Leaving Law: If Not Now, Then When?

When we’re feeling overwhelmed, with work or life in general, we don’t like trying new things. New can be highly uncomfortable until it stops feeling so new and weird and all, and that doesn’t happen quickly. We think we have to have some slight calm, or at least not the outright insanity that is our lives, to start tackling our biggest, most stubborn problems—like the fact that we hate our job and want to leave law.

Atlantic City merry go round

If you’re tired of your crazy life merry-go-round, you can get off. Starting now. Really. Photo courtesy Stockvault.com.

I see this in clients (and in your comments) often. “When I get past this, then I’ll have time to work on getting a new job.”

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun, tells this story. She went to her guru to explain that she had to take a break from her training, because she was moving, going through a divorce, and she needed to deal with yet other things that were going on in her life. Once she got past these transitions, she said, she would be fine, and would resume her training.

The guru smiled at her and said, “All of life is transitory. When you accept that, you’ll be fine.”

Buddhist monks and nuns are wise people.

Are You Waiting for the Promised Land?

Most Westerners, especially Americans, tend to view life as a series of obstacles to overcome, and when they do, they will arrive in the Promised Land. The Promised Land can be many things to many people: a glittery alluring new job, one true love, a baby born, financial stability, inner peace—you get the idea. I’m not sure that this attitude stems from Christianity, but it might. It doesn’t really matter where this attitude comes from; what matters is that we recognize how limiting it is as we seek change in our careers and our lives.

If you believe that you must get through a big project at work, like a brief or a deal, before you can take steps to get out of your unhappy legal career, when do you actually find time to take some of those steps?

In most people’s lives, there’s always something that seems urgent but isn’t actually all that important in hindsight. Still, you tend to lurch from crisis to crisis, thinking that when things calm down, you can also calm down and find the time to think about revising your resume or networking. And just when things seem to be calming down, another crisis erupts. I see this happen to people who are adrenaline junkies or are almost entirely fear-motivated. They often unconsciously create the cycle.

Stepping Off the Crisis Management Merry-go-round

You can change that cycle, whether or not you create it. What if, instead, you got off the crisis management merry-go-round and started making the truly important things the ones you scheduled first? And then scheduled your other obligations around those top priorities, rather than the other way around?

I saw a great visual demonstration of this principle years ago, at a Franklin Covey time management class. I’m not a Franklin Covey fan, because that system focuses on breaking down tasks to the nth degree and tracking the hell out of them, and as an INFP, I’m constitutionally incapable of doing that.

But the principle itself was and is great: Make sure that the long-term important stuff, like relationships, renewal, and improving yourself and your community get top priority. The rest, you can either fit in, or it wasn’t really important to begin with.

Small Steps, Big Changes—Now

So even if you’re in the middle of some gruesome briefing schedule or an ugly breakup, you might:

  • Make it a point to meditate or pray for half an hour 3 times a week;
  • Spend 20 minutes daily revising your legal resume to look like a business resume (that time would include researching how to do that, too);
  • Make your creative work an immovable weekly block in your schedule;
  • Attend a live CLE lunch or other networking opportunity at least monthly;
  • Walk, go to the gym, or take a yoga or pilates class (or whatever floats your boat) at least twice a week;
  • Make your coaching or therapy sessions an immovable weekly or biweekly object in your calendar;
  • Spend an hour volunteering; or
  • Read for pleasure for 20 minutes daily.

You could, yanno, choose more than one thing to make a priority over the garbage in your work life (like answering pointless email chains). Even one of these actions, done regularly, will send a powerful message to your soul that you respect and honor it.

Martha Beck calls the commitments to the long-term important stuff “mouse transitions.” At times, you won’t see how seemingly small commitments are moving you much of anywhere. You are the little mouse, negotiating around the stuff of life with a limited view. It’s easy to lose sight of how these small daily choices help you toward your best career and life. So every once in a while, maybe every 3 months, become the eagle, and see how far you’ve come on your road to an alternative legal career.

Start today. Really, you can do this, I promise. You just need to take one step into the new.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who helps attorneys focus on taking steps in the direction of their dream life and work. Think you could use some help with that? Try a discounted, no-obligation sample coaching session and find out. Email jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule yours—today.

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2 thoughts on “Leaving Law: If Not Now, Then When?

  1. I came across your blog and this post has some great tips for de-stressing. I recently took a leave of absence from law school to explore other careers and it’s interesting to read about people who stuck it out to practice law.

  2. Glad the tips are helpful. Watch for Monday’s post–I share my weekly de-stressing ritual, with photos if the tech gods are kind.
    What kind of careers are beckoning to you?

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