Do you know who you are? It’s easy to answer that kind of question with a job title, but that won’t help you figure out your next job move. What you really need to know is:
- What lights you up?
- What do you believe about the nature of humanity — basically good, basically evil, or neither?
- What is your secret passion?
- What is your secret shame?
- What do you spend money on that you don’t want anyone to know about?
- If you could pick one charity to give $1 million to, which one would it be, and why?
- What part of your life do you despise the most?
- What part of your life do you enjoy the most?
- Who do you know that you admire the most? Pity the most? Loathe the most?
You probably can’t see a lot of this stuff for yourself at the moment, so enlist the aid of a long-time friend or relative who lifts you up, not knocks you down. (Y’all from dysfunctional families, I’m talking to you!)
Yeah, yeah, it sounds like a recipe for wallowing in navel-gazing. But don’t knock that so hard or so fast. If you’ve been in a BigLaw for a few years, by now you’ve been battered into being afraid to see who you truly are, I imagine. You need some exercise to balance that out.
It is ridiculously easy to let the law firms and business media tell you what you should be: Assertive, aggressive, a master of follow-up, a go-getter, a hard worker, business-minded, results-driven, quick, tough — fill in your favorite adjective from one of the WSJ’s breathless, CEO worship stories. And of course, you feel inadequate when you’re not those things, ‘cause you’re in an environment that blindly pursues those qualities. (We’ll leave to another day whether such qualities actually do most businesses a lick of good or simply further their delusions.)
You cannot violate your true nature and hope to escape unscathed, my friends. I’ve been there and done that, and the postcard ain’t pretty.
If your true strengths lie in empathy, building bridges, expression, innovation, or any other of the myriad skills law sniffs at, you will not be rewarded for displaying those best things about you. You will, in fact, be punished, sometimes brutally. Please don’t mistake the punishment meted out by limited human beings as indicative of your worth. It’s not. Well, maybe it is, but only in an inversely proportional sort of way.
Or the pop culture version, courtesy the movie Pump Up the Volume:
Feeling screwed up in a screwed up place, in a screwed up time, does not mean that you are screwed up.
— Mark Hunter
So here’s a life tool for you: start taking stock of your good qualities, regardless of their value in the job market. If you want to make a big transition, this is a step in the right direction.