One of the most important choices you make as you leave law behind – before identifying which career outside of the law to pursue or how you format your resume – is about how comfortable you feel with evolving yourself from being “just an attorney” to being your “ideal self” … is about how you overcome your fears … and is about how you just keep moving forward even in the face of doubt.
These are difficult topics to address and something most of us only talk about in private or in our own minds … so it’s a great topic for us as we go through the Leave Law Behind Program!
That’s why I asked recent Leave Law Behind graduate Jonathan Lozano (who left BigLaw and just started his own nutrition company) to share his experience in evolving from being just a restructuring attorney to becoming an entrepreneur, to embracing the unknown and to celebrating risk. His piece below is very insightful, inspirational and actionable, I encourage you to spend some time reading it.
And Johnny has just launched his new nutritional bar company, FLATBAR and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help FLATBAR reach its first production demand and operate as a self-sustaining business
I’ve tasted the bars, and they are fantastic and very healthy (Switch Mango Push is my favorite). For as little as $15 you can help a fellow Leave Law Behind member build his dream (and get sent samples of the bars). I encourage you to give a little, he’s over 30% of his way already to his $20,000 goal.
Take it away Johnny …
Less than a year ago, I was a financial restructuring attorney working day and night, desperately dreaming of the couple of hours a week I could escape the clutches of email and rejuvenate my soul through skateboarding. I was nearing the end of my fourth year of practice and was stricken with the sense of misplacement and disaffection that many attorneys have taught themselves to suppress.
My Journey Into Law
Like many others, my journey into the law was largely a result of my high-achieving aimlessness in undergrad, rather than a concrete purpose for which law was merely a tool.
While I was truly fortunate to work with only amazing attorneys (many of whom I still consider to be family), it didn’t take long for the hours and pressures of practice to cause me to question my path.
When I decided that it was time to start scratching the surface to see if—just maybe—there was any forum for attorneys in a similar position, I came across Leave Law Behind. After listening to the LLB Blog and reaching out to Casey to learn more about the program, I mustered the courage to start my journey.
Fast forward seven months. No longer an attorney, I have been writing a weekly nutrition column for one of the world’s most popular skateboarding media sites (an endeavor that allows me to skate with and interview my childhood idols) and I have used my culinary and nutritional interest to develop a series of real food energy bars aimed at injecting proper nutrition into the skateboarding community: FLATBAR.
While the bars were born out of the desire to liberate skateboarding from junk food brands, they have also gotten rave reviews from weightlifters, hikers, motocross riders, runners, cyclists and minor league volleyball players. While the journey is just beginning, there are a few lessons I have learned from Leave Law Behind and my own experience that I would be remiss if I didn’t share.
#1 Be Nicer to Yourself
Before joining the Leave Law Behind Program, this statement would have made my eyes roll into the back of my head. Because I didn’t have the same laments as my law school friends (i.e., overly-competitive associates and uncaring partners), I reassured myself that my desire to leave the law was merely a sign of laziness and entitlement. Leaving practice after four years? What a millennial. While a number of points in the LLB literature circle around this, the first step in leaving was quite simply to be nicer to myself:
- Stop calling myself lazy for not enjoying what I do
- Stop feeling like law school was a waste of time
- Alternatively, forgive myself if it was a waste of time and stop torturing myself for it
It seems silly, but just try it. When you start treating yourself more like a human being and less like opposing counsel, you’ll be amazed at how liberated you’ll feel.
The first physical manifestation of this was allowing myself to skate at a skatepark near the office a couple of mornings a week before work. While losing an extra hour of sleep was never easy (particularly when I was getting perilously little sleep already), a routine of skating, showering, and then speaking in front of a federal judge taught me that it was okay to make time for interests outside of the law. It became my little secret and my first bridge to realizing that feeling disaffected with my work had nothing to do with my ambition.
#2 You’re Special, but Not That Special
I say this not to degrade, but to liberate: we, as attorneys, are special, but not that special.
For a long time, I was convinced that my knowledge of the United States Bankruptcy Code was simply too inapplicable to any other potential calling and that by honing my practice I was simply distancing myself from other opportunities.
Put bluntly, I had to get over myself.
While there are many things learned in practice that are helpful only within practice, being an attorney imbues you with many extremely valuable skills that we’re taught to simply dismiss. If you practice any type of law at all, here are just a few things you’re bringing to the table:
- Knowing how to read a contract
- Knowing how to write professional emails
- Knowing how to get as much information as possible from clients (or customers) in as little time as possible
- Knowing how to stay calm when others are not
- Knowing how to speak and write authoritatively and persuasively
- Analytical reasoning – or more specifically, always looking several steps ahead, always weighing the consequences of your actions and always making sure you understand the environment in which you’re acting
- Working around tight deadlines
- And perhaps most importantly, knowing how to research just about anything
I won’t wax poetic on all of these, but as Casey has repeatedly stressed in his program and on the podcast, even if you’re not an attorney, you can still be the adult in the room. I have found this to be unequivocally true.
#3 Purpose Starts With a Verb, Not a Title
To be entirely candid, I do not think of myself as a business founder. I’m still figuring out how to introduce myself at social events, but I typically start with “I make” or “I design,” instead of reciting a title. What persuaded me to leave the law was not the promise of owning my own business, but simply the desire to create a product and to bring something beneficial to a culture that is more or less vulture fodder for big-name junk food brands. In other words, I wanted (1) to provide value where I saw a lack thereof and (2) to create something.
Being a business owner was simply a necessity since the framework to accomplish this wasn’t already in existence. This is relevant because it ties back into the point about being the adult in the room and having transferrable skills. While we may not see ourselves as business owners or fitting seamlessly into other careers, our experience as attorneys and the ancillary skillsets we’ve developed enable us to fit the part of almost any career we can imagine, even if we have to design it from scratch.
Starting a business wasn’t a long-deferred dream of mine, but rather a logical step that I felt more confident taking with the aid of my legal experience. My first steps in leaving the law stemmed from wanting to do something, not to be something.
#4 Be as Driven by Success As You Are By Failure
Now that I’ve developed a product and immersed myself in a market, I have launched a 30-day crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to raise sufficient funds for the minimum order quantities for first production.
From now until June 21, 2018, I will be pushing a product I truly believe in and fighting hard to introduce a viable alternative to those disaffected by the prevalence of junk food brands in both extreme and mainstream sports.
While it is off to a great start, there is nonetheless a pervasive fear of failure in this endeavor. I’ve found that there will be a healthy fear of failure in almost anything I do. It’s innate for attorneys. It’s what drives us to sleep under our desks on Thanksgiving, redraft voluminous documents dozens of times and research case law until our eyes bleed.
As far as I can tell, my fear of failure hasn’t changed and it isn’t going away any time soon. What has changed is that my fear of failure has enabled me to do something I’m really excited about—something that has given me a sense of purpose tailored to my interests and desires.
True, in some sense this fear is far more paralyzing on account of the fact that failure in this endeavor is infinitely more personal. However, the flip side of that is true: I decided to leave the law on one of the most glorious days of my career. After not sleeping for three nights (and hardly sleeping for about six months), my team and I reaped the benefits of our hard work with a victorious day in court that set novel precedent in our circuit.
But I felt empty.
My fear of failure had driven me; not my desire for success. I had cancelled vacations and slept under my desk on holidays for this case, but the success in the end felt completely impersonal. As much as a deeply personal failure may hurt, a personal success is ultimately more enticing. Failure is scary, but leaving the law behind opened my eyes to the fact that the potential rewards for taking control of my life are too great to ignore.
Leaving the law is possible, even if the path you’re on isn’t entirely illuminated. Early on in the LLB program, Casey analogizes the journey to driving at night. Even though you can’t see your destination, you know that the limited visibility granted by your headlights is enough to get you there. Keep your headlights on and enjoy the journey.
For those interested in the campaign, check it out at http://igg.me/at/flatbarenergy.