I talked last time about how blinders of knowing can keep you from seeing what your heart really wants to do. Lawyers, even unhappy lawyers, tend to have industrial grade blinders, because in law, there’s one dominant career path: Get a job as an associate, and make partner.
Sure, there are variations, but all of those variations have the whiff, if not the stamp, of alternative legal career. As in, deviating from the norm. That’s a pretty narrow mindset with heavy-duty blinders.
Here’s how “knowing” how things are works against you, from my own personal vault of experience: I knew that I should try to be more like other lawyers, because then I would be successful at law. And I didn’t question that I wanted to be successful at law, because why the hell else would I have gone to law school?
Why You Might Suck at Law
But the truth was, I often sucked at law and therefore at working in general, because I didn’t think and do like other lawyers. For example, as a young associate, I read deposition transcripts with one overriding question: What the hell is this person’s story? It dawned on me when I was, say, 4 or 5 years into practice that most attorneys read depos solely to find facts that supported or undercut a particular legal theory. They absolutely did not look for stories.
I kinda, sorta, looked for facts and all, but really, all I cared about was character development—what makes this person tick? For a long while, I saw this reading-depos-for-plot-and-character as a flaw in my lawyer skills, which of course it mostly was. Though one can certainly argue that looking deeper into the deponent’s personality could give you a real advantage at trial. Except that my cases never went to trial.
But this flaw in how I read depo transcripts was also shrieking at me, do something that has to do with characters and plot and story! Do something that has to do with what makes people tick! So, um, yeah, no wonder I’m much happier writing and coaching people as my main work these days.
What Do You Know?
I couldn’t see what I needed to do for, oh, years. More than a decade, if you count the years in law school (and I do). And that’s because of all the things I knew:
- That I had to use my law degree
- That I had to make a lot of money
- That I couldn’t give up and walk away from the blood, sweat and tears I invested
- That I wasn’t working hard enough
- That the problem was me not being able to accept the way things were in the workworld
- That work wasn’t supposed to be fun, which is why it was called work
- That I wasn’t talented at anything much except analysis because I would know by now if I were good at art, music or writing or whatever else
- That someone had to give me a job
The key to seeing the evidence of what your heart really wants is to stop using the knowledge lens.
Capture Your Heart on Paper
Instead of using the knowledge lens, try this exercise. Make a bunch of 1” x 4” (or so) strips of paper. Use whatever type of paper makes you feel happy and free. If you like a particular color or texture of paper or ink, use it. Write one thing per strip of paper:
- that you’d try if you had all the resources in the world;
- that you do now to avoid your day job work;
- that you used to do and miss doing;
- that is goofy or embarrassing but you would do if no one knew about it;
- that you did as a kid and loved—especially before the high school achievement sweepstakes began;
- that is your guilty pleasure;
- that you read a story about someone else doing and thought “that lucky dog, how fun would that be to have for a job/do that!”; or
- that you do a little of now but want to do way more of, if only you had the time.
Create as many strips as you can. The more, the better, since you’ll have more data to work with, but if you end up with just a few, that’s fine. Finishing your strips can take anywhere from a half hour to several days. Take the time you need to generate strips; sometimes ideas bubble up at the oddest times.
Strip Your Way to a Theme
Once your strips are complete, sit down and make an initial sort. You’re looking for common themes. Maybe you had some strips that said, “Walk outside more,” “Work on my garden,” “Spend more time playing frisbee with Rover,” “Go horseback riding,” and “Raise chickens.” They all seem to center around being outdoors, so you might want to group them together under that theme. Or, maybe the theme is physical activity. Just start making some preliminary piles and see what occurs to you.
Don’t overthink this. Go with your gut, even if your gut seems momentarily batshit crazy. There aren’t right or wrong answers, just interesting, and hopefully new ways to see what it is your heart longs for.
If you get really stuck for themes, ask a friend with good insight, a therapist, or even a career coach for help.
Once you’ve got some themes, get a sheet of paper, a filing folder or some posterboard. Make columns with your themes as headings, and tape or glue the strips for each theme under that heading. (If you’re not sure yet, you can always use some restickable glue.)
Hang your categories near your desk. If you don’t want people at work to see it, you could take a photo of it and use that as a screen saver.
Keeping the list within frequent sight will let your heart know you are taking its desires seriously. When you do that, you’ll get inundated with great ideas about how to change your career and life so they match your heart’s desires.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who helps unhappy attorneys discover their heart’s desires for career and life. She offers discounted sample sessions—schedule yours today by contacting Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.