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My wife and my kids ice skate. And there is nothing I can do about it.

I do not know how to ice skate. And I’m actually kind of afraid of it.

I love physical activities and playing sports. But growing up in San Francisco, there weren’t many ice skating rinks.

There was one dilapidated rink out near Ocean Beach. Some other ones far away in the suburbs.

So what this means is I didn’t grow up ice-skating. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t have much interest or passion for it. I have no muscle memory for it. I never really thought much about ice-skating. And besides the temporary, once-a-year skate attempt during the holidays, I didn’t think I’d ever have to throughout life.

Until I had kids. And until my wife told them that she ice skated when she was young and loved it and was signing them up for lessons at the recently built, year-round ice skating rink in downtown San Francisco.

Now I was forced to think about ice-skating.

And what I’ve had to think about I don’t like. To be honest, I’m actually kind of scared of ice-skating. I don’t know how. I may hurt myself. It’s cold. It’s new.

My wife is a good skater. My kids are young, and still beginners, but they are getting the hang of it. They’ve been taking lessons for about six months now, and they are beginning to lose their fear of being on the ice. They are learning how to glide. They are learning how to stop. They are learning how to break their fall. And they are learning how to get back up.

So this weekend we’re up visiting Santa Rosa, about an hour north of San Francisco. And, as luck would have it, there is a local ice skating rink here. It’s actually a “Snoopy” rink – Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon and Charlie Brown, lived in Santa Rosa and there is a museum, information center and a skating rink all dedicated to the Peanuts Characters.

The rink is called “Snoopy’s Home Ice”. There are funny statues of the Peanuts characters, a gift shop, a café and, yes, a big fully functional, ice skating rink.

As we get out of the car, my daughter instructs me that I’m going to skate with her and that her brother will skate with my wife and that my daughter is going to show me the new gliding technique (one foot up in the air) she recently learned.

And I had to tell her that I actually won’t be skating. I had to tell her that I will be watching from the seats as she skates with her mother. And as she protests and asks why, it pained me, but I can’t really tell her the truth: I’m scared to skate. I don’t know how. I may hurt myself. It’s cold. It’s new.

So I told her “just because” and bought her some Starburst at the snack bar.

The sugar distracted her, but it didn’t help me at all. The ice was still intimidating to me. It still scared me. I felt paralyzed.

Once my sugar-infused kids and my graceful wife made it onto the rink, I took a moment and then realized that much of what prevents me from beginning to ice skate is generally the same that prevents many of us from exploring careers and roles beyond the law.

1. I don’t know how and I could get hurt. Of course I know I can easily take ice skating lessons. But right now, ice skating is this murky, opaque, unclear place. It’s cold. There is the white glare. It’s inside. It’s fast. It hurts when you fall. And I have no idea how the balance or the form or the technique is supposed to work. I have no idea how you can skate so straight on this little thin blade. I imagine that I can easily tear my ACL or break my wrist.

And the same goes for leaving the law. For those of us hoping to leave the law, we don’t know how to take that first step. Leaving the law can be a dark place, where we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t know the structure. We don’t know the tools. We don’t know the scripts. We don’t know the verbiage. We don’t know the non-legal world. And even if we feel that we’re not the best lawyer out there, at least if we remain a lawyer we still know our way around somewhat. Leaving the law can be learned, but it’s still a mystery for many of us.

2. It’s difficult. Of course the people skating on the rink make it look so easy and effortless, but ice-skating is really hard. You need to keep your legs steady and keep your balance, be able to squat, ad be able to fall and get back up. It’s not easy. Like anything, becoming proficient (not perfect, just pretty good at it) takes a while. And it takes effort and discipline and dedication, even if I’m just going to do it as a hobby or to enjoy with my kids.

The same thing goes for looking for a new job and a career in line with our Unique Genius. Sure, we know that there is a structure and a well-thought-out plan and people who have done it before to serve as models, but let’s be honest, it all looks like it is so easy and logical and possible … for “them”, but not for us. For those of us who are still scared to leave the law, we don’t think it’s easy. And we feel we are so far behind. And we feel it’s so difficult to get motivated.

3. It takes time. I know that to really learn how to ice skate (and enjoy it and become pretty good at it) I’m going to have to carve out the time. I’m already pretty busy, so I’m kind of at a loss as to when I’m going to be able to find the time to take lessons.

And many of us also find it hard to really get any traction on thinking of leaving the law, much less exploring it and acting on it. We get slammed with work. We get a new deal or trial or matter that requires our full attention. And in the few hours where we’re not at our office, we’re thinking about work as we go to sleep or we’re trying to fit in a time to workout or see friends or spend time with the family. And so we ask ourselves how can we also take on all of the work required to leave the law?

4. It’s new. I don’t really understand ice-skating. As much as I’d like to imagine myself gliding across the ice and being able to skate with my kids and even try a hand at some hockey, ice-skating is a really new thing that I know nothing about. I don’t know the culture. I don’t know the history. I don’t know the forms. I don’t know the famous skaters. I don’t know many others of my friends who do it. I don’t anything.

And the same goes for us hoping to leave the law. Each of us doesn’t really know that many people close to us who have actually left. We don’t know what jobs exist beyond transactional jobs or litigation jobs or academic jobs. Leaving the law is a world totally and utterly new to us.

And as the Zamboni began to rumble to clean the ice, I then remembered that when we’re avoiding making a big (read: necessary) change, there are usually four main drivers that compel us to overcome resistance and do it: We have no other choice, we are highly curious for adventure and change, we are desperate or we give in to peer pressure.

So when it comes to ice skating, for me, I have no other choice – I either participate in this activity, or I miss out on spending quality time with my kids on the ice.

And I’ll admit, I’m kinda curious about learning this new skill. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed”. I’m becoming excited about that idea.

And while I’m not desperate to learn, there may be some peer pressure – my kids and my wife insist I learn (and it’s not in my personality to sit on the sidelines forever).

And this analysis put me over the edge. I’m going to do it.

A small baby step is all it takes. I’m going to take a private lesson. And I can arrange one that fits my schedule it turns out. Yes, I’m doing it. If you’re ever down at the San Francisco Yerba Buena ice skating rink, and see some proud forty year old moving inch-by-careful-inch across the ice with a seven year old and a four year old and a smiling wife shouting encouragement and tips, that’ll be me.

Ice skating is still new to me. It’s no less cold. It’s still hard to fall on. I still have no idea what to expect.

But these are all not reasons to continue. I know one day I’ll learn and be pretty good at it.

I’m scared. But in clearly spelling out my fears, weighing what was really keeping me from moving forward and identifying a small babystep, I’m no longer paralyzed.

I’m suddenly motivated.

Just like you can be.

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brown_liz

When Casey asked me to write a blog for Leave Law Behind, I asked myself what would be most helpful to the LLB community. Having interviewed hundreds of former lawyers, and profiling 30 of them in my book, Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have, I thought it might be helpful to offer some specific, practical, realistic advice on how to leave the law for a more rewarding career. I hope these guidelines will help get you through what is rarely a simple or straightforward process.

First, let me tell you a bit about me. In 2009, I was a partner in an international law firm and had been in private practice for a dozen years.   Although I enjoyed law at first, as my 20s became my 30s, I found litigation more and more draining. It took having my daughter for me to finally take a somewhat blind leap out of my firm. Despite being miserably sleep-deprived, my maternity leave was the most fun I had had in years. As I developed my new career after a few false starts, I learned so much from interesting ex-lawyers all over the country that I decided to write the book I wished I had had when I was trying, and failing, to leave law behind.

Life After Law tells the detailed stories of more than 30 successful ex-lawyers who have moved into a wide range of fields, from entrepreneurship to psychotherapy to media management.   All of the ex-lawyers I know with who have transitioned to a better Act II have the following things in common:

1. They use the skills they’ve loved using for years. Every ex-lawyer profiled in Life After Law found new and lucrative way to use the skills they love using. Importantly, these aren’t always the skills they were praised for when they were lawyers. You can be good at something you don’t truly enjoy, and those skills aren’t a promising foundation for a career you love. Instead, to help identify what I call your “preferred skills,” think about what gives you the most joy, makes you feel most alive, and gives you a sense of purpose and excitement. What comes to mind? Even generalities can help get you started.

Most lawyers are drawn to some corner of practice based on their inherent interests, falling into one or more of these categories: writers, analysts, healers, consultants, and advocates. Other lawyers are entrepreneurs, artisans, or teachers at heart. These skill sets can help point you toward your next career. Life After Law groups the stories of happy ex-lawyers according to these eight skills sets so that you can see how other people with those interests reinvented their work lives.

For example, if you like analysis, you might want to follow ex-lawyer analysts like Meredith Benedict, who became a health care strategist, Alison Ranney, who became a recruiter for non-profit institutions, or Christopher Mirabile, who co-founded one of the largest angel investor networks in the United States.   Ex-lawyers who liked the consulting aspect of law include Greg Stone, who owns a successful media company, Lisa Montanaro, a productivity consultant and life coach, and Susannah Baruch, who created a public policy consulting career that also lets her spend time with her children.

2. Their first step away from law wasn’t their last. Most transition stories are at least a little messy in retrospect. Few happy ex-lawyers come up with their dream career while they are bogged down at work they don’t enjoy, especially time-intensive work. More often, it takes some time away from that pressure, and some experimentation, before you find the new career that really makes you tick.

For example, before Valerie Beck started Chicago Chocolate Walking Tours, she left her firm to become a Mary Kay salesperson. She used both the negotiating skills and contacts she developed in law and the small business skills she learned in sales to launch a company that eventually expanded to several other major cities.   I became the executive director of an investment group focusing on women-owned businesses and flirted with development before realizing, through adjunct teaching, that I really wanted to go into academia instead. The road to your next career may not run in a straight line.

3. They’re so glad they left. Really. Every single one of them. Think about it. Have you ever met someone who regretted leaving the law?

Managing the financial aspect of leaving the law can be challenging, but it is doable. The process of transitioning to less income, and the change of identity and sense of personal loss that can entail, if often harder than actually living on less (which, of course, most non-lawyers do). If you’re still in practice, my advice is to reduce your expenses as much as you can. Figure out what you need to live on, realistically, and aim for that as a minimum salary. If you can find a way to part company amicably with your law job so that you can collect unemployment and get bridge health care until you get a new job, there is no shame in that. You may also find that your new career is less expensive. You may no longer need so much, for example, in the way of fancy suits and recreational shopping.

I’ve used these principles myself, moving from partnership in an impersonal international firm to – eventually – my dream job of teaching undergraduates and MBA students at a university near my home town.   I still use the research, writing, mentoring and public speaking skills I loved using as a lawyer, but have ditched the adversarial life and my billable minimum (for which my family is grateful). There are hundreds of thousands of happy ex-lawyers out there, and it is absolutely realistic for you to join them no matter where you are in the process. You’re never too smart or too successful to start a career you love.

Liz Brown is the author of Life After Law: Finding Work You Love with the JD You Have and an assistant professor at Bentley University, which does not have a law school.   A former litigation partner, Liz is also the former Executive Director of Golden Seeds, the largest source of angel funding for women entrepreneurs.   She is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

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