Recently I had a government form I need to fill out. I received the notice a while back, glanced at it briefly and then filed it away and put it off until last week (completing it a day before the deadline).
I realized that I took so long to complete the form because I had a number of blockers (or fears) getting in my way:
- I just don’t like bureaucracy and forms and paperwork. It’s just not part of my Unique Genius. I get overwhelmed when I think of stuff I need to fill out. I can say “that’s just me” but really it’s a belief system I have.
- I was annoyed I even had to fill this out. I’m a dutiful citizen, but I still can’t help feel that a government form gets in the way of my work, my family time, and my life. I mean, c’mon, there is too much paperwork in our lives already!
- Also, I don’t like actual paper. I am a digital person nowadays … I was going to have to print up these forms, I would need to write a hard copy check,
My son and I were in line at my neighborhood cafe here in San Francisco when he pulled on my sleeve and told me to look up.
High up on the walls was a large, subtle 180 degree mural of the neighborhood right outside the door: Our area’s hills, valleys, houses, schools, roads. It was beautiful and lifelike and done in such an understated way, that it pulled you in without you even realizing it.
But there was more. If you look very carefully, you can see that the muralist included small phrases and messages and questions throughout the nooks and crannies of the mural. Below the rain gutter of a house. Hidden on a roof.
The one my eyes jumped to was “What kind of stories do you tell?”
What stories do you, unhappy attorney, tell yourself?
What stories do you tell yourself … that keep you in the place you are right now?
- I am [insert religious/ethnic/culture group here] and being a lawyer is just what we do.
- I was a liberal arts major, so I can’t do anything but be a lawyer.
I am not sure how it got this way. Between you and me. It didn’t need to get to this point, and I want to correct it.
I’m an unhappy attorney who is trying to leave the law for a non law job. I am trying to change my life for the better. Please can you and I start over too?
I have to admit, I have always felt that you didn’t want to be with me. There was always just enough of you in my life … but you never seemed to like being with me. It was as if you were forced to be with me. You didn’t flow to me … you were dragged to me. I wondered why we never had that much fun together.
And you never seemed to want to stay long with me. You have been fleeting and unreliable. It always felt like you were in a hurry to leave me. And so I then worried if you would ever come back.
But now you are an immovable weight to me. Law school debt. Bills to pay. I don’t feel like you support me …
Last week, I received the below email from a fellow Leave Law Behind reader.
She was suffering as an attorney.
But she kept reading our weekly posts. She kept becoming inspired. She kept taking baby steps.
And she finally left the law!
I asked her if I could publish her letter and share with you. Besides anonymizing her name, below is word for word what she sent me.
And I’m grateful she let me share this with you … she wanted to pay it forward and show everyone that you too can leave the law!
We’ve never met, but I want to thank you for all that you have done for me and my career.
A little over a year ago, when I was starting my third year as a litigation associate, I realized my mental health had hit rock bottom. I was crippled with anxiety that was only getting worse with increased responsibility at the firm.
I was ignoring phone calls from angry opposing counsel, hiding under my desk at work during panic attacks,
“The ultimate measure of a man or woman is not where he or she stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he or she stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
This is one of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes.
It has inspired me to act to drive positive change, for myself and others in my life. It has taught me to embrace the unknown and the uncertain and the difficult as evidence of my growth and progress … rather than to be feared as insurmountable obstacles, barriers or inevitable failure.
Even if our individual goals seem much smaller than those of MLK’s, we can still drive insight from his wisdom.
While you, an unhappy attorney who wants to leave the law, might suffer from anxiety and depression and stress in your work, you actually exist and live and work in a certain level of comfort.
You know what to expect each day. You are making money. You are paying your bills. You have stature in your social circles. You are pleasing the people around you. Things are okay.
Things are not unknown or ambiguous or severely risky.
Hey Self, it’s Yourself from 2022.
I know this may seem a little spooky to hear from your future self, but I wanted to let you know that this whole “leave the law” thing really has worked out. We are doing really well right now in our alternative, non-law job. We can’t even believe it’s happening.
Well, we can believe it. Because, we’re living it. It’s been 4 years since you decided to leave the law in 2018 and we wanted to write you this short note to say thank you for the courage to leave.
Now don’t get me wrong, we are not sitting on a beach all day, all year.
It’s not all roses. We don’t just call it in each day.
We work … we work very hard.
And yes … sometimes we work weekends.
And there are still deadlines, and stress, and office politics, and angry customers.
And we deal with a lot of issues and projects that are new to us, so we’re often initially unclear what is the best first step.
And we have had a steep learning curve,
As lawyers, we cannot fail.
Failing means we forget a precedent. We miss a court deadline. We negotiate poorly. We lose a case for a client.
And as a result, we fear being sued for malpractice. We fear losing a chance at partnership. We fear losing the client. We fear breaching our fiduciary duty.
We cannot fail. It’s part of our job description as attorneys, and it’s become part of our personal psyche.
Failure is now not only an option, it’s a pre-requisite
Fortunately, that is not the case when we leave the law.
We change this belief system. Failure is not looked at as a death sentence, it’s looked at as a learning experience. It’s considered a right of passage, a way to test and experiment, a way to get stronger.
I view failure as just another word for “babystep” to success.
For example, for one of my clients last year, we identified three main job areas that could have been a fit for his Unique Genius (his skills, strengths and enjoyments) and for us to explore.
But the Strategy Consulting lifestyle had too much travel.
One of the major obstacles you may have in leaving the law is your not-so-healthy relationship with money.
- You feel money is scarce and fleeting.
- Or you’re afraid it will leave you.
- Or you think it’s hard to earn.
- Or you feel you’re not worthy of a lot of wealth.
- Or you feel weighed down by your student debt.
Or you may have been programmed growing up that money is the root of all evil.
It’s actually not.
Money is actually the root of all good.
Money is what builds roads and erects churches and schools and buys food and saves wildlife and creates new innovations and empowers charities and pays people’s salaries and elevates grassroots campaigns and empowers you to be the best you can be.
Money is just energy that can be used for fantastic good.
What is evil is not money, but the love of and desire for money … at expense of all other things (this is from which greed, power, and excess originate).
So as we leave the law,
If you read Leave Law Behind, then you want to stop practicing law and land a new “non-law”, alternative job.
An alternative job that aligns with your skills and strengths, a job you enjoy and are confident at, a job in which you find meaning and purpose.
But if you haven’t left already, it’s because you’re afraid.
- Afraid that you won’t be able to make enough money in a non-law, alternative job.
- Afraid that you will ruin your long term career trajectory or cap your earning potential.
- Afraid of the general unknown and uncertainty of leaving the law.
- Afraid of disappointing or getting grief from your family and friends and work colleagues if you were to leave the law.
- Afraid that you can’t do anything else but practice the law.
So my promise to you this year is I’m going to help you became less and less and less afraid about leaving the law.
And more and more and more confident about making this transition.
So these big overwhelming boogeyman fears shrink into de-mystified, overcome-able issues that no longer paralyze you to change your life for the better.
Originally published on December 15th, 2017 on Above the Law’s Career Center.
So many of us attorneys do not like the practice of law. You suffer under the anxiety and boredom and repetition and isolation and stress of being a lawyer.
But you still don’t leave the practice behind. You don’t make that career shift. You don’t change your life for the better.
It’s mainly because of the crippling fears that keeps you locked in a paralyzing figure 8 cycle of hating your current lawyer job, but not moving to something new because of your overwhelming fear of the unknown and erroneous belief that you cannot do anything else but be a lawyer.
You are afraid. So you wait. You procrastinate. You delay. Even though you cannot ignore the burning desire to leave the law and do something else.
I know that fear very well. It crippled me until I finally left the law behind in July 2004.
Below are the three main ways these fears manifest themselves, with some ideas on how to overcome them:
Fear #1 Fear of making less money and capping our lifetime earning potential
Most of your fear that keeps you from leaving the law revolve around money.