[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a guest post by a current criminal defense attorney, and frequent guest blogger on Leave Law Behind, as he details his ongoing experience in identifying those skills and strengths at which he excels and enjoys, what we call one’s Unique Genius.]
Over the course of time that I’ve contemplated leaving law practice—four years or so—I’ve read a lot about making the transition. Invariably, commentators tell you that the first step is self-assessment. This sure seems like a logical starting point. How better to avoid ending up in another unfulfilling, if not loathsome, job than to take the time to unearth your true strengths and interests? Indeed, many of us dissatisfied lawyers regret that we didn’t undertake this introspection before diving head-first into law school. Had we done so, the thinking goes, we wouldn’t now be in this professional dystopia.
In addition, for my money, I think unsatisfied lawyers need to cut themselves a little slack. Sure, most of us would have benefited from a little more reflection. But, that’s only half the equation. The other half is seldom acknowledged in my experience: expectations of the legal profession. I know that while I can barely stomach my experience of law practice, I dig the law itself. I love writing, critical thinking, persuasion, counseling—many of the tasks that fit squarely within a lawyer’s purview. Unfortunately, many of us came to learn that others—acrimony, unreasonable pressure, billable hours, to name a few—overshadow the positives. All this is to say that, before you try to find what will make your next job a good fit, you should ease up on yourself.
As for discovering that next job, any discontented lawyer who picks up a career-change book will encounter a series of exercises intended to promote self-analysis. Whether the book tells you to imagine your perfect day, write about pride-worthy personal achievements, or keep a diary of what you did and didn’t enjoy about your workweek, the message is the same: Identifying your preferences, skills, and talents is a prerequisite to a successful professional evolution.
I don’t in any way intend to demean self-assessment exercises. Having completed several of them, I acknowledge that they help at least in that they get the ball rolling. They force you to sit down and think about your happiness, something that to this point has taken the rear seat in your professional life. But, after a certain point, I find them frustrating. “Am I doing this right?” “Have I learned anything new about myself?” “How many more of these exercises must I do before I make some tangible progress?”
When Casey first told me about the Unique Genius concept I wondered if I had stumbled into more of the same. I feared I would spend even more time soul-searching, rather than networking and learning about possible careers. But then he broke it down in a way that is far less daunting, a way that makes a lot of sense to me. In his post, “A valuable lesson from last week’s Leave Law Behind event,” he talks about ways to find your U.G. One of these really resonates with me: thinking about what people compliment you on. It doesn’t require a heck of a lot of time or effort; it’s as simple as thinking about positive feedback you’ve received over the years.
When I’ve thought about acknowledgments people have offered me, I’ve realized that they relate to what I truly perceive to be my strengths. My friends, colleagues, and yes, even my biased family, have been relatively consistent when they’ve praised me. They either tell me that they enjoy my writing (an endorsement I hope I haven’t belied by this post) or that I relate to people well interpersonally. If I table my humility and insecurity, I can acknowledge that I agree with them, and that I want those skills to play a central role in my next career. Identifying that career is the next challenge, but I’m much more excited to try now that I know what I have and want to contribute.
Other people’s compliments provide a really great shortcut in the self-analysis process, and not one of the “cheating” variety. Just think about nice things people have said about you. Then think about whether you would like your next career to involve those skills or traits. I think you’ll like what you find.