We are unhappy as lawyers now. We’re just not clicking in life as much as we’d like to. We’re in a funk. We are not as optimistic as we want to be. We’re wondering where all of our potential went.
I have had and still have a lot of moments like this. Self doubt, anxiety, malaise, fear. I wonder how I got to this place. I wonder if I still have more time to “make it”. I wonder why everyone else seems to have it all figured out. I wonder why I’m not as happy as I thought I’d be. This isn’t how it was supposed to be!
And then my thoughts invariably creep back to law school, and I invariably come to the same conclusion, that this unhappiness must in large part stem from my decision to go to law school.
Law school wasn’t the best moment for me. While some of us may have liked and excelled in law school and while some of us may be lukewarm about it, I can’t say it was my best time. I floundered. I lost confidence. A good student in high school and college, I was middle-to-low in my law school class. I didn’t find the courses interesting, I was disenchanted by the grade curve, I was overwhelmed by the competition. But I still plugged on and I graduated. But I wasn’t happy. I really, truly wasn’t happy for one of the first times in my life.
For all of us, looking back, there are a lot of different ways to phrase this period in our lives. A waste of time. A mistake. A thing we actually enjoyed at the time, but looking back not something that helped us professionally. Something that has brought on a lot of debt. An education that provided little insight into what a law career really is. A great degree to have and talk about and flaunt, but not something that has been a stepping stone for genuine career and personal satisfaction.
And I’m sure there are more (feel free share in the comments below). And this fact can be a hard thing for us to face.
So why did we go? We went because we were pressured to do so. We went because we wanted to avoid having to try and find a job. We went because we wanted to remain a student. We went because we wanted another degree. We went because there were no jobs in the market, and we thought a law degree would make us a more attractive candidate once we graduated. We went because our ethnic or familial traditions dictated that we do so. We went to make other people happy, to make other people satisfied, to get other people off of our back. We went because we just did. We went for a lot of reasons, but many of us often didn’t go for the main reason we should have: We did not go to law school because it was in alignment with what we wanted and what we were good at.
But even in this despair, what’s phenomenal is that now we can pinpoint the reasons that drove us to attend law school, and once we do, we can clearly see we went to law school for the not-so-right reasons. We just shouldn’t have gone in the first place.
And once we see that we’ve pursued an education and a career as a lawyer for not-necessarily-the-best reasons, while we want to just kick ourselves, it also explains a large part of why we’re unhappy now. It explains why we’re not that good at being a lawyer, it explains why we don’t like being a lawyer, it explains why we want to leave.
And once we realize that we are right to be feeling the way we are now, that our current pain and unhappiness and anxiety and hopelessness that we wrestle with is in part just a result of a not-very-strategically-thought-out-course-of-action we took years ago, then we can stop feeling that we are wrong to feel this way. We can stop beating ourselves up. We can stop feeling like a failure. We can stop with the guilt and self-doubt. We can stop with the murky unhappiness.
Instead, things become clearer. We can see how we are in the right. We’ve been living a life we shouldn’t have been living. We’ve been living a life to please other people. We’ve been living a life to live up to some social norm or standard we actually don’t care that much about.
And when things become clearer for us, we can embrace our opportunity for liberation and let ourselves feel empowered. We can subscribe to exploration and begin to push our comfort level and take some (gasp) risks. We now no longer need to subscribe to perfection and no longer want to please everyone, and we can stop procrastinating and begin to act, for ourselves.
And as we act, there are three things we want to keep in mind:
- Our life is waiting to be ours again. By going to law school for many not-so-right-reasons, many of us we have correspondingly built a life that may be out of touch from our skills, our enjoyments, our talents, our desires. We have been living a life that has felt like it wasn’t really ours. Once we begin to explore our Unique Genius and begin to understand truly what we want and what comes naturally to us, we can begin setting a course directly by us and specifically for us.
- This new life is going to take a lot of work. Leaving the law is simple … but it’s not easy. Yes, there is a structure to follow and a community of like-minded people to fall back on. But it takes courage and hard work and smarts and energy and time and hustle and patience and self-reflection. And it takes all of this hard work because it is worth it.
- But all it takes is a first baby step. As daunting as all of this hard work is in abstract, the first step is usually extremely doable. And so is the second. And the third. And the fourth and all that follow. While the big picture can be overwhelming, when we take small steps, it makes the risks smaller, the failures easier to take, the experiments more likely to happen, the side gigs more possible to develop, the networking more feasible to begin, the confidence easier to grow, the momentum easier to pick up. It all begins that with that one step.
Admitting that we were unhappy in law school hurts. Probing and analyzing that pain even more so just about kills. But what we learn through the pain is liberating and down right necessary.