The Changing Is the Hardest Part

The hardest part of leaving law or going to a different place in law? It’s changing your self-perception.

While even partners and senior associates suffer from poor self-perception, it’s really rampant among younger associates. And if you went straight from college to law school, add another degree of difficulty.

Let me give you an example from the beginning of my own navel-gazing. I was at the office of a national career-counseling service, talking to the sales guy who was trying to reel me in. We were talking about why I wanted to get out of law, and at one point I said, “I get bored so easily, and law is so boring, I just can’t stand it!” He looked at me and said, “You know, you say you get bored, but what I see is someone who likes challenges.” So of course, I signed right on the dotted line. But I digress.

I remember that moment vividly because he was absolutely right. The problem wasn’t my own personal trait, but how I viewed that trait. I had drunk the koolaid that I was supposed to be enthralled with tedious thinking about narrow little issues, that I wasn’t supposed to mind so much about reviewing documents endlessly, that sparring with opposing counsel over meaningless crap was just part of the game. I needed to accept that my personal traits were good, and marketable, but that they were lost on most of the folks who inhabit law firms. That didn’t make me a loser, it just made me a stranger in a strange land.

So take a look at what your characteristics and traits are, without judging them. Make a list. Even if they come out negative, write it down. Then work on imagining a way of admiring those traits. If you get depressed looking at page after page of black and white, maybe there’s an artist or designer in you struggling to get out. If you hate constantly sitting in front of a computer, maybe you need to be out talking to people more, in sales or teaching.

Consider a universe where you are accepted, even prized, for some of these things. Because there is a place for you, it just isn’t where you are now.

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