While fear of failure often stops many dead in their tracks from leaving the law, another great challenge is the simple feeling of being utterly overwhelmed.
Many of us have been there before. We have a great idea or a great conversation or we watch an inspiring movie or video clip. And we get motivated and we feel like now is the time, I’m going to get stuff done, and stop procrastinating and create the life I’ve always wanted and finally leave law for good. We begin to see a form of happiness take shape. We sense this spirit of motivation. We feel support from certain areas in our life. We feel good about ourselves, we feel exceptional, we feel distinct.
And then it begins to sink in … exactly what we have to do to leave the law. All of that hard work and sacrifice and time we have to put in to make this positive change actually happen. And then we begin to feel less and less special. We realize (again) that we are not the only one who wants to be famous. We are not the only one who wants a lot of money. We are not the only one who wants to be financially independent. We are not the only one who wants to be looked up to or lionized or put on a pedestal or respected or admired.
And then we begin to rationalize. Maybe staying in the law isn’t so bad. I mean, I’m not happy and I truly do not like the work I do, but I make good money, and all my friends are attorneys, and I like the stature and prestige that comes with being an attorney.
So, then, what needs to happen to be one of the few who actually goes about and leaves the law? If everyone is overwhelmed and/or begins to find excuses before taking that first step to leave the law behind, what enables some to take the step … and makes others shy away?
While there can be many motivators (desperation, unhappiness, depression, desire for change), there are two main concrete actions that compel unhappy lawyers to break down these barriers and begin to seriously explore leaving the law:
1. They make it “public”. This doesn’t mean they trumpet their intention to leave the law to anyone and everyone, since such a move is often best done discreetly. But these attorneys make their desire known enough that two things happen: First, other people (friends, family, colleagues) now know of their wish to change jobs and now begin to hold them accountable. If you tell the right people enough times that you want to do something, there will come a point where they will ask “So, what are you doing about it?” Peer pressure at its most productive.
Second, when you tell the right people enough times that you want to do something, they begin to conspire to help you. They keep you in mind when opportunities present themselves. They introduce you to like-minded people. They provide emotional, intellectual and even financial support. A network at its most productive.
2. They make it an investment. In short, these attorneys put up some money. They hire a coach, or take a continuing education class or make a bet with a friend. When money is at stake, enough money to be serious, it is often possible to overcome the overwhelmingness because you are motivated not to lose the money. And whatever it is you have spent the money on is likely able to teach you new skills or put you in front of new, valuable, supportive people.
If you keep doing what you’re doing, you keep getting what you’re getting. Luckily, for those who want to change, there are some bold and courageous, but nonetheless really doable, ways to take that first step and not shy away.
Another way to make an investment is to invest time This is true for two reasons: First, for most lawyers, time is money. Every 6 minute increment not billed to a client is essentially lost revenue. I think of the time that I spend on my non-paying projects as a deposit not to my financial bank account but to my “life” bank account. It’s not time (and consequently, money) lost, it’s time invested differently. Second, time is arguably the most valuable thing we have in this life, at least that’s how I look at it. Once I realized that the number of minutes that I have on this earth is finite, I wanted to spend those minutes doing the things that brought me the greatest joy and sense of meaning as opposed to figuring out how to accrue them to some client’s bill (which, not surprisingly, did not bring me the greatest joy and meaning).
Great post, Casey.
Thanks for the comment, it’s right on. And when you’re doing something that is in exploration of your Unique Genius, or is in line with your Unique Genius, then this investment of time becomes fun and enjoyable in its own right.