Top 3 Limiting Beliefs Most Lawyers Cling To—Do You?

People often mistake their thoughts and beliefs as actual truths. Yet it’s often not so. For example, we all believe that murder is bad, that we shouldn’t commit murder, and that anyone who commits murder should be punished.

Oh, except if it’s self-defense. Or it’s a soldier killing an enemy. Or it was an unforeseeable accident. Or if a helpless victim kills her tormentor after years of abuse, or . . .

You get the point. Our beliefs are not necessarily the gospel from on high, let alone the entire truth. Yet to hear many lawyers, you might think that these 3 beliefs are, indeed, handed down from above.

1. Work Isn’t Supposed To Be Fun, That’s Why They Call It Work

When you really break down this belief, you find that its roots are both from medieval society, and from America in the 1950s. No, really. 

In medieval times, most people were serfs/peasants/not royalty or landed gentry. To get by, emotionally and mentally, it helped if you did not have big dreams and aspirations above your station. The likelihood that you would be able to rise above your birth status was almost nil, so why encourage your children to dream about that? It would have been cruel.

Once democracy started dethroning royal regimes, it was more reasonable to aspire to something better. Maybe even something you enjoyed and could make some money doing.

People, especially unenslaved white men, were no longer tied to the land as their sole means of income. People moved around, seeking freedom and money. But then, this little trend called the Industrial Revolution happened. And it started dominating the modern economy, so that by the 1950s, manufacturing was the economic engine of America.

As Dan Pink points out in his brilliant book, A Whole New Mind, a manufacturing economy requires a huge amount of compliant behavior, and highly repetitive, perfect work. The number of people who enjoy that kind of work environment is pretty small, compared to the total workforce. 

By conditioning workers to believe that work isn’t supposed to be fun, employers convinced rebellious and unhappy workers that their expectations of work bliss were the problem: Work isn’t supposed to be fun!

neon light signage on wall
Photo by Christopher Farrugia on


The thing is, we haven’t lived in a manufacturing-dominated economy since the 1970s. We now live in an innovation economy. That means that the people who will make the best living are the ones who don’t follow the rules slavishly, and who tailor their lives to cultivate their creativity, i.e., problem-solving.

Newsflash: Having fun is one of the chief ways to foster creativity. With such rapid change in the business world, every company needs creativity. Ergo, work actually should be fun regularly.

2. No One Will Pay Me for Doing What I Love

There is a grain of truth in this. Because the truth is, no one will pay you for doing every single thing you love. For example, I post all kinds of snarky cat and grammar memes on my personal Facebook page. I love doing that! But sadly, no one has leaped forward with fistfuls of cash to ensure I continue doing it. I’m OK with that.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get paid for something you love to do. Plenty of people have:

  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Bill Gates & Steve Jobs
  • J.S. Bach
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Marie Curie
  • Usain Bolt
  • Oksana Baiul

Plus, there are all the people in the world who like their jobs and would never pick a different one, but whose lives don’t make the headlines.

The Japanese have a fascinating concept to help discern what our ideal work is: Ichigai. It’s much easier to comprehend in a diagram:

ichigai venn diagram

Some cautions: Many lawyers get tripped up on the getting-paid part of the diagram. That’s because they are most familiar with fairly traditional, predictable ways of getting paid. Folks, it is not 1999. Entrepreneurship is having a heyday.

Before you decide you can’t possibly be paid for what you love to do, read at least 25 stories of unlikely startups that are making money. For example, pet cafes. Or take a look at the Experiences offered on AirBnb.

N.B.!! If you have long-term trauma in your past, or have worked in a toxic law firm environment for several years—realize that there may be unseen barriers for you. I strongly urge you to talk to someone who specializes in trauma recovery as you consider your future plans. After all, life throws enough barriers up, and you don’t want to be your own biggest barrier, through no fault of your own.

3. I Have No Marketable Skills Aside from Practicing Law

This particular belief can drive me to drink! I know it’s rooted in depression and anxiety, but still. 

Let’s review:

  • You achieved academically for your entire academic career through college.
  • You’ve probably had some jobs or volunteer experience along the way, in which you learned more things.
  • You made it through not only 3 years of law school, you probably passed the bar as well.
  • If you are working in law (or have), you have incredible survival skills.

And you want to tell people you don’t know how to do anything that isn’t law? Seriously??

man wearing red leather jacket
Photo by Ricardo Augusto on


Off the top of my head, here are some things I’m pretty sure you know how to do (and I do not even know you):

  • Think critically. We need only take a look at the news to see that this quality is sorely lacking in the world, in businesses, medical decisions, politics, and on and on.
  • Problem spotting. You know enough about how the world works, especially the legal and government structures, to have a Spidey sense about a looming issue.
  • Research your bum off. Like, digging through 30 or 40 of the top search hits, not just the top 10 (and going down many rabbit holes).
  • Evaluate the credibility of research findings, of sources, of people’s testimony or statements.
  • Sort through a huge amount of information quickly, to find the important facts/documents/statements/theories.
  • Assign value to factors in a decision. In other words, you can bottom-line with the best of them.
  • See the forest and the trees, depending upon what the circumstances call for.
  • Solve complex problems. Because seriously, lawyers rarely get hired for the things that are easy to fix.

A fabulous place to dig around for skills and talents you already have, but don’t know you have, is a Department of Labor site call O*Net. Look in the Find Occupations area, for example, at the Lawyer information and data. See how non-lawyers view what we do. This site is a freaking gold mine of information on all kinds of jobs, despite its 2007 appearance. Wander around it, and get informed and inspired.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who believes in coffee, chocolate, and Kentucky bourbon. When she isn’t pursuing her unpaid passions for gardening or making things, she helps unhappy attorneys get their groove back. To set up a sample coaching session with Jennifer, contact her at 

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