The Conditions Are Never Ideal

You know what a lot of resistance to getting an alternative legal career boils down to? The conditions are not ideal. That’s it, really.

man looking over hot pepper plants
If you keep waiting for the perfect career change conditions, you'll miss the spice that life has to offer.

That’s what “I need a high-paying job (that just isn’t law)” is about. That’s what “But my parents/spouse/  inner critic /dog/society won’t approve” is all about. That’s what “I need a steady paycheck, not the risk of entrepreneurship” is about. That’s what “I don’t have time to look for a different career right now because my life is so crazy” is. Conditions are not perfect, so you convince yourself you cannot move at all toward your dreams.

These are all dodges. As Patti Digh puts it in Creative Is a Verb, many of us, especially the perfectionists, are convinced that it’s an either/or world. I can either be an overpaid, miserable lawyer or a happy, starving artist. I can either be who I really am or I can work in corporate America. I can either take all the dysfunctional crap in my workplace or I can quit.

This is, as Digh says, “throwing up [y]our hands and say[ing] I cannot be held accountable because the conditions are not ideal.”

Choose To Act Despite the Shitty Conditions

Here’s a newsflash, folks: Your life is not a Hollywood movie. We all envision these scenarios of how things could be JUST PERFECT in our lives, if only . . . and the “if only” looks like a well-edited video with a great soundtrack. Mine usually includes a spotless, funkily decorated house and weed-free gardens along with a never-ending flow of espresso and dark chocolate. Oh, and the perfectly fitting, cool outfit, let’s not forget that.

But a perfect-looking life would be, frankly, boring as crap after not too long. Like living in a shelter magazine. Safe. Predictable. Eye candy but not much nutritional value, like most of what comes out of Hollywood.

Life is rarely ideal, and we fool ourselves that it can be, all the time, if we just worked harder or were less flawed. We have become a nation so obsessed with appearances, with perfection, with certainty, that we honestly believe we aren’t worthy if we don’t check off everything on our (impossible and often ridiculous) to-do list.

It’s the way we respond when life isn’t perfect that creates the beauty and meaning in our lives. As Dr. Brené Brown points out in The Gifts of Imperfection, it’s about our choices—to be brave, and be who we really are, rather than lash out in fear or withdraw before someone finds out we’re imperfect.

We can choose to make our lives more enriching, to find that more fulfilling career, if we are willing to accept that the conditions aren’t ideal, and are maybe even shitty, but that we need to act anyway.

What small act can you take today to start claiming your own imperfect, beautiful life and career? Let me know. And if you want some accountability for it, I can help you with that, too. That’s what coaching is all about.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer and a recovering perfectionist who coaches unhappy attorneys to act under less than ideal conditions to claim their lives and meaningful work. Join her on July 6, 2011 at 1:30pm ET for a virtual book club to discuss Dr. Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. It’s free! Click here for details. Or email Jennifer at for more info or to set up a sample coaching session.

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