If you’re unhappy practicing law, I’ll bet you’ve had this feeling before: You’re a total fake, a fraud at being a lawyer, and someday soon somebody is going to catch on.
I experienced that feeling, oh, pretty constantly my first few years of law practice, and fairly often from year 4 until I finally wised up and quit after 8 years of trying to be something I wasn’t. I remember a more experienced attorney and friend telling me that everyone feels that way the first few years. She meant well, I know she did.
But my friend was wrong, at least about me and law. When I finally, finally started doing something I had actual inherent abilities and genuine interest in, writing for a living, WOW. Suddenly I understood how people could work hard all day, every day and not feel like the walking dead by Thursday afternoon. It was because I didn’t have to fight myself and my inclinations every working hour of every day.
The Wrong Work = Constant Energy Drain
Particularly if you went straight from college to law school and are unhappy with law, you likely have no idea how much of your energy you put into fighting yourself simply to get your work done. It’s like having 2 or 3 jobs, really: The actual job, plus the one where you are fighting yourself. If you are really a fish out of water, like I was, working completely against my INFP type, that second job can feel like 2 jobs, too. (The third job is the one where you try to recover from the toxic law firm environment you most likely are working in.)
Here’s the real tip-off that you’re faking law: Inconsistent performance. Yes, you can do the work. Sometimes. When you can summon up the mental stamina, the stars are in proper alignment, you have had enough sleep/caffeine/time away from work/whatever. And the mix of what it takes to produce decent, let alone inspired work, is a moving target.
In other words, when your obsession with Angry Birds is more compelling than the deadline that you know you’re not going to meet if you don’t start working on that project within the next 8 hours, you’re faking law.
I bring this up because there was a very interesting set of questions posed in the comments to the Lizard Brain Attack post from a few weeks ago. One poster asked if I ever reached a point, after a few years, where I just wanted to ask “please God make this end.” Truly, when it comes to the actual work I do and have done, the answer is no, not at all.
Now I will say that there have been some ancillary things to the core of my post-law jobs that have driven me nuts. My first post-law job was fantastic, except for the toxic psycho-boss that went with it. But in hindsight actually I’m fairly grateful for that situation, because I could otherwise easily have stayed at that place and not gone on to work on two magazines, work that I really adored. And, the politics at another place in particular would have driven a Puritan to drink to excess.
But none of those drained me the way that law did. Not even close.
So how do you pick a direction to even try? I’ll cover that in my next post.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who has now spent more time not practicing law than she did practicing it. She helps other attorneys who want to start down that same kind of path, to work they really enjoy and relish. She offers discounted sample sessions—get yours today by contacting Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.