Fear is what keeps us from moving toward our dreams. That fear may taste like security, like not being thought of as crazy, or as pleasing loved ones, to cite some common examples.
So what flavor is your fear, alternative legal career seeker? It’s a useful exercise to become a detective and look for clues about how your fears operate. What are they? Where, when and how do they come roaring out and try to stage (or often, DO stage) a takeover of your better self? Because while you need to deal with your fears if you want to make a big career change or re-balance your work and life, those fears aren’t isolated to career issues.
My gut feeling is that most attorneys, even ones not overtly wrapped up in status, harbor deep fears of lack. More specifically, they fear if they change careers, they will lack money, and that lack of money will mean suffering and maybe death. Or at least social death, which feels similar but you do keep breathing.
I’ve been reflecting on this particularly since I read this post on Above the Law about a mid-level associate in New York who got offered a seemingly great gig in-house. From the story, she sounded miserable as an associate. But rather than jump at the chance, she hesitated. According to the story, she got very hung up on the fact that she would be making half her law firm salary—which still left her making more than $100,000. She was scared to be, in her words, “poor.”
While it’s tempting to rant about how ridiculous these fears are if you compare this associate to a lot of people in New York, let alone out in the rest of the country or, say, Bangladesh, that may not be a useful exercise.
Mind you, those comparisons do help you keep things in perspective. Worrying that you’re going to be poor because you can’t afford as nice an apartment as your former colleagues, when many across the globe and even in America live in hovels, is fairly obnoxious, and a little reflection on that would do any of us some good. I’m not advocating that we should all go live in hovels or give up all material attachments, but a little perspective on material needs tends to be useful, by making us grateful, if nothing else. And gratitude does good things for the soul and helping us manage fears.
Fears that we will be poor and destitute are the real fears many of us walk around with when contemplating change. We are convinced that the only thing between us and being homeless is doing work that we hate, but that pays the bills and makes a comfortable lifestyle possible. In other words, our fear tells us that we cannot follow our passions and dreams or we will die, or experience something like death.
So put on your detective hat. Be absolutely honest—no giving the nice answer, or the one you “know” you should—and answer these questions. Do it quickly, without thinking, if you want some really amazing insights:
- If I had all the money in the world, I would _____________.
- My friends like me because __________________.
- The people who have money are __________________.
- People who leave unsatisfying careers to follow their dreams are ______________.
- If I told my family/friends/dog what I really wanted to do, they would _______.
- If my family/friends/dog found out ___________ about me, they wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me.
- If I had ______________, I would be happy.
- If I follow my dreams, I will ___________________.
Notice any interesting patterns? Beliefs you didn’t know you had? I’d love to hear about them.
And next time, we’ll talk about where some of these answers might be coming from—and more importantly, what to do about those beliefs if they’re holding you back.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering attorney whose dream is to help people–yes, even attorneys–get unstuck from their limiting beliefs and move toward their career dreams and a more fulfilled, authentic life. You can reach her at jalvey AT jenniferalvey.com to schedule a free, no-obligation coaching session.