When I was thinking about leaving law, I focused a lot on all the things I would lose:
- Long hours
- Working weekends regularly
- Achingly boring work
- Colleagues who were anything but collegial
- A known career path
- Did I mention money?
I was right about nearly all of those things. But the most amazing things about my new career were the unanticipated gains. At the top of the list, how much better I felt doing work I actually enjoyed. My soul ditched the gazillion-pound albatross it had been lugging around while doing work it despised. I had no idea how heavy that burden was until it wasn’t there.
The other biggie for me was discovering the pleasure of working with people who weren’t pathological naysayers. People who had hope, optimism, and a positive outlook on life. As Martin Seligman points out in his book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, law is the only profession in which the most successful members are quite pessimistic (see the Why Are Lawyers So Unhappy? chapter). It’s understandable, because the job of a lawyer is to look for the downside and protect against it.
But if you have a creative bone in your body, law firms in particular are a completely toxic environment. Creative folk do their best work when hopeful and optimistic. Even if you’re writing about awful topics like suicide, the creative part of your brain is happy, because it’s making a new story, though an individual character may not be doing so hot. Creativity is not born of fear, but good lawyers often are. That’s not a judgment, just a fact. Yet I did not truly understand the implications of those facts for my psyche for a very long time, until I had already committed to leaving law and jumped. So I thought I’d share with you, in case it helps you screw up the courage to make the leap. If the legal environment is destroying you, know that another environment really will be better.