It’s the End of Your Career World As You Know It—But You’ll Be Fine

What era are you living in? Or maybe I should ask, what decade? I’m willing to bet it’s not post-2010. At least, not entirely, and probably not even mostly. Because most of us live with a whole constellation of beliefs and skills that would work fantastically well if only it were about 15 or 25 years ago. Attorneys are some of the worst offenders of living in the past, and it usually leads to a raft of unhappiness.

five inch floppy disks

Some of your beliefs about work and life are about as useful as these. Bonus points if you have actually used these in a work setting!

I’m not saying we should wholesale reject the past. But we need to scrutinize what we’re clinging to and figure out whether it’s just habit, instead of value, that makes us leech onto what we always used to do and think.

Let’s take a really mundane example: playdates. Yeah, I know, lots to do with law practice and alternative legal careers, but bear with me. For the longest time when I was a new mom, I railed against playdates. Manufactured friends, I sniffed. More for moms than their progeny. All of which have some truth, but the other truth I didn’t see was that we don’t have neighborhoods filled with stay-at-home parents who can keep an eye on our little ones as they roam around feeling unsupervised. Unlike, say, in, my little Kentucky town in the early 1970s. So now I call other moms and yes, make playdates for my son.

We’re Beautifully Equipped—For a 1980’s Career

I bring this up because I ran across a quote from Eric Hoffer that really resonated:

In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. 

This, to me, is what keeps attorneys stuck in miserable careers. We spend decades in school, learning lessons from people who are themselves are living in a prior decade or era. Those lessons sound like, “Never give up. Don’t be a quitter.” This notion certainly has its use, but is it really the kind of advice you should apply to a dysfunctional relationship? a dysfunctional profession and career?

Another one of my favorites is: Work comes first. You must work first before you can play. If we lived in a world where work had actual limits, and where it didn’t bleed into every nook and crevice of our lives, this would be OK advice. Because of course the rent or mortgage needs paid and we need groceries on the table.

But work, for lawyers and most Americans who aren’t hourly employees, has become this poisonous blob that takes over any empty space in our lives. That not only isn’t healthy, it’s killing us.

I was struck by an article in the Wall St. Journal last week that talked about how single people, including attorneys, are jumping off the fast track so they could have time to do things like grocery shop, do their laundry, work out more than once a week, and maybe pursue a hobby. Possibly even take a vacation. Of course, the WSJ doesn’t actually question the culture that produces such a ridiculous, soul- and body-killing work ethic. Its editors live in the past where hard work for 40 hours a week did produce success and career happiness, and ignore the fact that for most attorneys work hasn’t been 40 hours a week since, oh, the 1980’s or so.

Identifying Toxic, Dusty Beliefs

For attorneys, one of the most toxic beliefs from the past is that you must know exactly where each job will lead, and that there is an identifiable, predictable path to career success and happiness. For relatively few people, the associate-to-partner track works beautifully. For most attorneys, it sucks. I talk to plenty of seasoned partners who are miserable, and plenty of young associates who desperately want something different. The time we live in now favors adaptability to change, and demands a creative response to new situations. Applying the same old solutions simply doesn’t work. Hence, attorney frustration and misery.

What dusty beliefs from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s are you carting around, which no longer serve you? And remember, just because you weren’t alive in the 50’s or 60’s or 70‘s doesn’t mean that you aren’t carrying those beliefs with you. Your teachers, parents and a fair number of your colleagues were alive then, and they passed those beliefs right into your unsuspecting head.

So in the coming week, declutter your head. Get rid of beliefs that don’t match current reality and that keep you stuck. Be brave, be bold, be ruthless in your decluttering. You’ll move into your right career and life so much faster that way.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who remember the 80’s fondly, but tries not to live there. She helps unhappy attorneys who are clinging to outdated beliefs to update and declutter their heads, so they can find their happy career and life paths. If that sounds intriguing, schedule a discounted sample session today. Email Jennifer at to get going.

6 thoughts on “It’s the End of Your Career World As You Know It—But You’ll Be Fine

  1. I loved this post. Luckily, I think I’m out of the brainwash mode that institutionalized schooling will inflict on you, but here are my favorites that I roll my eyes about every time I hear them, which is often:

    1. You should wait until you get 5 years’ experience at a big firm before you go in-house
    2. Don’t leave the firm for another firm. You’ll lose the goodwill you’ve established and that makes it not worth it, as all firms are the same.
    3. If you get fired, you’re unemployable (doesn’t everyone get fired nowadays?)
    4. You should settle for a job you find boring as long as it pays well.

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  3. Work ethic is not up to us. It is up to the people paying the bills. If they want to break your back, you let them. THAT is a belief that will never be antiquated or outmoded.

  4. That’s certainly the dominant view. But to believe it, you of necessity believe that money can only come from those who are abusive, no? It’s an easy trap to fall into in law, because law culture is strikingly uniform in this regard (the tendency toward abusiveness). But once you get outside of law culture, you can find work environments that are accepting of needs other than the almighty billable hour, and dollar, as the only part of the puzzle that matters. There are actually companies, and I’ve worked for them, that value collaboration, creativity, and the needs of employees outside of work. Those companies realize that draining employees mean they cannot meet their overall economic goals, because their employees become less capable when they are exhausted and constantly stressed.

    Are these companies the majority? No. But they’re not unheard of, either.

    And if working for a company doesn’t work, there really is setting up your own gig. Lawyers have become consultants for a long time. The trick is finding an overlap between things you like doing, and one of those things having value for someone else. The $100 Startup, by Chris Guillebeau, talks about this. I recommend it.

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