Growing Your Alternative Legal Career, Organically

I’m not a huge fan of the saying “grow where you are planted,” because too many people translate it as “stay in a toxic situation.” No sane person expects a cactus to survive, let alone flourish, in the New England countryside—too cold, too wet, not enough sunlight. No one expects orchids to grow in the arid blaze of Phoenix—too hot, too dry, nowhere to root.

businessman with blue watering can in meadow

Feed your soul soil, give it the right light and water, and watch your new, alternative legal career take off.

Yet many of you expect to somehow make your current law firm or legal job situation work, even though it doesn’t give you your soul’s basic nutritional requirements. (Quick review: autonomy, mastery and purpose that matters to you.) Be honest about your basic needs, and then seek out the situations that have those things.

For your alternative legal career search to flourish, you need to nurture that spark of soul trying so hard to bust out right now. As I discussed last time, a lot of lawyers try to nurture that spark by being more perfect. It doesn’t work; perfectionism sucks the life out of you after not too long. Much like using chemicals in the garden produces impressive-looking results at first, but ultimately robs the soil and plants of what they need to survive. They become dependent on chemical helpjust to survive.

So instead, plant yourself in the right soil,  light and water. Then work on growing where you are planted.

Creating the Right Soil for Alternative Legal Careers

Soil is what feeds you. And yes, your soul needs daily nutrition to survive and thrive. Feed your soul what it craves, and lots of it. Maybe that’s playing around with your old guitar, getting some watercolors, taking nature photos just because, going to a fabric or yarn store, or any of the other myriad ideas here and here. You’ll know you’re on the right track when an activity makes you feel lighter and more open while you’re doing it. These activities are the career equivalent of adding organic matter to depleted soil, so that it has the right nutrients for supporting growth.

At first, you’re going to feel like your soul is a remora, relentlessly sucking in more and more play. It’s OK, it won’t be like that for all that long. Just like gardens coming off a chemical bender need extra nutrients and organic material added to the soil, you need extra soul feeding. Lots of self-dates, and lots of appreciation of the beauty that surrounds you. You need to literally stop and smell the roses, or whatever their seasonal equivalent is when you start this process. Romance your senses, feed your soul.

Getting the People–the Light–Right

The right light helps you grow. Some plants need full shade or they burn up; others need blazing sun all day long or they stall and die. People are the most common source of soul light. You know, it’s that old Debbie Boone song, “You Light Up My Life.” If you’re a creative soul planted amongst a bunch of “just the facts” people, you aren’t going to get the stimulation you need. In fact, those people will drain your energy. (The reverse is also true.) You need the right kind of light around you, like the right tribe.

In an alternative legal career search setting, light is often felt in the function pairs of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: NF, NT, SF, and ST. We tend to click with those who have the same pair that we do. Those are the people who feel light and right to us. One way to find your light is to seek out fields, departments, or work where your type tends to congregate:

  • NT: law, sciences and engineering, business management;
  • NF: counseling/psychology, writing, education, research, creativity
  • ST: applied sciences, banking, management, business
  • SF: health care, sales, clergy, teaching, creativity

These are only a few idea of where to find like-lighted people; they’re not remotely definitive. And please remember that just because someone is a writer and you like writing doesn’t mean you’re going to click. The chances are just much better than if that person is a rocket scientist.

Meaning Waters Your Soul—and Your Career

We all thirst for different things. Some thirst for righteousness, peace or justice; others for beauty, insight or imagination; yet others for order, reason or loyalty. Our thirsts are as endless as there are people. Whatever you thirst for—and it can be more than one thirst—it’s your purpose, your own individual meaning in this world. It’s what makes your heart sing when you’re around it.

Yet I’m willing to bet most of you reading this don’t feel your work has much meaning that is important to you. Maybe you’re like I was, feeling like all I was doing was helping large companies trade money back and forth. This was not something I thirsted for. It was, for me, like drinking a slow-acting poison. It didn’t kill me, but it made me rather ill, literally. Life got a lot better when my career shifted into truth-telling and creating through writing.

Be Patient

My most important suggestion to create your own, organic, alternative legal career: Stay the course. It’s easy to look at a plant, or a career, that doesn’t seem to be taking off, and conclude it was a mistake. Last spring, for example, I almost pulled up a small rosemary bush that didn’t look like it had survived winter very well. But I decided to wait, and see if it really was going to die or not. Of course, it has now doubled in size. Patience pays in gardening, and in career searches. Sometimes you just need to let things evolve at their own pace.

Often, it’s just like Tom Petty says: The waiting is the hardest part. While you’re waiting for your new career path to unfold, resist the temptation to fall back on career crutches. Just like many gardeners transitioning to organic methods get tempted to just this once, use a little fertilizer for an ailing plant, you will want to run back to the familiar embrace of money and (seeming) security of a law firm gig when things get turbulent in your new career search. Resist. The payoff, after all, is claiming your own wonderful self. There is no better harvest.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who dabbles in gardening. She helps unhappy attorneys plant seeds for, and harvest, new careers that make them feel vibrant and alive. See if coaching can help you with your career garden—try a discounted sample coaching session. Email Jennifer at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com today to schedule your sample session. 

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