Lately, I’ve been working through how to deal with fear.
In our lives as people in general, and as attorneys in particular, we face a lot of fears.
Some we share with most everyone else (fear of physical pain, of losing a loved one, of trying new things, of falling into depression, of loneliness, of embarrassment).
Others are more specific to us as attorneys (fear of making a typo on a brief, of making a mistake in front of a judge, of being incorrect on the legal precedent, of getting turned down as partner, of being sued for malpractice, of not being able to make our law school loan payments).
And we have many, many fears when it comes to leaving the law (we’re afraid we won’t be able to convince someone else to hire us, we’re afraid to tell our firm we actually want to leave, we’re afraid we won’t be able to say we’re really a lawyer anymore, we’re afraid it won’t be easy, we’re afraid we will be ridiculed and doubted).
On Sunday mornings, I play basketball with a group of 10 to 20 guys at the neighborhood park. They say the tradition goes back over 30 years. And the rules haven’t changed much in that time: 4 on 4 half court, first team to hit 24 points wins, must win by two baskets, no three pointers, side of the backboard is in play, last game goes to 32.
We usually play four to five games over the course of two hours. The pace is fast, the guys are competitive but nice, and sun usually breaks through the morning clouds soon after we begin.
This past week, I played pretty well. I made some real good turn around jumpers, got two steals, I was active on the boards and had a nice pass after a pick and roll.
But of course being the perfectionist-obsessive-compulsive that I am, as I walked home after our last game, all I could focus on was what I didn’t do well: the missed (easy) 12 footer, the layup I clanged off the rim because I thought it would otherwise be blocked, the fumbled pass I made that resulted in a turn over,
It’s the end of December, and many of us are making new year’s resolutions for 2015.
Carrying through with these resolutions, however, can be difficult. This happens because they can be too demanding, unrealistic or vague. By the end of January, our discipline often wanes.
And if we specifically aspire to leave law behind in 2015, I would suggest that we take a small baby step and consider one resolution. Just one.
The resolution I would recommend us to follow is to, in no uncertain terms, speak and think about ourselves in a positive, proud, self-respecting and appreciative way.
The most important goal we can make for 2015 is to celebrate ourselves.
Let’s mitigate the fear-and-doubt narrative we perpetuate each day.
What does this really mean?
This does not mean we are being boastful or arrogant. It does not mean we are being touch-feely. It does not mean we are thinking positive just for the sake of thinking positive.
No, this means something completely different. It means we begin to move our mind away from focusing on all we lack,
Okay, quick test. What is 9X9?
Pretty easy those first four multiplication questions, but that last one, hmm. Had to think about it, didn’t you. Here’s how I finally figured it out: 13 times 10 is 130, and 8 is 2 less than 10, so I’ll subtract 13 X 2 which is 26, and so then 130 minus 26 is … 104? Right?
Yes, it is 104, but why did it take so much longer to get 104 than it did to get 81, and 15 and 42, and 64?
Because 81, 15, 42 and 64 have been “imprinted” in our sub-consciousness. Whenever we learned multiplication in our respective formative years, this pattern and knowledge was repeated and repeated and repeated to us so that it was imprinted into our sub-consciousness. We just know it. It’s fact.
But we only went up to twelve. 12 X 12? Sure, 144.
But 13 X 8? 13 X 5? 15 X 14? 16 X 17?
We didn’t learn these. These weren’t repeated. These weren’t imprinted.
Leaving the law
It was in 2004 that I really left the law. That is when I left my in-house job at Workshare.
The job was too reactive – and not proactive enough – for me (I was tasked with creating the legal framework to support initiatives created by Sales or Business Development), I had to say “no” too often for my liking (I often had to shoot down exciting business ideas that may have run counter to our existing agreements) and I saw a limit on my ability to make real money (I did not receive any sort of sales commission or success fee on deals closed).
Since I left the law, I am proud to say that I have made a lot of professional and personal progress. First, I have done the work to really understand who I am. All of my writing about our Unique Genius comes directly from my own exploration of my strengths and skills and enjoyments. While our Unique Genius is always evolving and refining, right now at this stage in my professional life, I am very confident in what I am good at,
In many of the emails and comments I receive weekly, there is a lot of blame running around amongst us. And it is mainly being pointed at ourselves.
I shouldn’t have gone to law school. I shouldn’t have racked up so much debt. I shouldn’t have gotten into this job situation. I shouldn’t have made myself so unhappy. I’m running out of time. How did I get here? How did I get so off course? It’s so hard to get out. I can’t do it. This is all my fault.
It’s very easy to blame ourselves for the unhappy and dissatisfied way we view our jobs as attorneys. It’s very easy to blame ourselves for our low self-worth and worn out self-confidence.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There can be a much different ending for us.
Think of the movies we’ve seen. Think of the stores we’ve read. The hero oftentimes finds him or herself in a tough spot. They are facing death stuck in a burning building. Or against all odds they have to pass the entrance exam. Or they have to find some way to afford the medical procedure.
This blog is almost four years old. The spirit and adventure of Leave Law Behind began in 2004, when I myself left the law for good. And it started to really take shape in earnest in the summer of 2009, when I was asked by the career services office of my alma mater, UC Hastings, to participate in a speakers series around “alternative legal careers”.
2009 was deep in the recession, and what I thought would be a lightly attended affair turned out to be an almost packed room. To prepare, I had put together a short slide presentation called “Leave Law Behind” (my wife’s idea). I spoke of the issues that caused me to want to leave the law, the ways I built up my personal courage to do so, how I actually took that first step and my exploration of my own Unique Genius. I gave some pointers and ideas of next steps. I spoke with people one-on-one for almost an hour afterwards. The pain and anxiety and desire to leave the law were palpable in that room. I knew there was a need here, and I wanted to help. Leave Law Behind was born.
For those of us unhappy with our current practice of the law, we don’t really like what we see and feel.
We currently see ourselves as a person not matching the potential we set out to meet. We see others moving ahead of us. We see no way out.
We currently feel pain and frustration. We feel guilt and a lack of direction and loneliness. We feel envious and low and lacking structure and confidence.
But in this one life we have, it helps to see and feel not only our current situation, but what we want our future to be. Visualization is not just reserved for New Age gurus and professional athletes. Normal people like us, normal attorneys who have so much potential but just find ourselves in a rut or a bit unfocused, can see and feel the shape of the future we aspire to for our life. Let’s focus on three specific areas:
Money. For many of us, we are concerned about money. We of course need to pay our bills and support (or plan for) a family and continue to pay off our loans … and on and on and on.
Many of us are sad and dismayed about how little our law degree is ostensibly doing for us nowadays. Current law students see the depressing job market and wonder how they will ever pay off their student loans once they graduate. Recent graduates either battle with unemployment or jump from contract job to contract job. Many young as well as seasoned attorneys have that job … but they aren’t happy with it, and wonder “How did I get here?”
And many of us kick ourselves for even going to law school. We rip ourselves up for the decision. In hindsight, we feel that we should have gone for an MBA or taken that job in finance or explored what was happening in Silicon Valley. Or we should have just followed our passion and been an artist or a writer or a teacher (or bartender).
Many of us aren’t happy, and we specifically aren’t happy with our decision to go to law school.
It is true that a good number of us didn’t think that critically about why we wanted to go to law school. We just took the LSAT and applied and then got accepted and we … went.
Many of us who consider leaving the law feel that we may have lost our way. We feel like we’re just in a weird stage. We often look around and wonder if this is it. We don’t think we’re as cool any longer. We wonder if we’re doing the right thing.
To take this further, some of us now think that our window of time may be expiring. That the clock of our final countdown is ticking fast. It could be a particular birthday on the horizon. It could be falling short in a recent comparison with our (ostensibly) successful friends. It could be just this general, vague, foggy feeling that we’re not living up to what we thought we would accomplish.
If we’re not a partner yet, we think we should have been made partner by now. If we’re not an equity partner yet, we think we should have been made equity partner by now. If we are an equity partner . . . we wonder why we are still unhappy.
This problem will persist so long as we continue to stick to outdated, unrelated plans. Many unhappy attorneys judge their success based on what their friends think is success or what their family thinks is success or on what they themselves thought success should be .