As many loyal readers of this blog have figured out by now, the “baby step” is the keystone to leaving law behind. The baby step is so essential because leaving the law can be so difficult. Leaving the law takes deep introspection, courageous action, and consistent following up. It involves battling self-doubt, experimenting with ideas and seizing (and creating) opportunities. It takes a lot of time. It can be overwhelming. It becomes a second job.
With that in mind, the baby step is a simple, easy-to-do action or task one can take to begin this process. It makes the overwhelming do-able. It makes the feared more palpable. It makes the opaque more tangible.
I first heard about baby-steps in 2009. My friend Aaron Ross started his coaching practice Pebblestorm, and I was one of his first clients. I had already left law by then, but I still struggled with much of what we all struggle with: I needed help in refining my goals, learning what I really enjoyed doing, identifying what I was good at and exploring how best to plan and execute on these ideas.
I also was afraid. The recession was in full swing. I had a 2 year old daughter and a son on the way. I was consulting, and was happy to have left law years earlier … but I still needed to find a way to not only continue to pay the bills, but also to fashion a journey (that I’m still on) to create the lifestyle, independence, pursuits and resources that I know I wanted.
And specifically, I was afraid of pursuing this crazy idea to work with attorneys who wanted to leave the law and do something else. How would I find the time? What if people think it’s a stupid idea? How would I make any money?
It was a baby step that resulted from a talk with Aaron that ultimately provided me with the momentum I needed. First, I began to realize that my fears (the general fears, as well as those minute, specific, micro ones), shouldn’t be avoided, but rather can be seen as clues, clues that I was on the right track. Everyone who pushes their comfort zone is afraid. Everyone who tries new things is afraid. Everyone who stokes their ambition in new territories is afraid. We are all afraid – we just can’t let the fear stop us from moving forward. By being afraid, ironically, I was just where I needed to be. We need to acknowledge that the fear exists … and that it is a normal feeling to have.
Second, I raised the stakes. When you commit to something, and make it public, you now are on the hook to act and complete the task. That doesn’t mean that this task needs to be perfect. No. It just needs to be completed.
The commitment I made was to throw the inaugural Leave Law Behind dinner in September 2009. Before I had made any dinner plans, ordered any food or even knew what I would talk about, I emailed a list of about 100 people (friends, classmates, legal recruiters, attorney friends) and told them of this little idea I had to help lawyers who want to leave law, nailed down a date and time, and invited them to my office for food, drink and a forum to discuss. I was hoping to gain some paying clients and I also just wanted to see who might show up, and whether this idea had any legs, whether there was really this pain out there in the larger world that I knew many of my attorney friends were feeling.
I was nervous. I worried no one would show. And if people did show, I worried the event would still be a bust. I was worried I’d embarrass myself. I was worried I’d look stupid.
Well, the dinner worked. It wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t need to be. It just worked. Twenty five people came to dinner in my office, and what was planned for a one hour talk evolved into a two and a half hour free form therapy/venting/networking/fun-fest, that resulted in three new clients for me, the motivation to begin this blog and the beginning of the Leave Law Behind community. All from one little email, one little baby step.
And third, I took the time to appreciate when a real opportunity presented itself. You know that feeling you get when you are around something special, when you feel something is beginning that hadn’t existed before, when you feel a positive energy newly enter into your life. We can dismiss these as happenstance … or realize the special opportunities that they are.
I told myself back in 2009 that there was something here. There was a pain that needed solving and a group of like-minded people in this world who would work and help me do this. This did not replace the hard work, self-doubt, the late nights writing blog posts, the indecision of where to go next. Those are all required elements of the journey.
Babysteps – small, unsexy and unglamorous. But they dispel, fear, compel action and provide insight.
And they help create mighty nations. George Washington wrote to James Madison on May 10, 1789 that in part “Many things which appear of little importance in themselves and at the beginning may have great and durable consequences.”
Another tip I always try to remember concerning being overwhelmed is to jump into something productive. A sense of accomplishment helps with being overwhelmed. Also, remember to see “overwhelm” as a friend. This emotion is attempting to remind us that we think we can do better. Sometimes we can. Overwhelm is a call to action!
That is a great way to start. Many productivity experts often say to take on the big tasks first, but often times I like to get to the little things first – the email, the phone call, the administrative thing. It lets me build momentum.