How Do I Even Start? A Power Tool for Unhappy Lawyers

Lots of you have hit that part of the year when you know, deep in your soul, that you do not want to be a lawyer any longer. And maybe, you’ve realized that you should never have started down the law path. But law is pretty much all you know; you’re floundering in the uncertainty of what you want to do instead.

Many of my clients are in this boat when they contact me. I encourage them to explore past interests, especially those from their younger years, regardless of whether those interests seem to have career potential. Knowing yourself, and listening to your likes and dislikes, is key to figuring out a happy, fulfilling future.

Fog on the AlpsBut some clients, like many of you, don’t have any hobbies, outside interests, or even a faint inkling of what else they would rather be doing with their time. They can be so burned out that their highest and strongest desire is to sleep for a week, go on a massive Netflix binge, or take a vacation to somewhere that utterly lacks an internet connection. I get that, because I’ve been there, too.

But once you’re tanked up on sleep and stopped your incessant thinking about work, numbing out isn’t really helpful. You need to head toward something, somehow.

A Really Powerful Tool: Strengths

One tool I love using with clients is the VIA Survey of Character Strengths and Values. It is a nifty, free questionnaire that has been scientifically validated. It measures character traits that

are universal across all aspects of life: work, school, family, friends, and community. The 24 strengths fall under six broad virtues (wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence) and encompass our capacities for helping ourselves and others.

The survey takes about 20 minutes to complete, and gives you your very own, individual ranking of the 24 strengths. Most of the time, clients look at their list and tell me, “Yes, that is totally me.”

Sometimes, clients see themselves in a whole new light.  One client, who had worked in a big law firm and then in an attorney general’s office, found that “creativity” was one of his top, or signature, strengths. At first, he thought, “but I’m not artistic!” When he read the description of creativity, though, his world changed Continue reading

What Wannabe Lawyer-Writers Can Learn From My 10 Year-old

So my 10 year-old son is writing a novel. Naturally, I’m thrilled.

He is so excited about this novel. Gleeful that he gets to work on Mom’s computer with the cool fonts. Over the moon as he completes a chapter or a page, which so far have worked out to about the same thing. He started out by writing in a notebook, and then, as he transferred that to the screen, got even more ideas for chapter 1, which he was psyched about. Also, since he learned long ago that Mom is The Walking Dictionary, he is letting me into this process by shouting out random spelling questions. (My suggestion that he keep a paper dictionary next to him as he wrote was flatly rejected. Sigh.)

Seriously, I gotta know about capitals and spelling before I can tell a story? You people are nuts!

Seriously, I gotta know about capitals and spelling before I can tell a story? You people are nuts!

I am so ecstatic at his joy in this process, and feeling just a little pride in how I’m nurturing this along. When he asks me what I think of a sentence or paragraph, I find something about it I genuinely like. As long as I don’t compare his work to an adult or teen’s work, this is pretty easy.

Here’s what I am not doing: Criticizing these efforts in any way. And yeah, I know there are tons of you whose instant response is: “But he’s going to think he’s a great writer when he’s not.”

And my response is, “So the hell what? He’s 10, he’s just starting out, and he needs to be excited about the things he does right. If he’s confident now, and praised for stuff he does that’s genuinely good, he won’t quit when the expectations increase. Because he’ll have felt joy in the process to keep him going.”

This is actually a good tip for any Continue reading

Walking Into a Better Law Life

I really hate how much a 25-minute walk in the morning turns my mood around. There, I said it! As a coach, I’m all about tools to improve your life and get you moving forward toward your dreams. I feel like I should be enthusiastic and positive about the ones I know that work, like exercise,

professional woman walking on city street

I’ll bet she sees something more interesting than whatever is on your screen at the moment! Though I might suggest taking the sidewalk instead of the middle of the street.

I’m just not that into walking. The movement itself does not thrill me. Unlike my new love, tai chi, which is graceful and flowing; I just adore it. Or like some of my old loves, horseback riding and dancing. All about flow and grace and harmony, some of my most favorite things.

But this morning, it was finally sunny and heading toward warm for the first time in a while, my mood was crashing, and I knew I needed to rebalance those pesky perimenopause hormones by moving. So I did. I went for a walk.

I am very fortunate that my street is pretty interesting for me. I love gardening, and there are lots of nice gardens along the way to admire and inspire. Plus the singer in me loves hearing the birds chirping like mad to catch up on their chatter lost to nasty weather lately. It is a feast for some of my senses, and I do try to really observe, notice and appreciate what’s around me. In other words, I am present as I walk.

Which brings me to the actual point: Be present in your life, even during stuff you don’t love. And find ways to embrace the good things in your life.

Shift Into the Present and Out of Worry

The more ways you find to be present in your life as it happens, the less time you spend on energy-sucking things like worry. You also make your life richer, by being in the moment and adding to your experience library.

I usually see the opposite of being in the moment at health clubs: People are plugged into TVs, music, or audio books so they can avoid the feeling of being in their body, and also to avoid contact with those around them.

If your workout is so unpleasant that you need to numb out to get through it, maybe it’s time to choose something you inherently like the feel of.

Fight Perfectionism With Your Body

Especially for lawyers, many of us love, love, love to be in our heads and not so much in our bodies. Maybe we were the klutzy kids in school. Maybe we haven’t found the form of movement that brings us actual pleasure. Maybe a lot of pounding physical movement is simply too much stimulation for most introverts. Whatever the reason, many lawyers tend to avoid the physical. Exercise is usually one of the first things to go when the work demands really ratchet up.

Lawyers also tend to bring their perfectionistic tendencies into their views on exercise. Shocking, right? If they can’t do a full hour of a complete and demanding workout, they won’t do one at all. This is one of they myriad ways that lawyers are brittle and not resilient. The all-or-nothing attitude leads to important but not urgent stuff simply not getting done. You don’t make progress toward your dreams, because you can’t have the whole enchilada right off the bat, instead of getting started with the tortilla chips and salsa.

Might I suggest a short walk, without a phone or other distractions? Look for at least 5 things that interest your eyes, catch your ears, or offer an interesting texture (and touch them if possible). Pay attention to anything that delights your soul, even if it’s no more than a violet. Practice being present in your own life. Just ten minutes a day can really make a difference. And yes, you can actually spare ten minutes. Whatever grind-away time you lose, you’ll make up for in increased efficiency. I promise.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who helps unhappy lawyers find joy in their present, whatever its challenges. And, she coaches them on how to increase that joy in their life and work. Contact her at for a discounted sample session to see what that’s like.

Surviving the Worst Job Ever

As a society, and especially as lawyers, we have trained ourselves to panic and fight when “the worst” happens. If you’re reading this blog, that worst may be that law job you have right now, the law job that is killing your soul hour by hour. You’re desperate and hyperventilating that you may never get out. I get that, seeing as I was there a dozen years ago.

"Barn's burnt down, now I can see the moon."--Masahide, 17th century Japanese poet

We don’t think that fighting a nasty job situation is panicking, but at base that’s what declaring an event or situation “bad” is about. It’s a kind of black-and-white thinking that limits our resiliency, and hampers our creativity in responding to life’s ups and downs.

I’ve been reflecting on how we react when “the worst” happens in our lives. There are lots of “worsts” in modern life: identity theft, bankruptcy, divorce, death, having to clean up someone’s poop, losing your job, illness, abandonment. Sometimes, it’s even stuff like coming home at 11 p.m. from a day of being chewed out, and having to clean up really mucky, nasty trash that your neighbor’s dog strewed across your yard.

A lot of times, our first instinct is to throw ourselves a huge, whopping pity party: Why can’t anything ever go right? Could this happen at a worse time? Why me?

Yes, it does absolutely, totally suck to get kicked in the teeth. It hurts. It makes you vulnerable. I’m not suggesting you should pretend otherwise.

But those Why Me? questions–They’re a form of Continue reading

Questioning Your New Year’s Career Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are the fall leaves of career coaching: You know they’re coming, and you sigh because you know you will shortly be helping rake them up and put them in the compost pile where they belong.

Asking the right question can lead to the best answers, in your alternative legal career search and your life.

It’s not that I have anything against resolving to find a new career that makes you happy; far from it. (I kind of have a WHOLE FREAKING BLOG and coaching practice about that.)

But too often, New Year’s resolutions focus you on the wrong thing, on only the goal. So yes, you might use all that fresh-start energy of the new year to find a new job. But if you haven’t figured out the reasons behind where you are now, and more importantly what your purpose in life is, the chances are good you’ll find yourself a lipstick-on-a-pig new job. I would hate that for you.

So instead of a grand list of New Year’s resolutions that are almost guaranteed to make you feel like a failure by Feb. 14 (when most resolutions have become history), I would suggest something different. Something that can focus your attention where it will cause wonderful, sustainable, long-term change. The kind of change that makes your life more fulfilled and happy. Instead of a resolution, spend your year answering a deep question.

I found my question this year when a client sent me a fantastic quote from Pulitzer-winning poet Mary Oliver (thank you!):

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

This question resonates deeply for me. It reminds me that when we get in touch with our wild sides, the sides we want to organize and plan away, we get in touch with our power. And that power will lead us where we need to go, if we just let it.

Plus, there’s the reminder that each life is precious, unique and sacred. And that we need to take action, to do something, rather than sit and ruminate about life’s mysteries or inequities.

So rather than spending time making a long list of your faults you think need remedying, spend time instead on creating or finding your own question. Let it be deep, probing, and without an easy or known answer.

Using Your Question

Your question should remind you of what’s important to your life, and remind you of your purpose. Poetry is always a good place for questions. I like sites like Brainy Quote for online quote searching. You could meditate on the essence of something important to you, like “purpose of creativity,” “path to happiness,” “wisdom” or something similar. Or use a search engine. Inspiration has come from stranger places.

When you discover your question, post it in a couple places. I’d suggest places where you tend to feel stressed and overwhelmed (your desk, your screensaver, the bathroom mirror), and also where you spend time recharging.

In times of stress, focus on your question, and try to connect to its wisdom to lead you through turbulence. Make time at least weekly to reflect on your question, and how you can better incorporate its teaching into your life in ways small and large. Indeed, the more “small” ways you can find, the better. Looking for “big” ways to change your life too often triggers that inner perfectionist most lawyers harbor.

You might even spend time regularly journaling, drawing, or walking and contemplating your question.

I’d love to know what questions surface. If you’re feeling brave, post them in the comments, or email me.

Here’s to a year filled with surprising and enlightening answers.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who helps unhappy attorneys find their questions, and answers, to create a better career and life. She offers discounted sample career coaching sessions so you can find out how coaching can help you. Email to schedule your life-altering appointment today!

Chasing the Perfect Job, Ruining Your Alternative Legal Career Search

As I’ve written about several times (here, here, and here, for starters), perfectionism is an especially strong demon for most lawyers in their alternative legal career search. It’s one of the six attitudes that hold lawyers back in their search for a better career and life, and it’s got such a powerful hold over most lawyers that it gets its very own post.

Not following the perfect path, the pattern set by others, can lead to something fun and better.

The nub of perfectionism is worrying others will discover you are not enough, and gearing your actions and focus to eradicate that feeling of being less than perfect. The focus on the extrinsic—the partners will look down on me if I keep driving my dinged-up, paid-for Toyota, better get a BMW—keeps you from connecting with your authentic self. It’s all about external validation. Perfectionism walls you off from your own, fantastic inner wisdom, because it substitutes others’ judgments for yours. It keeps you conforming to others’ limitations, rather than exploring your own unique gifts.

Here’s a tip: No one is perfect. We all have flaws, some of them deep and juicy. Our flaws are what make us interesting and human. Lots of people think that if they were perfect, every single one of their problems would disappear. It’s more likely they would become insanely boring and horribly insufferable. And, they still wouldn’t be happy, because Continue reading

Point Blink

It’s nearly the end of summer, and I am completely fed up with it. I’m tired of the wall of humidity, of the sweating, of having to avoid outside work in the searing Southern heat of 9:00 a.m. hour, and of watching my garden dry to skeletal dust.

I’m ready for a change.

middle aged man with eyes shut tight

Your Point Blink might not look exactly like this. Do you recognize the last time you were there?

The other side of being ready for change is being worn out by your current circumstances. You feel like nothing is working, and that everything is just. Too. Freaking. Hard.

I’ve noticed this with my clients, my friends, and random strangers I chat with at Starbucks. (Yes, I do that quite a bit. Met my husband that way.)

Hot Air Balloons and Change

Here’s the thing about working on change: It’s like being in a hot air balloon. You’re moving at the speed of wind, and sometimes that is damned fast. But if you’re above the trees, and without many reference points, you don’t feel like you’re going very fast. You and the wind are at the same speed, so your hair isn’t flipping and your clothes aren’t flapping. It doesn’t feel like Continue reading

Tips for Lawyers To Exorcise the Perfectionism Demon

One of the hardest things about battling perfectionism as a lawyer is that you are surrounded, nay drowning, in other perfectionists. Law is about conforming, after all, and that is the heart of perfectionism: The more perfectly I conform (my thinking, my reasoning, my writing, my desires), the better I am regarded by others in my profession.

cartoon of demon emerging from man's mouth

Begone, you demon of perfectionism! I now have tips for getting rid of you . . .

At least, that’s how the thinking goes. It doesn’t necessarily match reality. When you think of the brilliant lawyers, what makes them brilliant is actually their ability to put together reasoning and arguments that haven’t been made before. That, my friends, is not conformity.

But for those of you who are faking law, who are not lawyers at heart, trying to appear like other lawyers is crucial. Because if they find out you’re not really one of them, you are out on your bum. You just know this. You might have to actually figure out that alternative legal career thing on a less leisurely schedule.

First, Accept Your Authentic Self

As Brené Brown points out in The Gifts of Imperfection, perfectionism is driven by the fear that we are not enough, and by the belief Continue reading

Recovering Lawyer, Having Fun Acting Out

Lawyers have a lot of issues with boundaries. I see it in the deep misery that pervades the profession, in which very smart, capable people let others abuse them, manipulate them, and just plain act like bullies to them. Attorneys often tolerate the dysfunction because they think they need a paycheck more than respect and integrity. Or, they don’t know any better—they don’t know what self-respect and integrity feel like. Or a combination of the two, usually.

Businessman holding realistic happy and sad face masks

Take off your good girl or good boy mask, and claim your authentic, powerful self and career.

My armchair-psychologist theory is that by the time law school graduation rolls around, attorneys who end up hating law practice have had lots of experience denying who they are. They long ago started living from the outside in. Rather than claim what they actually were interested in and relentlessly pursuing it, they made parents and teachers happy with being good girls and boys, getting the grades and doing all the right things.

I can say all this because I’ve walked that walk and gotten the blisters and calluses from those Ill-fitting law loafers. I thought they had healed fairly well. I thought that I had done a pretty damn masterful job at reclaiming my integrity, living in alignment with my core values—in other words, living from the inside out.

But turns out I still have a bit of work to do to reclaim and own myself. I found this out during an acting lesson. Continue reading

Career Goals That Actually Work

So if most lawyers set questionable career goals—ones that are extrinsic, and won’t actually bring them happiness and fulfillment—what then? How do you set goals that are truly helpful, rather than an office version of ‘roid rage if you don’t meet them?

To-do List: Win!

Im thinking this might be an extrinsic goal, Charlie Sheen.

The logical answer, of course, is to set intrinsic goals. Yet what is simple and logical is often fiendishly difficult.

Goals From the Inside Out

Part of the problem is that our culture is product-obsessed. Products are end results, and we expect them to be some version of perfect, even it’s a $5 semi-designer t-shirt from Target. Unlike a product we buy, though, once we select a goal that’s a mistake, we can’t simply return it and continue as if the transaction never occurred. If we set a chosen goal aside, most of the time we feel we have failed in some way. Persistent feelings of failure lead to decreased motivation—and so our goal-setting often derails us.

An intrinsic goal Continue reading