You Can’t Buy the Career Ticket Before Knowing the Destination

Here’s what most of you unhappy lawyers do when you decide you want an alternative legal career: You try to buy your plane ticket and book your hotel for the destination. Problem is, you have no idea what your destination actually is. It’s not, as you might guess, a particularly effective legal career change strategy.

plane engine propeller from window
Choose your career destination, then worry about whether you're going to be in a middle seat.

Now y’all know I love to talk in metaphors, so I’ll unpack that one a bit for you. In a legal career change quest, the plane ticket equivalent is worrying about salary, whether you might still like a new career after 5 years, whether you can afford to go back to school, salary, whether it’s self-indulgent to walk away from the money in law, what will everyone think at the 10-year reunion, how can your children survive attending public schools, and did I mention salary?

You might have caught on that I’m thinking these are not the things to worry about. At least, not at the beginning of that legal career change. They aren’t the deciders of where you are going, they are the details.

Don’t Use Lizards Tools To Become a Swan

Instead, you might try figuring out what your ideal career/destination looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like, and tastes like. I promise you, you cannot figure that out if you’re letting your inner lizard grab the wheel and steer. You’ve put your lizard, the epitome of your fears, in charge before, and look where it got you: into law, which is making you so miserable that

  • you can’t sleep,
  • you can’t harbor an optimistic thought,
  • you don’t have time to contemplate your navel even monthly,
  • you have very few friends or interests left that mean anything to you,
  • you completely lack energy,
  • you can’t stay healthy, and
  • you rarely even smile.

Your lizard, in other words, is a lousy driver that needs its license revoked. It does not have a good track record on finding you a fulfilling, satisfying career.

Yet you keep using lizard tools to find a new career. That’s what searching for jobs on legal job sites is. That’s what listening to legal recruiters is. That’s what worrying about what your salary might be is. Really, that’s what all your worry about lack is: lizard worry about logistics, about the plane ticket. Lizards don’t do hope and joy and meaning.

Maybe You’ll Make Gazillions, Maybe You Won’t

So rather than use lizard tools to find that meaningful work, instead, worry about the state of your soul. Worry about remembering or finding what lights you up. Worry about discerning what your life’s purpose is. Worry about how to evade your lizard long enough to find out what makes you joyful and worth being around. Those are your destination questions.

When you focus on those, the Universe is usually so freaking relieved you got a clue it will often dump incredible opportunities right into your lap. Be alert for those. Don’t let lizard doubts keep you from taking some chances. They will feel uncomfortable because you’re not used to navigating this way, through hope instead of fear, but stay the course anyway.

Understand that I’m not saying your path will be easy as soon as you figure out your real destination. (Don’t I wish! I’d be worth gazillions if it worked like that.) But connecting to that destination, to your purpose, sustains you in a way that expensive meals, houses, clothes and toys simply cannot. Suddenly, you have the grit to get through setbacks and the school of hard knocks, and come out laughing.

Figure out your destination. Then worry about whether you’re traveling coach or first class, and when your flight departs.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who’s been there, done that, and gotten the related apparel items. She coaches unhappy attorneys on figuring out their destination, then helps them find the right ticket at the right price. If you’d like help with your career travel plans, try a discounted sample coaching session. Email Jennifer at to schedule yours today!


  1. Placing orders for transcendent career triumph is what prospective law students all the time.

    Recent graduate: “I’d like to order one BigLaw Equity Partnership Track Position in whatever legal area is hot right now. I’ll like a $160,000 inital salary and a $30,000 bonus, with steady raises up to a $1,000,000 annual salary by the time I’m 35, with a side order of medium Prestige.”

    Law School: “That will be $150,000, payable in 360 easy monthly payments after graudation.”

    Recent graudate: “Thanks! Otherwise I would have to go take a $30,000 per year job, if I could even find one.”

    • I think I’m going to dedicate myself to becoming the best lizard in the whole entire world.

      I’ll be the lizard that eats all the baby lizards as snacks and exudes pessimism and despair.

      When I come home at night, I’ll hug my bank statements before I tuck them into their filing cabinet.

      • And then hug the liquor cabinet before you tuck yourself into it….

        I think I work with the Best Lizard already.

  2. Hi Jennifer!

    Did you happen to see the post on Above the Law about the Skadden associate? It really puts the whole career search process into perspective. Sometimes changing a career isn’t just about being happier about what you do in the world – it can also be a matter of health and sanity.

    • On a serious note, the three suicides of which I am aware, two lawyer and one doctor, they were related to some sort of professional failure or accident.

      Perhaps involuntary loss of identity?

      And with respect to the one attorney in their prime collapse of which I know, it was because of a heart attack related to a heart defect. And one of my blogger friends died in his prime because of heart failure.


      • I knew of a very well regarded, well rounded, “normal” law firm senior associate who dropped dead of a massive aneurism. She was at a high stress firm before I arrived there, but I don’t know how it affected her.

        Have known two and knew of two more who were suicides within a maybe 2-3 year period. All were at unpleasant firms, or straining professional circumstances. At least two of the suicide methods were the kind where the person almost never survives and gets to change lifestyle afterwards – they took themselves out of it all instantly and irreversibly.

        I used to have an office in a prior Big Firm, in its big prestigious highrise office, down the hall from an office that a partner jumped from decades earlier (22nd floor). By the time I got there, the very oldest senior partners who remembered him only remembered that his glasses didn’t break, like it was a mere curiosity, and that his secretary walked in to see him exit.

        Not worth it. So not worth it. Just one stinkin way to make money.

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