The hardest part of a life change for lawyers, whether it’s your career or other important parts of your life, usually is the waiting. In our go-go, get-it-done-NOW culture, waiting is seen as weak, passive, and therefore completely unacceptable.
Unfortunately, it’s also very necessary for any big change to occur. Miserable lawyers, especially, hate this fact. They fight, they rail, they apply to any job that looks like it will propel them out of their current misery into something new and at least different.
Adjusting to the new is at least something to do. It serves as a fine distraction indeed from facing the harder questions of any real job or life change: What do I really, truly, want?
Note that the question is not, “What do I want that allows me to maintain my career status and income and doesn’t make me miserable?” I get that question a lot; it’s usually from folks who want a menu of 5 things they can do with their law degree that aren’t practicing law. People who can answer that question for you abound, and if you’re not willing to put your heart and your true self into career change, I suggest you contact one of them. Everyone will be happier, at least in the short run.
But if you’re at the point where you’ve tried changing law firms, or even given up law firms for safe alternatives like government or in-house, and still you can barely get yourself into the office, maybe it’s time to just sit with yourself for a while, and listen to that inner wisdom you’ve been ignoring for years now.
Watering Your Inner Wisdom
This is where the waiting can come in. Trying to even hear that voice takes practice. It’s still there, despite all the ignoring and shunning you’ve heaped upon it. To hear your inner wisdom, you must now cultivate it, just like you would a seed. It needs the right amount of watering and sunshine to grow stronger.
I know, this is getting all philosophical and you have no idea what you should actually be doing to help attune yourself to your inner wisdom. So here’s a solid, concrete direction: Go do something that defines fun for you. And do it alone. And by “do,” I mean something that requires some kind of movement, even if it’s just standing and looking at something that pleases your eye. But not a screen of any sort. (In other words, a Netflix marathon of Breaking Bad doesn’t count. Sorry!)
Then, in what sounds completely counterintuitive, pay exquisite attention to what your senses, not the chatty part of your brain, are experiencing. Really notice what you are seeing, hearing, touching, feeling, tasting, smelling. Don’t analyze it (for God’s sake, don’t analyze anything right now!), just take in the experience.
You can apply very, very simple labels to your feelings, if you must. “I feel happy. I feel sad. I feel like giggling. I feel warm. I feel like crying.” And so on. There is no wondering why you feel a certain way, or even more importantly, telling yourself you can’t or mustn’t feel that way.
One caution: Don’t pick things solely because you think they could eventually lead to a career change. This exercise is simply about reconnecting with your inner joy and delight. It’s not at all about doing something well. It’s about experiencing what pleases you. Nothing more, nothing less.
And that is really it. Doing stuff that delights some part of you, over and over again, is how you give your inner wisdom the water and sunshine it needs to grow and eventually, speak loudly. Do something fun for at least an hour every week, and I promise that inner wisdom will come out to riot with the spring flowers that we know are coming, even if we are all convinced 2014 is the Winter Without End.
The longer you wait to start this process, the longer it will be until you’re finally, finally on the path to where you really long to go. What have you got to lose, except one lousy billable hour?
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who delights in haunting junktique stores and painting pottery. She helps unhappy attorneys reconnect with what they actually love. If you’d like to feel what that’s like, contact Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org for a discounted sample coaching session.