Career Lessons From a Catastrophe

What would be left of your life if suddenly your dwelling, your job and most of the trappings of your daily life were swept away?

big green wave crashes on shore

Will you prepare for transformation now, or wait until you have no choice but to transform?

Obviously there are a lot of people in Japan who are now facing that exact question. I still can’t wrap my head around the level of loss there. Everything familiar and comforting, gone in a flash. The images we see of the people are heartbreaking. The satellite images of areas hit by the tsunami are simply chilling: Where there were hundreds of houses, there is now nothing but debris-strewn fields.

The destruction in Haiti a year ago was horrible, too. Haiti was like a dog kicked when it’s down, with that earthquake striking some of the poorest people on Earth, whose little bit was ripped from them. A year later, and the situation there is still troubling. Basics like clean water aren’t available to far too many.

Japan hits us in a different way: People living lives much like ours, with jobs, nice houses, safe neighborhoods, well-stocked grocery stores, pre-occupied with issues beyond basic survival. Now, they’re worrying about survival. Concerns about office politics have been replaced by concerns about whether loved ones are even alive, and when are they going to have a place to call home again.

In addition to doing what we can to help the people of Japan recover (see below), we can also reflect on the lessons this catastrophe offers. And yes, those lessons are especially relevant to unhappy lawyers, or really to unhappy anybody.

If the trappings of your life were ripped away tomorrow, what would you have left?

  • Would you have close relationships with your loved ones?
  • Would you have a purpose in life you still wanted to pursue, despite the devastation?
  • Would you have faith that you could survive this, recover and thrive again?
  • Would you have the feeling that what you had done so far in your life mattered?

These are good questions to ask yourself at any time during a career search. Measure the job you’re hot on the trail for against these questions. They can help you know if you’re on the right track to a satisfying, rewarding, meaningful life, not just on track to finding another paycheck.

Japan has been transformed. There wasn’t any warning, and now they have no choice but to walk the path of that transformation and see where it leads. Unless you’re in Japan reading this (and if so, see my sig block below) you probably do have time to prepare for transformation. What do you need to do to get ready? Do it.

To help the people of Japan and Haiti, try some of these organizations:

American Red Cross

Architecture for Humanity

Global Giving

International Medical Corps

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches people on how to find joy in the midst of sorrow. In addition to cash donations to global organizations, she is donating coaching services to those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Email her at for details.

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