Note: This post is the continuation and conclusion of a three-part miniseries. In order to properly appreciate the context of today’s post, I would recommend reading Parts 17 and 18. I love how pretentious that sounds. It still astounds me that people actually read this stuff.
August 12, 2015
Sitting down to write about this particular day is interesting. There is a maelstrom of different emotions that play out when I look back, over thirteen months ago, to August 12th. A lot of you who read these entries are in contact with me on social media and are, therefore, aware that I was called to the bar, last week. Believe me when I tell you that there were extended periods of time where it felt like such a milestone was unreachable. It is best to save this for another entry, but I am very uncomfortable coming off as any type of “victim” of this process. There were certainly times when luck and circumstance worked against me, but just as many (if not, more) occasions where I was the author of my own failures. It is my sincere hope that the tones of these posts come off as candid and not bitter.
I’ve taken pains to highlight the position that I was in during August 2015. I won’t go into as much detail here, but suffice it to say that this was my second attempt at a successful call day for the formalized Toronto articling recruit. I had failed to secure articles in this process for the 2015-2016 year. In addition, I had failed to secure a position in the intervening year outside of the formal Toronto process. So, here I was, hat in hand, hoping beyond hope that I had finally made a good enough impression in the preceding two days to warrant an offer. The line between success and failure would be determined on the basis of whether my phone rang at 5 PM.
I did not hold out much hope for an offer by Sterling Cooper. Interviewing with them had been a case study on thoroughly average mediocrity (on my part). There was no way I could realistically look back on my interaction with that firm’s representatives and come to the conclusion that I had made a lasting impression. Instead of agonizing about that apparently lost opportunity (as I was wont to do earlier in this process), I focused on McCann. Not only had the cocktail party and interview with them gone exceptionally well, but I had been selected for invitation to an exclusive dinner with the firm (along with a select subset of other applicants). As well, it seemed that I had glowing recommendations and the support of at least two partners (Gary and Sheila – they had interviewed me during the afternoon of August 11). Still, there weren’t and aren’t any guarantees. Nine other candidates had been invited to dinner and McCann would be hiring three of us.
Once more, the weather seemed to toy with me. It was a beautiful, sunny August day. As fate would have it, my mother was hosting a patio lunch in our backyard for her colleagues in advance of her retirement. I kept my mind off of the countdown by helping arrange patio chairs and making lemonade. As each member of her department arrived, my mother enthusiastically introduced me. Frequently, the subject of my status as a law hopeful came up and I received many pats on the back and commendations. I smiled thankfully throughout, but couldn’t shake the feeling that I was little more than an amateurish pretender. If nothing else, at least the lunch seemed to go well. I assisted with cleanup, anxiously alternating between checking the wall-mounted clock and my cell phone for the time.
By 2 PM, it had become obvious that I could not stay in the house any longer. Though I had not by any means started the day off in a tranquil state of mind, my nerves were now getting the best of me. This was an especially unusual restlessness for me – I loved hanging out around my house. If I am to be truthful, I could not bear the prospect of yet another rejection occurring in the presence of people I loved and respected. My parents have never come even remotely close to giving me the impression that they were ashamed of me, but I still could not face it. They looked at me quizzically as I gathered some money and my phone charger.
“I have to go,” I mumbled, pulling my shoes on.
“Go?” my mother asked. “Where? Why?”
“I just…I can’t hang around the house for this. I need to be somewhere else for this news.” My other shoe was on and my hand was on the doorknob. They didn’t stop me or try to dissuade me or even downplay my anxiety. They both just nodded.
“Have money?” my dad called from the kitchen. I nodded, thanked him for asking and shouted something about seeing them later. Available automobiles were a commodity in my household during that summer, and so I opted to take the bus. The walk to the nearest major intersection seemed to take miliseconds. I tried to think about literally anything but 5 PM. The more I fought the visualization of disappointment, the stronger the urge to check my e-mail over the phone became. This, in turn, led me to freak out about chewing through my cell phone battery without a chance to charge it by the later afternoon.
Boarding the first bus that happened by, I subsequently decided to await my fate at Square One mall. For those of you outside the GTA, Square One is a large shopping centre situated in the “downtown core” of Mississauga (we don’t actually have a downtown core to speak of in Mississauga). I cannot tell you exactly why I decided on such a location. Somehow, I dreaded the prospect of awaiting such a phone call in total silence or seclusion. The silence that would accompany bad news seemed even more deafening and oppressive in an already-tranquil environment, I felt. There was something appealing about disappearing in plain sight among hundreds of shoppers that did not know me or the source of my anxiety.
The bus ride to the mall took about twenty five minutes. Midway to our destination and at about 2:45 PM, I received an e-mail from Mike (the chair of the articling committee) at McCann. My heart pounded, even as I realized that this was likely a group e-mail and that the firm couldn’t have communicated any kind of hiring decision in advance of 5 PM. The note was indeed sent to all of the candidates who had attended dinner last night and went something like this:
Candidates, Thanks for attending our dinner last night. I trust you all had opportunity to converse with McCann members thereat. Due to the nature of the offer/acceptance process slated to commence at 5:00 pm today, August 12, 2015, we hereby advise that until you hear from us one way or the other you should consider that we have not yet filled our complement of student hires. I am off for a quick lunch now but should you have any questions before that time, please feel free to contact me at XXX-XXX-XXXX Good luck! Regards, Mike
Looking back, I must have read and re-read this very basic e-mail at least a dozen times in the ten minutes or so between when I received it and when my bus arrived at Square One. Why? Who knows. My best guess is that I was attempting to discern (or, indeed, read into) hidden meaning in the message that might have impact upon my chances. I walked, almost in a trance, through the crowded bus terminal and into the mall. After far too long a time, I concluded that the message was just as it appeared and that I ought to relax and conserve my phone battery. Square One has a bunch of shops and food, so I ambled about for a while. It quickly became apparent that I was just play-acting at nonchalance. My mind was stuck irrevocably on what would transpire in less than two hours time.
Eventually, I found a vacant bench across from the Disney Store and planted myself there. It was 3:45 PM. You know that sensation where time seems to pass at ten times its usual speed? Well, it should come as no surprise that this anomaly of general relativity seemed to be happening directly in the space occupied by my bench and I. It as if I had just slipped my phone into my pocket at 3:50 for a moment or two, only to reach back in, activate the screen to realize that it was 4:30. Mere seconds passed and it was 4:45. I double, triple and quadruple-checked that my phone’s ringer was turned on, that I had proper cell reception and that I was still breathing.
4:50. Deep breaths. You will get through this. You’re great. Any employer would be lucky to have you.
4:53. Shallow breathing, fidgeting. They aren’t going to call. Why should this employer be any different than the preceding dozen? Sign up for the LPP before it’s too late. Go into the priesthood. Try teacher’s college.
4:56. Run your hands through your hair and massage your forehead over and over. This isn’t real. This is just a really trippy dream. In a few seconds, you will wake up and it will be 2011 and you will be sitting down to write the first of many law school applications. You still have LSAT studying to get done before the day’s end.
5:00. I shut my eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath. The ambient, white noise of the mall and its patrons seemed to blend into a unified, dulled-out din. Nothing happened. Anxiety bubbled up inside me and threatened to overflow.
Then, my phone buzzed. It buzzed and the ringtone began to sound. There was a fraction of a microsecond where I was sure that this was still a dream. I opened my eyes and chanced a look at the screen of my phone. It read “Incoming call” and displayed the telephone number of McCann that I had long ago memorized.
Somehow, I managed to get to my feet without running into someone or falling on my face. I strode away from the bench as I felt an electrifying jolt activate every fibre of my body. It was happening. This was it. I had pictured this moment for years. My hands fumbled slightly as I slid the touch-screen button to accept the call.
“Steve? How are you? This is Mike, calling from McCann. How are you doing?”
I willed my tongue, lips and teeth to form actual words. “I-I’m doing well, Mike. How about you? Busy day, I’d imagine.”
“You’re telling me!” Mike quipped. I waited for him to continue.
He paused as well before going on. “Well, Steve, we have a bit of a unique situation at hand, here.” My endorphin rush suddenly looked over its collective shoulder.
“Yes,” Mike continued, “and I wanted to talk to you about it. As you know, we are hiring three people. As it stands, we have just made our three offers. One of the candidates has accepted our offer and the other two have asked for some time to consider.”
I felt as though I was in total free-fall. I managed a dejected sounding “Oh”, or something similar.
“However,” Mike continued, “you are number four. You are the next in line. Should either of these applicants end up turning us down, you will be offered a position.”
So much for free-falling. Instead, the anxiety came crashing back in a kind of awful wave. Mike started talking again.
“So, I just wanted to canvass whether or not you are interested in remaining on our list or whether you have accepted at some other firm.”
In any other situation, there would be a certain amount of humour and irony that I would have experienced at being treated like I had received multiple offers. Today, though, all I felt was a desperate impulse for self-preservation.
“Uh, no, no. I am still very interested in the position and with working at McCann. Please keep me on your list. Could I, I mean, would you be able to tell me how long it might take for you guys to find out about these outstanding offers?” There was a part of me that marvelled at asking so forward a question, but the presently desperate aspect of my psyche couldn’t care less.
Mike did not sound overly miffed. “Well, unfortunately, we are governed by the rules of the Law Society regarding recruitment. The rules say that applicants have until noon tomorrow to respond to offers. I sure hope we hear before that and you will know as soon as we do.”
Hanging my head, I thanked Mike profusely for getting in contact with me and reiterated my interest in the position and the firm. To his credit, he was honest, forthright and very understanding. He invited me to give him a call back whenever I wanted to inquire about the status of the offers. I ended the call and looked back toward my still-vacant bench. No. There was no way I could sit still.
The next thirty minutes were a frenetic mix of pacing the mall, checking my phone, clenching my fists and repeating steps one through three. Square One is large, with long corridors and wide concourses. I must have circled its perimeter in excess of a dozen times in the subsequent half hour. In a rare moment of initiative (or desperation), I decided to call Mike myself and see what my status was. At the very least, I thought, this spark of initiative that might make someone, somewhere at McCann view my potential candidacy with more favour.
Mike seemed to be expecting my call. He told me, with admirable patience and understanding, that nothing had changed. McCann would probably be calling each of the two holdouts in the next hour or so to see if they had made a decision. Once that call had been made, Mike promised me that he would be in touch. I thanked him yet again for his time and effort. The adrenaline spike that comes with such huge up’s and down’s was wearing off. I felt worn and exhausted. I sank down into a nearby chair (Square One has lots of leather ones, thank God) and sighed.
Ten more minutes of thinly veiled agitation passed before my phone rang. It was Mike again.
“Well, Steve, I promised that I would let you know whenever I had an update.” Though not as powerful as before, a strong surge of mingled dread and anticipation flooded through me as I waited for him to continue.
“Another candidate has accepted our offer. We still have one that we haven’t heard from, yet. I just wanted to reiterate that you are the next on our list and that we will be in touch as soon as possible.” Although I knew the news was far from good, defence mechanisms leapt to my aid. I felt that the ordeal that I had gone through in the preceding hour had divinely entitled me to the third offer being rejected by the holdout and being presented to me. It didn’t even matter that I didn’t (and don’t) believe in God/karma/fate. I really believed that, for a moment.
I struggled to pay close attention to Mike’s closing words. He told me that he would be leaving for the night in the next fifteen or so minutes. Mike assured me that I could still call McCann’s office for updates and that Sheila would be staying late to field questions and provide information. If anything, the prospect of more waiting was what I dreaded the most. I was sick of waiting. Waiting was exhausting and sickening. I mused, in a moment of abject nihilism, that just getting an answer, any answer, would be some measure of mercy.
Ask and ye shall receive, it is said. I ended up getting the relief that I craved in less than five minutes after Mike’s second call. I recognized his voice, by now.
“Steve. Turns out that we got an update just before I left for the night. Our last offer has been accepted.”
His words seemed to pile onto me and weigh a hundred thousand pounds each. I murmured something about that being too bad and how much I appreciated his assistance, almost by rote.
“If it’s any consolation, you really were the very next on our list. I’m sure you’ll land something. Best of luck.”