The Bones of (Legal Career) Change

So, finally, it’s the end of summer. Which means the beginning of fall, and for me, that feeling of a time to start afresh. The bones of the academic calendar stay with us even when our last school, law school, is years or (for us middle-aged farts) decades ago.

skeleton striding forward
When you make intrinsically motivated changes, your bones feel like dancing forward.

Even if the academic calendar is no longer in your bones, the crispness of fall often wakes up heat-sapped desires to make changes. I’ve been on a decluttering tear lately, I think partly because my bones know that fall is about to blow in its clarity, and rid of us the fogginess that plagues us during the deep humidity of the South in summer.

What kinds of change do your weary lawyer bones want this fall? An alternative legal career? Better work-life balance? Less anxiety? More importantly, what can you do differently to make those changes lasting and sustainable?

To make sustainable change, you need to tap into you intrinsic motivation. As Dan Pink talks about in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, extrinsic motivation, like hitting targets, benchmarks, and getting bonuses, do very little to motivate us very well or in the long-term. In fact, reliance on extrinsic motivation can create some pretty dysfunctional, toxic behavior.

So if you’re looking to change your career, and your life, you need to figure out just what your instrinsic movitators are. You may know; but usually lawyers, with their decades-long reliance on grades and salary as motivators, are completely out of touch with what truly motivates them.

So here are some things to try over the long weekend that will can help reconnect with your true self, and get you going on the road to change:

  • Do a digital fast. One of the best mental decluttering tricks I know.
  • Take yourself out for several fun dates (more ideas here), to connect with what lights you up.
  • Physically declutter the space you use most frequently. Ask yourself what dreams, ideas or emotions you’re hanging on to that are represented by various bits of clutter. Or, ask yourself what you’re avoiding by letting it all pile up.
  • Connect with the truly important people in your life. As Brene Brown says, connection is why we’re here on Earth.
  • Be mindful of everyday joys, like having an air-conditioned space to live in (did I mention I was tired of summer heat?), enough wealth to buy food, the wondrous taste of that food, the freely given love of a pet or a child, the beauty of a garden or building, the amazing variety of interesting people that inhabit the Earth, or whatever else you stop noticing when you get too busy. Savor it, enjoy it, appreciate it as it happens.

If you incorporate some of these ideas into the bones of your life this fall, you will experience change. I promise.

If you need help staying focused on making these practices part of your life, I’m offering a fall special: Change in the Bones, 3 career and life coaching sessions for $260. That’s 25% off my regular rate for 3 coaching sessions. It’s a great way to establish some forward momentum, quickly. (And if you want to know what coaching with me is like, read this.) Offer ends Oct. 5, 2011.

Have a great, and hopefully restful holiday weekend. And—how’s your reading of Drive going? Don’t forget about the FREE Unhappy Lawyers Book Club: Drive Edition, coming on Sept. 15.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy lawyers on making changes in their life, big and small. Email her at today to set up your Change in the Bones appointments.


  1. Well, here in the Southern Hemisphere, our spring has begun. So it’s time to clean, and declutter. But with Christmas approaching, and January (I know it’s still awhile away), when our country virtually shuts down, it can be difficult to maintain momentum. Add to that, distracting and sad life issues, and I’m finding it hard to get going at all! But this post is inspiring – thank you!

  2. The key to momentum is taking a small step, solidifying it, then adding another small step. Maybe you can add one step monthly. You might be surprised at the progress you make, when you look back at Christmastime!

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