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, that Ali gave it back to me.
My dream job was no longer a dream
I’d been working in the law job I thought I always wanted: an in-house employment practice. There was a lot of good about it, but that gut feeling that it wasn’t right still lingered. I’d spent months working typical long lawyer hours, coming home with a complete lack of desire to do anything.
Everything felt like a burden – laundry, microwaving leftovers, doing anything social, and even reading celebrity gossip on the internet to escape reality. I’d shelled about hundreds of dollars in fees to the boxing gym I hadn’t been to for months because I had no energy or desire to hit anything except the couch.
I could not find peace because it turned out that what I thought I always wanted was not what I wanted now. That I had become a person I didn’t want to be. That I was no good to anyone because I felt like a machine. That I felt less than human.
Eventually that compelled me to resign from my position with no job to transition to. I was lucky because I’ve always been a saver with an aversion to debt; years of minimizing extravagant purchases – purchases generally, to be honest – and funneling that money into paying down debt and building my savings put me in the financial position to leave my job. Even with that comfort, I started flailing for tangible answers on what was next for me.
Greatness from the Greatest
After telling a coworker an Ali quote about how everything has a purpose – the sun, the sky, cows – and everyone must find their own purpose, I searched for the quote to make sure I said it right.
In my quest to be right (the most consuming side effect of lawyer life, in my opinion), I found another Ali quote that made everything make sense: “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
When I was 20, my father had suddenly passed away and I was flailing for answers on what was next, just like when I resigned from practicing the law. My answer at age 20 and the following few years was to chase money and prestige and power, to find a career that impressed people. I viewed the world with a focus on what others would think of my choices and the money and possessions I could accumulate.
Now, at 35, I view the world as full of places, events, and people that I want to experience, and not a collection of material stuff that was so important back then.
The law fulfilled my life vision at 20 where I could have expensive purses and a nice car, but it was contrary to my vision at 35. I became terrified to take a day off, much less take a proper vacation, because of what would be waiting for me when I came back. It sapped my energy to where I stopped doing things I enjoyed and negatively impacted those around me because I just wasn’t me.
My nice car became a place to cry during my commute, and I couldn’t zip my unhappiness away in those few expensive purses I splurged on. I couldn’t enjoy experiences and people around me because the weight hung on me so heavily. This existence didn’t fit my vision of what I wanted from life anymore, so I decided to make a new life.
I can’t say I wasted the past 15 years. Through law, I’ve gotten a great education, identified talents and interests, met people who have become incredibly important to me, and gained the financial security to get me to my next chapter.
Having now gained the perspective of what I really want out of life, I’m determined to not waste any years going forward. I’m proud of that, and I think Muhammad Ali would be too.
For now, I’m being selective in my pursuit of a new career, and filling the time with the things I couldn’t or didn’t do before: helping my family, reconnecting with people, trying new activities, and going back to boxing classes.
In a way, my life now reflects another Ali quote – “I’m free to be what I want.”
Kelly is a lifelong St. Louis resident and graduated from law school 9 years ago. She loves going to concerts at small venues, reading, writing, and traveling. Kelly has generously offered to chat with anyone in our community looking to leave law, feel free to reach out to her through her LinkedIn profile.
And if you’re serious about exploring how to leave the law, I’d suggest you act now on an easy-to-take babystep we have here at Leave Law Behind.
Consider signing up for the 10-day trial for the new Leave the Law membership program, for only $1. This trial offer will be closing around mid September, so I’d suggest you check it out before it goes away: http://leavelawbehind.com/leave-the-law-$1-trial.
I can’t force you to leave the law and be happy. But if you are ready, I can help.