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How some leave the law and others do not

by Casey on June 24, 2015

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I was talking with an unhappy and dissatisfied attorney who so badly wants to leave the law but is having difficulty dealing with the pain and shame she regularly feels when she looks back on her time in law school and at the firm.

She feels it’s been a waste of time.

She feels it’s been a waste of money.

She can’t believe she put so much effort into something that she didn’t like and feels she still isn’t good at.

She beats herself up for putting security, stature, and social acceptance as priorities above pursuing what she is sincerely really good at and enjoys.

She feels awful thinking about what she has done to get into this position of a late 30’s, unhappy attorney with no idea of what to do next.

The empty feelings she gets from thinking about and reflecting on these missed opportunities and mistakes just hurt her too much.

 

Don’t

So I told her … don’t. Don’t think about it. Don’t reflect on it. If thinking about something makes you feel awful, I told her, than don’t think about it.

Let’s not feel obligated to first talk about and work through where we have been before we can take steps to create where we are going.

Now, this is easy to say, and hard to do. I know. Our minds are beautiful things, but they also can fill us up with worry and anxiety and distraction and “shoulds”.

But worrying and beating ourselves up just doesn’t make us feel good. We may perversely derive some pleasure from it, because we get to complain and point fingers and experience self-pity.

And we may feel we need to look backward and re-tell our narrative and dwell on what we did wrong and beat ourselves up for the mistakes we made and go on about the potential we are losing in order to pay our dues or reconcile how we feel about leaving …

But all of this really doesn’t help us at all. It really doesn’t make us feel good. It just makes us feel bad.

And leaving the law is about beginning to more consistently feel good about ourselves.

 

Let’s think about liking ourselves

Now, I’m not saying we fool ourselves into denial. Where we have been helps form who we are … for the good and for the not so good. We cannot and we will not deny where we have been.

We just don’t have to dwell on it, that’s all.

Instead, I’m encouraging us to train ourselves, and train our mind, to think and feel good. Let’s think about how we can be self worthy. Let’s think about the potential we (still) have. Let’s think about doing things we like to do. Let’s think about the progress we’ve made so far. Let’s think about the courage we can muster up. Let’s think about aligning our skills and strengths with a new job. Let’s think about having time to pursue creative pursuits or healthy pursuits or family pursuits or to just do nothing on a Sunday. Let’s think about liking ourselves.

When we leave the law, we are embarking on a positive experience of growth, newness, and confidence. If our past experience can help us, let’s use it. If not, let’s not let it get in the way of our plan.

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This past Saturday night I wrote. The family was asleep. Asleep. Asleep and quiet.

We have a new dog, this great, young, big bundle of energy and the dog was asleep.

The house was quiet. I was quiet. Very quiet.

And for the first time in what had been a busy week I was really able to pause and think. I put on music that helps me think. I breathed in and out calmly and had a cup of hot tea and enjoyed the solitude and I thought. I thought and reflected. It was nice.

I walked softly around the house and looked out the window towards where the ocean would be and all there was was black sky and incoming fog, San Francisco fog, grey, fast moving, windy, chilling summer fog, coming off of the ocean and making scary whistling sounds, and whipping down our street and thrilling me with its force and numbing the City with its chill.

I walked down the hall and put the heat on.

And the heat came on and I relaxed and I thought and I tried hard to put these thoughts and ideas together into something worthy, something interesting, something I liked.

My mind strayed and moved around and then would come together with something seemingly interesting, but then would fade away and disconnect. Frustrating to try and put something together and it not “click”, at least not click right away.

 

Why we really don’t want it all now

We unhappy, dissatisfied, unmoored attorneys want “it” to click, we want the aha moment, we want an answer.

But thoughts, and life, and answers, don’t often just click.

And it’s not supposed to click. It (thoughts, life, paths, journeys, work, purpose, change, leaving the law) is spread out over time because we really don’t want it to click (happen) all at once.

We think we do. We think we want it to just happen right now.

We want the guarantee that if we leave the law we’ll get that cool job.

We want the guarantee that if we leave the law we’ll be able to make as much as we make now as an attorney.

We want the guarantee that if we leave the law we’ll be happy and satisfied.

We want the guarantee that we won’t be afraid.

In short, sure we will leave the law, we say, … if we can be certain that we’ll get that something else.

But since that guarantee is often hard to manifest, we don’t feel safe leaving the law. We’re afraid of what can happen if it all goes wrong. We’re afraid of the unknown. So we don’t take any steps to leave.

 

And this fear is real

We can’t see it or taste it or touch it, but we can feel the fear, it has manifested in our emotional state. We can’t deny it.

But this fear also can be productive. Fear guides us by showing us the disconnect between what we desire to do (leave the law) and what we have (bogusly) convinced ourselves that we cannot do (I can’t ever leave).

I don’t have it now, we say to ourselves, so therefore I can’t ever have it.

This matters more, we say to ourselves, so I’m less capable.

In other words, when we feel this emotion of fear, this is telling us that we have a desire we are denying because we have convinced ourselves we can’t do it.

 

But we can

So let’s now focus on emotions that help convince ourselves we can meet our desires.

Abundance and un-limitedness and confidence and gratitude and worthiness.

And we can feel these emotions when we explore and focus on what we do well and what we enjoy and what value we can bring to the world at large. And these positive and productive and motivational emotions manifest over time and build on each other and become strong. And this reduces our fear and increases the momentum.

And that means that leaving the law is about arriving, but not initially at a job or a career or more money or happiness.

Rather, leaving the law is first about arriving back with our self.

Everything else will come in due time. It really will.

And my music ends and I hear the bedroom door open and I’m startled and I look and my eight year old daughter comes into the room and she is tired and says she is scared and cannot sleep and I want to tell her it’s just the wind, it’s just the whistling of the wind, and that there is no reason to be scared, go back to sleep, but then I remember that she is afraid and there is fear in her and that fear is real and it is there and I hold her hand as we walk back to her room and I tuck her into bed and flip over her pillow to the cool side and as she closes her eyes I tell her a story of an all knowing owl that lives in the tallest and strongest tree of a well lit and safe and fun forest where the owl flies all day in the sky and drinks from the cool stream and eats candy whenever it wants in its nest and doesn’t need to take baths and loves its dance class. And she is not asleep yet but I know she is no longer as afraid.

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The key to happiness (and leaving the law) is in helping others

May 23, 2015

“If you want happiness for an hour—take a nap. If you want happiness for a day—go fishing. If you want happiness for a month—get married. If you want happiness for a year—inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime—help others.” – Chinese proverb I received an email from a reader last week. The […]

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Why our law degree won’t be considered a waste even if we leave the law

May 9, 2015

Annie Little, a blogger and writer at Attorney at Work, asked me and a number of other lawyers and bloggers to write about numerous topics on the law and alternative careers to the law. Annie had me focus on the question  “How valuable is your law degree“. For the most part, the value of a law […]

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My 21 step guide on how to leave the law and begin anew

April 23, 2015

The issue many of us run into when attempting leave the law is we have no idea where to begin. By its nature, leaving the law is kind of a formless, unstructured exercise. Sure, there is precedent of some kind in that other lawyers have left the law and we can read their stories. But even […]

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What you find out when you let go of your life plan

April 14, 2015

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. – Joseph Campbell   I have let go of and changed my life plan a few times. Sometimes the circumstances around me forced me to change my plan. And sometimes I […]

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What bungee jumping and leaving the law have in common (and how I did both)

March 26, 2015

The following post was written by Leave Law Behind reader, Chris Jones, formerly of Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft and now VP of Content for AppointmentCore, a scheduling automation software company. Take it away Chris … Every year, I try to do something that scares me. In 2011, that meant jumping off the world’s highest bungee bridge in […]

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Three ways to overcome the main problem we have in leaving the law

March 19, 2015

I love reading the submissions I receive from Leave Law Behind readers through the confidential survey we have on the site. It is a great way for readers to send me anonymous thoughts and ideas and feedback and to flat out vent. And I find it an extremely valuable insight as to what the community […]

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Here’s how going to the dentist and jumping to hit a store sign can inspire us to leave the law

February 25, 2015

I got inspired going to the dentist. One of my best friends is a top dentist in Marin County, right north of San Francisco. We grew up together, and once or twice a year, myself and two other buddies drive up, have our teeth cleaned, head over to the gym for a workout and then […]

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How to get that (non-legal) hiring manager to take us seriously

February 15, 2015

One major theme in the feedback from the last post on Leave Law Behind is a sense of loss and confusion of how to even get started in leaving the law. This is mainly because some  of us have already tried to leave law. And it didn’t go well.   Some real life hurdles we face when […]

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