Questioning Your New Year’s Career Resolutions

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New Year’s resolutions are the fall leaves of career coaching: You know they’re coming, and you sigh because you know you will shortly be helping rake them up and put them in the compost pile where they belong.

Asking the right question can lead to the best answers, in your alternative legal career search and your life.

It’s not that I have anything against resolving to find a new career that makes you happy; far from it. (I kind of have a WHOLE FREAKING BLOG and coaching practice about that.)

But too often, New Year’s resolutions focus you on the wrong thing, on only the goal. So yes, you might use all that fresh-start energy of the new year to find a new job. But if you haven’t figured out the reasons behind where you are now, and more importantly what your purpose in life is, the chances are good you’ll find yourself a lipstick-on-a-pig new job. I would hate that for you.

So instead of a grand list of New Year’s resolutions that are almost guaranteed to make you feel like a failure by Feb. 14 (when most resolutions have become history), I would suggest something different. Something that can focus your attention where it will cause wonderful, sustainable, long-term change. The kind of change that makes your life more fulfilled and happy. Instead of a resolution, spend your year answering a deep question.

I found my question this year when a client sent me a fantastic quote from Pulitzer-winning poet Mary Oliver (thank you!):

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

This question resonates deeply for me. It reminds me that when we get in touch with our wild sides, the sides we want to organize and plan away, we get in touch with our power. And that power will lead us where we need to go, if we just let it.

Plus, there’s the reminder that each life is precious, unique and sacred. And that we need to take action, to do something, rather than sit and ruminate about life’s mysteries or inequities.

So rather than spending time making a long list of your faults you think need remedying, spend time instead on creating or finding your own question. Let it be deep, probing, and without an easy or known answer.

Using Your Question

Your question should remind you of what’s important to your life, and remind you of your purpose. Poetry is always a good place for questions. I like sites like Brainy Quote for online quote searching. You could meditate on the essence of something important to you, like “purpose of creativity,” “path to happiness,” “wisdom” or something similar. Or use a search engine. Inspiration has come from stranger places.

When you discover your question, post it in a couple places. I’d suggest places where you tend to feel stressed and overwhelmed (your desk, your screensaver, the bathroom mirror), and also where you spend time recharging.

In times of stress, focus on your question, and try to connect to its wisdom to lead you through turbulence. Make time at least weekly to reflect on your question, and how you can better incorporate its teaching into your life in ways small and large. Indeed, the more “small” ways you can find, the better. Looking for “big” ways to change your life too often triggers that inner perfectionist most lawyers harbor.

You might even spend time regularly journaling, drawing, or walking and contemplating your question.

I’d love to know what questions surface. If you’re feeling brave, post them in the comments, or email me.

Here’s to a year filled with surprising and enlightening answers.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who helps unhappy attorneys find their questions, and answers, to create a better career and life. She offers discounted sample career coaching sessions so you can find out how coaching can help you. Email to schedule your life-altering appointment today!


  1. I decided to focus on one word this year: “listen.” Instead of resolving to set goals and then create next to impossible to-do lists to reach them, I’m going to spend some time listening. I read a great suggestion for reminding yourself of your word of the year: put it on a key that you use every day. I’m going to help myself to open doors by listening this year!

    1. Great idea, Jen! I almost wrote about picking a word, as well. I love the idea of attaching the word to a key–so symbolic!

  2. Excellent post – thank you! And to tailspin off of Jenesq, I too have a particular word I’m sticking to – ‘Present.’ Being present in my current reality surprisingly helps me out of many a bad spot. But with any of this type of work, weather it be goal setting or reshaping focus, there is a great benefit in letting go of outcome.
    Recovering Type A Richard Whiteley says: “Detaching from outcomes . . . can be an extraordinarily powerful way to get back home to that zone of almost unconscious high performance and peace. However, of the three roads I recommend –– centering, be present, detach from outcomes –– this one is the most difficult to achieve. It requires that we step back from what we desire most –– results.”
    Best wishes to all who embrace this journey. Thank you again for the post.

    1. Detaching from outcomes is extraordinarily difficult in our culture. We adore linearity, cause/effect, and all that. Congrats to you on pursuing it.

      I do find it easier to be detached about outcome when I’m inherently enjoying whatever I’m doing. It can be a wake-up call that I’m doing too much of other people’s agendas if detachment becomes noticeably more difficult for several days.

      1. Absolutely true! We can acknowledge where we’ve been in our culture, and then set our intentions towards a better future for ourselves. This is exactly the type of conversation we’re having over at Type A+ ( Feel free to join the conversation and our community ~ I feel like you’d be a natural addition!
        Thank you again for the post, and thank you for taking the time to make bold moves to better your life!

        -Rachel @ Type A+

        PS – and following passion is where its at, but I will be taking time to notice for myself if I feel like I’m attending to other people’s agendas, thus making me frustrated. Great insight!

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