One of the most difficult parts of a career change for lawyers is that it involves a change of identity. We are talking about an emotional attachment, not business. Remember the “You’ve got mail” line when Tom Hanks tells Meg Ryan, “It’s not personal, it’s just business,” and Meg Ryan says, of course, that it’s personal to her. Her business is hers, they are interchangeable! This is exactly why it is so difficult for lawyers to leave the law.
No matter how much we know deep down that we really should be doing something else, it’s so scary to think of a completely different life. When we think of presenting ourselves as more than just a lawyer at a cocktail party, it’s unfathomable! I know I hung my law degree high and proud when I first left the law. He wanted everyone to know that he was indeed a lawyer, even if he was now a career counselor too!
So how do you get out of the law with this big hurdle in the way, this big hurdle, called your ego! Well, the first thing I teach is to take distance. It is very difficult to find a passion when you are immersed in the world of lawyers. The best thing you can do is make new friends. Or if you have friends who are not lawyers, spend more time with them.
You may be turning off your instinct. If you allow yourself to open up and be open to new ideas, opportunities will come your way. In fact, they already come to you but you don’t see them because you are not open to them. “Going with your gut” is a skill that everyone possesses, but it is similar to a muscle that must be exercised or it will atrophy. This muscle may be a bit flaccid and needs some exercise.
Your task is to practice following your gut on little things in your life, including what to wear, where to eat, what invitations to respond to (yes and no), etc. Don’t think, just decide and move on. Scott, my husband says, “STICK AND MOVE!” No more “analysis paralysis” (or at least no more in your personal life).
Enroll in a class or pursue an interest that is not related to the practice of law at all, but in which you have had a longstanding interest. Even if it’s not something you can make a living out of, go ahead and sign up! Most of the time, we lawyers spend so much energy building this image that we know everything and have perfect control of every area of our lives. This is in part because the cost of hiring an attorney is quite high, and we simply can’t let our clients know that we have insecurities or that we might have to look into something (God forbid). But the unintended result of this behavior is that we lose touch with our gut and put an enormous amount of weight on the title, “lawyer,” and are particularly bad at being “new” or asking for help.
This can be a big obstacle to leaving the law. In other words, we are sure that to find a career that we are passionate about we will first have to be rookies and that is so painful that we prefer to dedicate ourselves to a career that is slowly killing us. But, by taking a class in something you definitely will NOT be good at, you are flexing that muscle. In that process, you’ll learn that it’s not so bad to be new, it’s actually freeing to ask for help, it’s fun to be out of your comfort zone, and you get to meet new people and have fun.
Extra credit: When you get there (whatever class you’re taking or however you choose to accomplish homework), be open. You can’t sit there with a negative attitude and think, “I’ve heard this all before,” or “this works better,” or “I’ve tried everything and this doesn’t work.” By acting and thinking in this way, you will actually block yourself from all this work. What are you waiting for? Remember, your time is now! This is your turn to be happy, to be passionate and to live life to the fullest.
Live the race of your life!
Jennifer Loud Ungar