Lawyers searching for an alternative legal career are a lot like dragonflies, it struck me this morning.

Maybe you don’t know the story of the dragonfly. I only heard it about 2 years ago, likely because I took all those social science classes instead of hard sciences in college. Those of you who know it, feel free to skip down a couple paragraphs.

red dragonfly on leaf
The dragonfly becomes more colorful and enters a new world when it leaves the water that no longer serves it.

The dragonfly hatches from eggs laid under water. They grow into nymphs, swimming merrily through their pond, waiting for prey to come near, and living the teenage dragonfly life.

But then, after a few years, it’s time. Dragonflies are compelled to follow a deep, instinctive urge to go somewhere they’ve never gone before: above water. Because their bodies are morphing, and they aren’t going to be able to survive much longer under water. And so, they find a branch or a stem that they can climb up, to get into the air, to meet the future in which they can survive and thrive. So they can dry out their wings, then spread them and fly.

Lawyers, Divorced from Their Natural Instincts

With lawyers, the problem is their instinct for who they truly are and what they need to do to follow their unique path gets muted, ignored and plain buried during their nymph years. Instead, nascent unhappy lawyers chase accolades for grades and accomplishments. They please parents and teachers and then law firm partners, by squishing themselves into the success box rather than looking inside themselves for their truth.

The good news is, that truth is still there. It might not feel like it, because it’s being suffocated by staying in a pond when its gills are shrinking. That’s what the anger, depression, dissatisfaction, and all those other crappy things you feel when you’re at the law firm/are with lawyers are about: trying to keep breathing water when what you need is air.

As Brene Brown puts it in The Gifts of Imperfection, it’s time to draw on your courage. To tell the true story of your heart, even though it feels like that story will be mocked, dismissed, or discouraged.

Be brave. Go find your stem to climb up into the air you need to breathe, to keep living. It may feel impossible, because you don’t know what it’s going to be like above water. You can’t map out a detailed strategy for the unknown. Hell, you have a hard time even imagining a future without law can exist.

The thing is, all of us recovering lawyers who are happily living above the water can’t wait to welcome you here.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who broke through the water a decade ago, and is still enjoying flitting about in the open air. Join her on the phone July 6 at 1:30 – 2:00 pm ET for the Unhappy Lawyers Book Club (it’s free!!) to discuss how you can find the story of your true heart. Or schedule a discounted sample coaching session to get more personalized help by emailing