I’ve been an attorney for 14 years. During that time, I’ve been at three different law firms, had one amazing clerkship at a state Supreme Court, and landed my “dream job” a little over two years ago. Yet at several points along this slow and steady rise I’ve daydreamed about doing something completely different. Being a professor, teaching high school, going back to school to get a music degree, among many, many others. I always attributed those daydreams to lack of satisfaction in my current job. Maybe I really hated a project I was working on, or I was being worn down by the crushing burden of satisfying the billable hour gods. Until recently something clicked in my head, something I guess I didn’t realize, although it’s been nagging at me for long while now.
I don’t like my career. I don’t like being a lawyer. It’s not the job that’s bringing me down. It is the career.
I recently shared this sentiment with a good friend. Her brow immediately furrowed and she said, concerned, “oh no, I’m so sorry.” To which I quickly replied, “oh no, don’t be sorry. It is okay and I feel great actually being able to say it.” I’ve been plugging away at something that I didn’t even know was a source of discontent, and to be able to recognize and verbalize that eureka moment is nirvana.
The real issue is what the hell do I do now? What do I want to do? I spent so many years wanting to be a lawyer, then training to become one, then actually being one, I’m just not sure how to start over.
Several months ago I attended a presentation at my alma mater, titled something like “your next brilliant career move.” I was shocked to learn that I was the only disillusioned lawyer in the crowd (the rest of them must have lied and said they were accountants!). Although what I really wanted was for this woman to crawl inside my head and tell me exactly what I was meant to do, and was somewhat disappointed not to get that personal service, I did pick up several pieces of really great advice.
1. Don’t jump too soon – take your time figuring out what the next thing is and plan for it. Expect to make less money, sometimes a lot less. You’re moving from an established career to newcomer status.
2. Get advice from people in the field. Network. Meet people in whose careers excite you. Pick their brains. And hopefully land a mentor, some work, or even a full time job in the process.
3. Don’t let other people get you down. Yes, what you’re doing is risky, it’s different, it might be unconventional, but don’t let anyone around you stomp on your little baby dreams while they’re still growing. You need to find a cheerleader. Don’t mistake cheerleading for indulging. If you have a friend who says, “well of COURSE you could be an Oscar winning actress” and another friend who says, “you’d be GREAT in that community theater production” – listen to the second one. (But keep the first one around for when your ego takes a beating. She will most definitely come in handy someday.)
4. LEAP. Number #1 above is good advice. You have to plan. But don’t spend your entire life planning. Eventually you have to leap. I came across a quote last week that practically beat me over the head with its meaning for me: “Leap and the net will appear.”
After many months of staying up way past my bedtime thinking about my next brilliant career move, I found that I was focusing in on writing. I realized that the most fulfilling part of being a lawyer came during my clerkship when I drafted opinions for my justice. Damn, I loved that. And I realized how much I loved, loved, loved blogging about my life, my husband, our kids, our travels, and just the small moments of my everyday life. Even more, I loved hearing people say that they loved reading something I wrote. I started obsessively reading about freelance writing when I found the ad for this internship. I’ve already told that story. What really pushed me over the edge and made me hit “send” on that email to Heidi was reading Desiree Spinner’s post “Finding Career Happiness.” It was as though she was speaking directly to me. Somebody was clearly trying to tell me something.
I recently met an awesome former attorney who switched careers around her 40th birthday when she realized that lawyering just wasn’t doing it for her anymore. She characterized it as her “midlife awakening.” That was so inspiring. Have I mentioned that I’m about to turn 40? So, yeah, there might be some midlife crisis in this mix, but midlife awakening is so much more meaningful and powerful and positive. After our meeting she sent me a letter encouraging my midlife awakening and wishing me a happy early birthday. Now that’s a cheerleader.
I don’t have this all figured out yet but I am steadily working on it. I’m having an absolute blast here on SpitfireMom. I am in the throes of a serious career crush on Heidi and Julie (and practically every SpitfireMom we feature). They’re amazing. I’m learning so much! I’m so grateful for this opportunity (I may have mentioned it 9,000 times, so they’re likely tired of the gushing by now). I’m focusing on this internship to get some good experience under my belt and make some good contacts. I’m listening to my cheerleaders, especially my husband who is being just amazing. I don’t know where or when the net will appear, but I have faith that when I leap, it will be there waiting for me.