divorce on multiple levels.  We spend 1/3 or more of our time at work, with colleagues, using skills we try to hone, earning money to support ourselves and our loved ones.  It is where much of our self-worth, and often all of our income to support our families, comes from.  Few Americans are prepared to be without both the income and the day-to-day social network provided by the working environment we have grown up in.

It is part of our value system.  To be providers, to use the skills we have, to engage others during "working" hours, to be productive, to have something to show for using our skills, for toiling away hours doing what we know how to do.

When we are fired, or laid off, or otherwise lose are job, there is that sense of loss, of failure, of invalidity, of being incapable, of less than, of not measuring up.  There is also anger, a sense of injustice, of wrongdoing.  It is not that different than when a divorce occurs.

To start over is not easy.  The questions are asked... Where did you come from? How long were you there? What happened?  They sound as invasive as questions from well-meaning friends following a break-up. And they don't feel any different.

The financial aspect is also damaging.  Going without a job for weeks or months is the same as living on half an income, like divorced people often have to adjust to.  And it can affect families the same way divorce does, as well.

So the next time you think about employment law, think about how important your job is to you.

But most importantly, try not to define yourself by your job.  Try to define yourself by your life.

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