I suspect that many unhappy lawyers walk around with the unexamined belief that they will know what their calling in life is when they get hit by a bolt from above. Sometimes, this even happens: a traumatic event triggers some big realizations; a therapy session cracks open some baffling behavior pattern; maybe even a career coaching session leads to a big Eureka!! moment.

A few of us get callings this clear and obvious. The rest of us have to work a little harder to discern it.
A few of us get callings this clear and obvious. The rest of us have to work a little harder to discern it.

More often, callings don’t emerge with trumpets and fanfare. They fall into the still, quiet voice category. They are always with us, but we have to be willing to hear what they have to say.

Usually, we don’t listen, at least not for a good long time. Listening to a calling often means upending a lot in our lives that doesn’t seem so bad: that job with the steady income; parental, spousal or peer approval; following the smart, safe, low-risk course.

The trouble is, when you ignore your calling, you ignore the core of who you are, and what you are meant to do.

When you ignore your essence, you open the door to depression. When you ignore your gifts, anger
at life takes root. When you ignore that thing that fires you up and makes you feel alive, you start to die inside.

Many lawyers are, basically, dead people walking.

Why Don’t I Know My Calling By Now?

As someone who works with miserable attorneys, and as someone who ignored her own calling for a good long while, I can tell you that not following that call exacts a steep price indeed. Physical ailments, chronic illnesses, mental anguish, addictions, and dreading of every work day are only some of the consequences I’ve seen or personally experienced.

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “What the hell IS my calling? I have no idea. I don’t think I have one.” Trust me, you’ve got one. But there are many reasons you may not know:

  • You believed your calling must also be your main income producer, and what you really liked to do didn’t fit in that category, so you ignored it as immature, wishful thinking;
  • You regarded your calling as something frivolous, or at best non-essential, and maybe you’ll get to it when you have time. Except that there is never enough time;
  • You were convinced by parents, teacher, or peers that what you truly wanted to do wasn’t worthwhile, or that it couldn’t get you into college, or that it couldn’t be a job, so why bother?
  • Your calling didn’t come with a nice, step-by-step roadmap and to-do list. It felt far to risky to consider for more than a nanosecond.

Looking Your Addiction to Busy Straight in the Eye

So how on earth do you even find that still, quiet voice, let alone listen to it? It’s pretty straightforward: You get quiet, and listen to your thoughts and desires without judging them.

This sounds deceptively simple. It is simple, but it’s not easy.

Probably the hardest part to overcome is your addiction to being busy. Many lawyers have embraced the stressed out, overworked lifestyle like a savior. And it does save them—from hearing what their true self has to say. From taking a long, uncomfortable look at the fact that their current life is not at all what they dreamed of.

If you stay busy, you can avoid some incredibly hard truths:

  • I don’t like this one bit, and I don’t know what to do about it.
  • I feel helpless, lost, and alone in this.
  • I don’t know where to find a compass and a map to get me out of here.

Many unhappy lawyers get close to this truth, but when they get a good, strong whiff of it, they high-tail it back to the land of overwork and burn out. That, at least, they know how to deal with. It’s the classic devil-you-know move.

And it’s a culturally sanctioned belief, followed with a religious fervor: If you’re busy, you’re important, and ergo worthwhile. The crazy-busy lifestyle helps lawyers (and others) hide from the truth they don’t want to confront: They don’t feel worthwhile. They hate feeling uncertain and vulnerable.

Don’t Just Do Something—Sit There!

Instead of checking one more item off your perpetual to-do list, I urge you to be brave, and simply listen to your own needs, wants, and desires. Not your job’s, your family’s, or your peers’ needs. You can work on accommodating those later. First, you must hear your own voice.

At first, your calling most likely is going to be faint: Maybe all you know is that you want to do more with animals, or you want to write something, or you want to interact more with people than with computers. Those are all good starts, but they really aren’t your calling in full bloom. They are a hint of which way to head.

To get your calling to blossom into its full glory, you need to spend time with. Treat it as an interesting new friend whom you like a lot, even though you haven’t known each other very long. Get curious about what else might be part of this calling.

Sadly, your calling isn’t going to call out in a clarion voice, “Hey, you need to take some dog obedience classes, so you can meet this certain person who is going to hand you a really important idea or insight about what you can do with animals for the long-term.” But that is usually how callings work: bit by bit, chance by chance, half-revealed, giving you what you need exactly when you need it, which is not necessarily when you want it.

Callings operate on the Universe’s time. They pretty much snicker at our 5-year plans and our detailed goals lists. This drives attorneys berserk, for the most part.

This isn’t to say that you can’t create some momentum. You absolutely can.

When you pay attention to a calling, start listening, and take some small steps to cultivate it, callings usually respond with gusto. As Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.”

Your calling’s response can be a deepening desire to do that thing you finally let yourself try. It can be a widening of things you find interesting and sustaining. It can be that chance meeting, or that amazing job listing that suddenly appears. It will feel like a path is opening up. Sometimes, it won’t make logical sense.

That is why the path of your calling usually feels risky, particularly if you’ve been living and working far away from your calling. For lawyers, who adore plans and certainty, staring down that riskiness and acting anyway feels utterly foolhardy.

But you’re taking a huge risk by not following your calling. You are risking that you will survive, physically and mentally, in good enough shape to one day be able to follow your heart’s desires. Considering the high rates of depression, addiction, suicide, and chronic illness among lawyers, that’s a pretty damned risky path, too.

Which risk will bring you bliss?

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who ignored her callings—to write and help people get unstuck—for at least a decade after starting law school. If you need some help with finding your calling, email her at jalvey@jenniferalvey.com to schedule a sample coaching session.