December is a hard slog even for round pegs job-seekers who are looking for a round-peg jobs. It’s an exponentially harder time for those who want to make a dramatic change. Like, all you unhappy lawyers who want to get out of law and do something that makes your soul sing.
Society, whether it’s media, parents, friends, spouses, colleagues, or your cat, puts enormous pressure on job-seekers to look productive. How many resumes have you sent out? How many interviews have you gotten? How many recruiters have you contacted? Have you let all your friends know you’re looking? How is your LinkedIn profile? Are you sure you’re looking at all the right websites for job postings?
The truth is, you can answer all of these questions perfectly, and still not get a job. Or, not find one that you really, actually want. To get that kind of job, you might just have to wait it out.
That is not the kind of truth that you or anyone around you wants to hear. Our culture worships at the altar of certainty. The idea that you are not the captain of your destiny, and that you can’t steer inexorably toward that destiny in a lovely linear line, makes more than a few heads explode in impatience. Sadly, these explosions don’t alter the truth.
I Don’t Want To Wait!
The path to a fulfilling job for lawyers who want to become ex-lawyers usually requires a series of steps, and many of those steps are jobs that are not your dream job. But they are necessary jobs because they get you experience, skills, knowledge or contacts you need for your journey. And the good news is, they are usually far more palatable than practicing law!
And you often can’t force those opportunities to appear. You may have to wait on the Universe for the right “chance” meeting, seeing a job posting in a certain frame of mind, or making some unexpected connection in your head that opens up an epiphany. (This isn’t to say that you can’t help things along by doing some intrepid exploring of what you like.)
I’m reminded of the difficulty of waiting because it is now Advent. Advent is a season of waiting and preparing for the coming of the Messiah. Most people who celebrate Christmas don’t even notice Advent. (Except maybe the Advent calendar part. Chocolate, YUM!) I suspect that is because it’s all about waiting and anticipating, things our instant-gratification culture sucks at.
We don’t like to wait for things to appear; instead we have 3-step plans that will get us to our goals almost instantly. We have no tolerance for the idea that we might have to just see how things turn out. We put our faith in certainty and predictable outcomes.
The sad thing is that by opting for certainty, we shun magic in our lives. If we see no immediate payoff, no concrete result, we won’t make time for it.
This is true not only in the general life context, but also in the job search context. We usually don’t see a payoff from things like hobbies, phone calls to friends, trying something new just because it looks interesting, or an afternoon indulging in some guilty pleasure like putting up Christmas decorations.
A single-minded focus only on a job search may, in fact, shut out important growth and later opportunities. I have personal experience with this dynamic. I tell this story to clients a lot.
Life Outside the Rut of Certainty
Before I got my first post-law job, as a reporter and legal editor, I got very fascinated by tassels. The big, fussy, European-style tassels, that are little works of art. I signed up for a class that was an hour and a half away, because I wanted to learn how to make the cords, and the elaborate “skirts” with multiple colors and layers. Because, yanno, this would advance my job search and all!
One of the women in the class was really interesting, I thought. We chatted, as you do during classes. Turned out she worked in the writing biz, but at a financial services company. Not exactly my area of expertise, let alone interest. I didn’t see much point in exchanging business cards, particularly since she worked in a different city. But it was fun talking, and the class was fabulous.
Fast-forward to a year or so later. I had landed my first non-law job, at a legal publisher. As you might imagine, the pay wasn’t fabulous, and my boss, a lawyer, was turning out to be a cesspool of problems. So I was going to networking events. At one of these events, I spied a vendor table for a writing and editing company, and naturally buzzed over to check it out. Who was there but the interesting woman from the tassel class!
She didn’t have any jobs, but she had something nearly as good: freelance work. I did a number of assignments for her company, and made a tidy little bit of extra cash, over the next couple years. Oh, and we are still friends to this day.
I will be the first to admit that following your passions and interests don’t always lead to amazing connections, coincidences or cash—but often, that is exactly what happens. I view it as giving the Universe more material and opportunities to work some seeming magic in our lives. If you stay really firmly in your narrow rut of to-do lists, it is just harder for those coincidences—which aren’t really coincidences at all—to happen.
Tiny Slivers of Joy
If you are looking for a job right now, and things aren’t going the way you want, can I suggest you reassess your focus? Maybe it’s time to let yourself do something that brings you joy, even in a tiny amount. Take a quick walk to appreciate the seasonal decorations. Take a longer route home and see the cool displays in a different neighborhood. Light some candles and put on some great music that makes you smile. Make a decadent dessert. Whatever brings you joy, or even a feeling of guilty pleasure, find a way to get it in daily.
A 10 minute sliver of joy daily sure feels better at the end of 2 weeks than 2 weeks without that 140 minutes of joy. And truly, who would your friends and family rather have around, the joyful or nonjoyful version of you?
If that seems too indulgent, how about doing something for someone else who is in desperate straits? A sick neighbor or friend could probably use a meal or someone to clean a bathroom. Food banks and other charitable organizations usually need help gathering, sorting and delivering assistance this time of year. Find someone or some cause that tugs at your heart, and give them some of your time.
You can choose anything that gets you out of your narrow world, and into a larger space, mentally and emotionally. Choosing something creative, even if you (think you) suck at creative things, will help your brain rejuvenate and make unexpected, life-changing connections.
What have you got to lose—depression and despair?
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who has found most of her new jobs outside law in the spring. She has of necessity developed a LOT of coping strategies for the depths of winter during a job search. If you are an unhappy lawyer who wants to break free of your law firm job, email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org for a discounted sample coaching session.