Why avoiding being disappointed may actually result in you being disappointed

 January 8, 2014

By  Casey Berman

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While we are excited to leave the law behind, most of us only want to do so if we can guarantee one thing: We leave the law perfectly.

We want to make no mistakes. We want to guarantee our path to freedom. We will boldly steer from our current course … as long as we know we’re going in the exactly correct direction.

We lawyers play it safe and try to be perfect. In law school, we competed against real smart classmates and faced a steep grading curve and battled to get an OCI interview. For our clients, we regularly advise of worst-case scenarios and assist with risk management and are taught how to identify and avoid issues and concerns. And in our personal lives, we look for job security and dependable career paths and well-respected firms.

Many of us are always keeping score and we always want to score high. As such, we attorneys often aren’t inclined to try something new.

And to drill into this further, we do not try something new (like leaving the law or trying something new within the law) because we realize that we may not succeed at it. We may not be perfect at it. It may not work. We may fail.

We choose to put off networking with other lawyers and non-lawyers because we may flub our words and look stupid. We may not explore how we can leave the law because someone may see us leave the office during the mid day and our managing partner may find out that we are dissatisfied and we may end up losing our job. We don’t take the time to honestly assess our skills and strengths and Unique Genius because we may not like what we see or find out about ourselves. We don’t take the time to start something on the side because we feel it’s doomed to fail anyway.

And if we fail at something, we could become greatly disappointed and discouraged and this could prevent us from doing anything else in the future. So we just don’t try. Or just don’t try that hard.

But if all we do is try not to fail, we may find ourselves living our life and planning our professional path based on the avoidance of disappointment, and not based on our skills and strengths and Unique Genius. Because inherent in properly leaving the law is following our Unique Genius; and inherent in following our Unique Genius is letting our skills and strengths and enjoyments inform which path and role and job we pursue (and not the other way around); and inherent in letting our skills and strengths and enjoyments inform which role and job we pursue is the need to try things and test things and try things again and learn from things and test things again and run things by other people and fail at things. Ergo, to leave the law, you need to fail.

And if we live a life based primarily on trying not to fail, we will likely avoid this disappointment in the short term. We won’t have tried anything new, so our record will not be smirched. No one will have been tempted to laugh at our ideas or doubt us, so our reputation will be intact. We will keep our dependable job, so we will rest easy knowing we have followed the steady and known.

But unfortunately, if we live our life in misalignment with our Unique Genius, if we choose roles and paths and titles that do not showcase and optimize and feature our true skills and strengths and confidences and core, we may end up disappointed that we lived a life that was safe, but was not really our own.

Take a baby-step. Ask yourself these three questions. Confide in someone you are unhappy as a lawyer. Email me. Comment below. Fail.

And fail again. And once more. And you’ll notice a crazy thing: even though you have “failed†(you weren’t smooth in the networking coffee, you were a wallflower at the cocktail party, your friends and family rolled their eyes when you said you were unhappy as an attorney, you can’t yet identify what you are really good at, you admit you have no idea what other non-legal jobs look like, you tried to start a blog, but you quickly ran out of writing ideas, you can’t think of a side consulting gig you’d like to take on, you still feel lost), you are still around. You are still standing. You are smarter. You have tried. You have stories to tell. You have new people to rely on. You have new opportunities.

And you may finally realize that the only one keeping score is you.

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  1. I’m commenting here because I don’t know what else to do. I walked in the door today and collapsed in tears. I’m in my fourth month of Biglaw at a large firm after graduating from a T14 school and I just know that the law is not for me. I knew it from the first semester of law school but I was too scared to admit “failure” and seek another path. I graduated in 2009 and there were no jobs and that felt like all the failure I could handle. Now I am a corporate lawyer and I spend my days struggling to understand the work I am given or feeling like a secretary. I am so miserable. I went into the law because I am a strong writer and if I continue on this path I will never write a non-contractual sentence for the remainder of my career. I don’t know what I want to do anymore and I feel like no one in my life understands why I would want to leave a six figure job for a career I can’t even envision yet. But something has to change. After 3 years of being miserable in law school, I can’t keep doing this.

    1. Thank you so much for the honest and open comment, I really appreciate it.

      And you have your first baby step. Yes, you don’t even realize the step you just tool: “But something has to change. After 3 years of being miserable in law school, I can’t keep doing this.”

      Most unhappy lawyers wouldn’t write that. Most unhappy lawyers wouldn’t say that out loud. Most unhappy lawyers wouldn’t even let themselves think it.

      I know this may seem too small to celebrate, but congrats, you’ve taken your first baby step in leaving the law: you’ve publicly (and honestly and sincerely) admitted you want to leave.

      Now what? There is a huge world of possibility out there for you. Think. Ask questions. Reach out. Plan. Save.

      Just move. Just move forward. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’re getting. And we know you don’t want what you’re getting. You just announced to the world you don’t want what you’re getting.

      So move. We’re all behind you. We’re excited to see what you do.

      Thanks again

  2. I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum that the previous poster. I’ve been practicing for 14 years and the area I’ve concentrated in since day one (personal injury litigation) appears to be non-transferable to a career outside of law. I’ve had friends who have practiced in real estate, tax, corporate bankruptcy, employment, etc., who have been able to move away from firm life and have either gone in-house as either an attorney or non-law work such as consultant.
    I cannot for the life of me figure out what my skills would allow me to do outside of law or possibly sales (which is one of the main things I hate about litigation/law).
    Am I too close to the situation to see things clearly?

    1. Hi Mike

      Thanks so much for your comment. I completely understand the frustration: We have practiced in a small niche, because we thought it would be good to be an expert on one area of law, or we just found our way there or whatever other reason.

      And now we want out, we want to leave the law, and we look at our skill set and we say “Well, I can only litigate” or “I can only do software licensing” or “I can only advise on OSHA” and we feel the rest of the world won’t want these skills.

      Fortunately, it’s not true. Yes, you are too close to the situation, and that’s a good thing! Of course, the rest of the world may not specifically need your focus on PI litigation. But the rest of the world, and all of the million of jobs that are out there do need all of the other skills you possess: interpersonal skills, collaboration skills, writing skills, discipline, dedication, etc. And who knows, maybe some company with an ancillary connection to the personal injury (medical group, compliance group, insurance reform group, etc.) might see value in your skill set, and content focus.

      Next step? Read this article I wrote for Above the Law at http://abovethelaw.com/2013/03/from-the-career-files-the-third-step-in-leaving-law-behind-do-what-you-are-good-at/, and then get back to me at [email protected].

      Hope that helps.

  3. I am in the boat with Mike! I am half partner/owner in a small successful PI practice that does med mal work and it is eating me alive. I am in year 20, thinking that the jobs at Starbucks as baristas don’t look that bad because they don’t incur or take home the debt I do, risking it all for clients who are so damaged, and then hoping that those clients don’t do something stupid, or die, or any other number of things. And it is full contact WAR in these litigation trenches, all the way to the end of a docket….. and people tell me “you are so good at this…. you fight for people, you push hard, you get results…..” When defense cohorts say boohoo about the billable hours,I want to say “you don’t get paid interest on those hours, but you don’t have to wait 3 to 5 years after investing your own money blood sweat and tears in that either.”
    I have just gotten brave enough to realize that I don’t like the zero sum game at the end of each trail that a case takes me on through the jungle. I have NO idea what to do. I second Mike’s question!

    1. Hi Lori

      Thanks for the comment. The point that stands out for me the most in what you said is that you “don’t like the zero sum game” of your cases. While you may be very good at fighting for a cause or working with people or handling clients, you don’t like that winner take all atmosphere. I would assume then that you are collaborator at heart, and not a take all prisoners fighter.

      I see that a lot in litigators who want to leave the law. All through our lives, since we can speak well and like people and are persuasive, we’ve been told “be a lawyer” and “you should be a trial attorney”. Because we talk well?! If we were to drill down further into your skill set, we’d see tons of transferable skills: interpersonal skills, public speaking skills, writing skills, persuasion, client management, project management, etc.

      And what you want is a place you can collaborate with others, and create things (products, services, etc) and not tear down other people’s arguments. You’re a builder, not a disassembler. There are tons of jobs in the world who need a person as skilled as you to help them build things.

      Next step? Read this article I wrote for Above the Law at http://abovethelaw.com/2013/03/from-the-career-files-the-third-step-in-leaving-law-behind-do-what-you-are-good-at/, and then get back to me at [email protected].

      Hope that helps.

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