I was answering a question on Quora yesterday and I saw a heartbreaking essay that an anonymous member wrote about how he or she hated being an attorney.
Beginning at 6.30a each day, the writer detailed minute by minute, hour by hour, the tasks he or she had to complete along with the anxiety, stress, boredom and sheer hopelessness he or she felt until collapsing into bed at 2am.
What struck me was how out of control this person felt.
The writer’s day was controlled by the client, the senior partner and deadline after deadline.
But there was one area I saw where he or she had an opportunity to reclaim a very important sense of control.
That’s what I talk about in today’s video (below):
Click here to learn how to leave your law practice behind and get that first “non-law” job interview.
We’ve accomplished a lot of difficult things in our lives as attorneys.
We scored well on the LSAT.
We passed our law school exams, and then the bar.
We’ve done the hard legal research, we’ve written the lengthy briefs, we’ve drafted the detailed agreements and we’ve argued persuasively against opposing counsel and before judges.
And for many of these tasks, we wished we could have just snapped our fingers and had this work drafted, proofread and completed.
But since there is no magic bullet, we did the next best thing – we tried to get leverage in some way. We got study guides or got the help of a tutor or joined a study group or fired up Lexis or pulled in an associate to help us.
But leaving the law is different. It’s hard to motivate to leave. It’s hard to admit we want to do something else. It’s so hard to change.
How to get leverage to leave the law
Leverage is the use of something else in order to gain the maximum advantage.
It’s why the Phoenician sailors began to use the wind and the Egyptian pyramid builders used levers and pulleys.
My 7 year old son is a smart kid. His teacher said he’s very academically advanced and is very passionate about the subjects he likes, such as math, endangered species, fantasy stories and farming.
But she also said that when he is faced with a new, challenging or unclear task, his motivation drops dramatically.
My son will say he doesn’t want to do such-and-such challenging task because he is tired or bored or hungry.
But his teacher observed that my son likely opts out of attempting such-and-such challenging task so as to avoid failing at it.
Does this sound like you?
We all know that we perfectionist attorneys are afraid of making a mistake, especially in attempting to leave the law behind for an alternative career.
We do not want to fail. We may not have faith in ourselves to follow through. We do not want to disappoint others.
We want to please people. We’re ambitious. And we likely haven’t even thought there could be a future beyond just being a lawyer.
And so we don’t act.
But success in leaving the law is not about being perfect.
Yesterday, we talked about the mistake of omission … the mistake we make by not doing something we know we should do.
Another way of saying this is you do not act and live and model a life that lets the world know the gift you have inside of you.
You do not take the time to build the courage to find the best way for you to add value to others.
You do not take the time to be the leader and teacher you can be.
Years ago, Henry David Thoreau put it this way:
“Most men [and women] lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
More recently, motivational speaker Les Brown pushed us by saying:
“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step,
This week I want to focus on something that prevents so many of us from leaving the law … and that is the fear of making a mistake.
A mistake is traditionally defined as an action or judgment that is wrong or misguided.
We do or think of something, and if it isn’t successful, or not validated by others, or doesn’t make enough money, ugh, we made a mistake.
The fear of a mistake is what prevents us from taking any steps to leave the law and positively change our life.
It’s what causes the paralysis that makes us remain unhappy attorneys.
Warren Buffett’s mistakes
But Warren Buffett surfaces a different definition of mistake.
When asked “What is the biggest mistake you have made?” the greatest investor of all time said that some of his biggest mistakes were the times he decided to not act at all.
While sitting on the sidelines has its merits at times, my interpretation of his comments is these are the times his soul told him to make an investment or to reach out and connect with someone or to try something,
This past year, my wife, my 10 year old daughter, my 7 year old son and I dramatically revised our diet. For health and behavior reasons, we changed almost everything about how we eat.
We cut out gluten. We reduced our dairy intake. We drastically lowered our sugar eating and drinking. We cut out as many chemicals and processed food as possible.
Sounds great? Yes. Easy? No way.
Rewards don’t always scale long term
I’m very happy you did not visit our home last fall. The four of us were miserable: We wanted to eat bread. We wanted candy. We wanted to eat our beef jerky.
We had to continually research what we could or couldn’t eat. We had to experiment with new recipes. We had to get used to food that didn’t always taste that good.
And one of the main ways we got through it was incentivizing ourselves with rewards. Don’t eat that food, and you get this such and such prize.
But rewards, and discipline, don’t last that long. They don’t work long term. Our experiment was on shaky ground.
Feeling the benefits
It wasn’t until we moved from rewarding our discipline to focusing on our emotions that this diet change became successful … and easy … and just another (positive) part of our life.
Yesterday evening kicked off the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. It is also considered the birthday of the universe, the anniversary of the day Adam and Eve were created.
It actually means “Head of the Year.” And just as the head controls the body, many view the actions we repent, forgive and plan beginning on Rosh Hashanah as having a tremendous impact on us for the rest of the year. It’s a solemn, introspective time.
It definitely is not your bang-up, let’s party Gregorian December 31/January 1 New Years celebration.
So I’ve always had two “new years” growing up.
And then it got me thinking of other cultures’ new years in the world.
The Hindi new year is in March. The Chinese new year moves between January and February. The Islamic new year varies by Gregorian year.
My own personal new year
And then I started thinking of my own new year. Not my birthday. Rather, the day I officially left the law. June 16, 2004. I gave a month’s notice for my in-house counsel job.
I left a job that was well respected and fine and not horrible …
What do you want to do? …Better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing than a long life spent in a miserable way …If you do really like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter what it is … you could eventually become a master of it. It’s the only way to become a master of something, to be really with it. And then you’ll be able to get a good fee for whatever it is. So don’t worry too much.
—Alan Watts, British philosopher, writer, speaker, and popularizer of Eastern philosophy for Western audiences
This article was published in the September issue of the ABA Law Practice Today. And like that audience, if you’re reading this here, there is a very good chance you do not like practicing law.
You are likely bored by it. Or don’t like the adversarial nature. Or want a more collaborative profession. Or want to make more money in ways other than the billable hour.
You likely don’t consider yourself a good attorney. Maybe you even feel like a “fraud.” And you just want to identify a career that will call on your strengths and empower you to be more confident,
I’m always on the lookout for stories from the Leave Law Behind community, of people first realizing they want to do something different to those people who take that first step and actually leave and do something else.
Here is the story of Kelly Starkweather, who recently took the courageous step to leave what she had always thought was her dream job, an in-house employment counsel role.
I think you’ll find her experience and bravery in facing the unknown insightful, actionable and inspirational. I surely did.
Fighting for a better life
I’d built an attachment to Muhammad Ali after taking boxing classes on and off for six years in my hometown of St. Louis. I took this interest in boxing a step further when I visited the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville a few years ago.
It was a deeply impactful experience, though I paid little attention to the exhibits on his career. I was struck by the depth of his humanity, and oddly it was when I felt that I had lost swaths of my humanity, in large part to my unsatisfying position as an attorney,
I have learned recently that there are two types of emotions in the world:
Love or fear.
Love or fear.
Everything else is a sub-element.
Love is confidence and support and collaboration and love. It is worthiness and desire and faith. It is connection and abundance and pure and helpful and value. It is backbone and morality and heartfelt and determined and giving. It is growth and daring.
Fear is the anxiety and the confusion. And frustration and lack. It is depression and corrupt and rotten. It is misaligned and worry and suspicion and insecurity and unworthiness and playing small and concern. It is stunted.
Both emotions play integral parts in defining who we are and the decisions we make.
We fully know we are acting out of love when we realize that we are not acting out of fear.
But it’s fear that keeps you dragging yourself into your attorney job you can’t stand. It’s fear that results in your stress, in your 60+ hour workweeks, in your addictions to numb the pain.
We unhappy attorneys produce these fears ourselves
It’s a fear that we are not worthy of success.