One thing that attorneys have a hard time figuring out is what the heck else they might want to do if not practice law. Particularly if you have limited (read: almost no) job experience outside of law, it’s hard to know what people in other jobs actually do. And more importantly, whether you would actually enjoy it day in and day out.
I’d be lying if I said this part was easy, if you don’t already feel a fairly strong pull toward something. (But if you do feel a strong pull: Just go do it! You’re right!)
There are 3 tools I find useful for most people in this process.
Tool #1: Figure Out Your Defaults
One way to narrow things down is to use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and see what your general processing, experiencing, and problem-solving inclinations are. That info should at least keep you away from wildly unsuitable work. (I talk about that here, with links to the series.) And the suggestions for what people with your type generally like can be useful too, for generating ideas to explore.
Otherwise, I have to tell you that there is no magic bullet here. It’s a process, not a find-the-right-elevator-button endeavor. Some desires and talents are buried really deeply, for a host of reasons that you probably can guess: parents, family, schools, society/culture—the usual suspects. If you are a pleaser type of person, your real desires and longings will need some nurturing before they start to germinate and blossom.
Certainly it’s been a process for me. When I was initially working through what I wanted to do (aside from never, ever practice law again), I kept having this thought that I wanted to do something visual. Yeah, me with the complete absence of art training. I didn’t even take art in high school, for crying out loud. I took one art class in college because I had to. I could not articulate or see at all what this desire was about.
Once I stumbled into a magazine job—through following one of my loves, writing—I figured out that I adored working with words and images together. And that I have this mad obsession for fonts. Go figure.
No wonder one of the few legal projects I liked and felt really competent at were briefs in a design patent case. I directed the photo shoot of the products involved, and drafted the first round, including picture choice and placement, of what became winning briefs. Ah, my one moment in the legal sunshine!
Tool #2: Self-dates
How do you start the process of uncovering your real interests? Well, you know I’m going to suggest self-dates, aka Artist Dates, because I do that all the time (like here, here and here). The executive summary: go do something weekly, by yourself, that is a fun, festive exploration. Aim for an hour, but a half hour is way better than nothing.
I suggest them because they work, whether or not you think you’re artistic. Creativity goes way beyond art, and experiencing diverse things is the fuel of creativity. Plus, making that space for yourself to get out and play, regularly, lets your deeply buried desires know it’s safe to peek out.
Tool #3: Morning Pages
I’m also an avid fan of Julia Cameron’s other creativity recovery tool, Morning Pages (MPs). I’m a fan because they work, whether for creativity or other discoveries you want or need to make. Here’s how you do them:
- Set aside a half hour or so, first thing in the morning, and do stream of consciousness brain dump.
- Your goal is 3 pages.
- Your goal is absolutely NOT high art or even coherence. Half sentences are A-OK. Rambling is excellent.
- Write your pages by hand—that’s important, because the slowness of writing with your hand allows your thoughts to come out slowly enough so that you can hear them.
- You can visit the loo and get coffee before you do Morning Pages, but that’s about it. No walking the dogs, no conversations with children, spouse, or significant other. I suppose you can talk to the goldfish, unless it starts talking back.
The magic of this time is that your inner censor isn’t quite up and going full-bore yet, and so your more genuine self can speak up and say really interesting things.
Mind you, most of the time Morning Pages are whiny, boring and seriously petty. “I need to get some rice noodles before Friday so I can make that pad thai I promised Gil I would.” “I need to go by the cleaners. God, I hate going by the cleaners.” “If my kid mentions Star Wars/Justin Bieber/video games one more time, I’m gonna take a hostage! Will this phase ever end?”
If you find that you freeze when confronted with the page, just write something like “I hate doing these,” repeatedly. Eventually another, different sentence will surface. Promise!
And then, in the midst of the stupid, magic happens. A sentence will pop out that you didn’t even know you were thinking about. A sentence that can change your life. I figured out I wanted to do coaching in my morning pages. I’ve gotten story ideas. I’ve gotten tired of my own whining about the same thing for months on end, and then finally did something about it.
Morning Pages are a way to connect with your own magic. You may well like them at first and then suddenly start hating them. I’ll just warn you that this is a sign you’re about to tell yourself something big, so grit your teeth and keep going. It will be worth it.
Next time, I’ll talk about low-risk ways to try out some of the ideas you get from the MBTI, Morning Pages and Artist Dates.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who writes Morning Pages nearly every day. She coaches unhappy attorneys on what to do with what emerges from their Morning Pages. If you want some help figuring that out, Jennifer offers discounted sample sessions. Schedule yours by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.