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!

Why You Don’t Have Time to Find a New Legal Career, Part 3

It’s true, there are only a certain number of hours in a day. And, for every hour lawyers have, there are probably have 3 things vying for it. (Or maybe 30.) So you overbooked and overcommitted lawyers have decisions to make about how to allot that time. I’m gonna to make a wild guess here that you haven’t gotten any peace yet about what to leave in and what to leave out. Particularly, I’m guessing you haven’t figured out how to fit a soul-searching career switch into your schedule.

You'll spend less time splashing about in your alternative legal career search if you aim toward the big rocks. Photo courtesy Cheryl Bowes via

Here’s the thing: Don’t squeeze it in. Make it one of your top priorities. Give it the energy it deserves.

Now I know that some of you are looking at your Blackberries and your triple-booked calendars and are having heart palpitations. You already don’t have enough time! How can you add in yet another thing?

Here’s how: By letting things go–the unimportant things.

Make Your Life Rocky 

Franklin-Covey makes a lot of money using this bedrock principle in its planners and time-management classes. I don’t much care for the their calendars and time management system—it’s way too tedious and checkbox-oriented for a go-with-the-flow-and-improvise P like me (P of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator persuasion). But I did take away one really important concept from the Franklin-Covey class I once took: Put the important things, the “big rocks” of your life, first. They are the things that if you look back on your week, you will be deeply satisfied that you spent time on them.

Another way to look at Big Rocks is as the stones you need to have in the stream that is your life. If you have them, you can Continue reading

Why You Choose To Work For Assholes

Think that if only you didn’t work for asshole lawyers, you would like your job? Well, maybe. But often the reason you work with assholes is because their bad behavior reflects some unexamined beliefs you are holding close to your heart.

And while those beliefs are dysfunctional, their dysfunction is hauntingly familiar. In fact, it’s so familiar that it feels like some of life’s truths. And so you deep, deep down you believe that work has to suck. And you stay stuck in your unhappy legal career.

leering businessman

If this is your vision of success, maybe you need new glasses. Or a new attitude.

Last time, I listed six attitudes that lawyers tend to carry around as truth, when in fact they’re choices about how to view the world. Today I’m going to delve into two particularly noxious ones for lawyers: mistakes and valuing head over heart. These show up as problems both in their life and work, and not surprisingly in attorneys’ legal career search struggles.


You would think from the way lawyers react to mistakes, there’s a required 1L course on “Mistakes: Duck and Cover.” Oh, wait, that’s the whole law school curriculum. Never mind.

In all seriousness, lawyers treat mistakes like a judgment of their (and others’) worth from on high. Get the date wrong in a letter that should have gone out yesterday but didn’t because the partner sat on it? You’re a total screwup, incapable of paying attention to details.

Lawyers use mistakes as evidence, not as data. And the evidence is gathered to show that you or someone else is deficient, is not enough. A healthier, and more productive, way to use mistakes is Continue reading

Guest Blog: Leaving Law, Gaining Balance

Deciding to leave the law is not a decision to make lightly. There are personal, professional, and financial ramifications when you choose to leave your profession. While there will certainly be aspects of your life that you will give up by leaving the legal profession, it has been my experience that what you gain from leaving the law is much more valuable than what you give up.

For me, the most important thing I have gained is a balanced life.

Before Leaving the Law…

reading in rocker with dog

This is your life, balanced.

Between law school, studying for the bar exam and practicing as an attorney, I found that somewhere along the way my priorities had been skewed. The things that I loved and valued, such as spending time with my family, reading a great book, and writing were all pushed to the back burner or off the stove completely.

I started scheduling time with my fiancée and family in my planner and blackberry. I scheduled and cancelled and rescheduled dinner with friends.

I could no longer Continue reading

Guest Blog: Law Wasn’t For Me, And That’s OK

It is difficult to explain how and why I left my job as an attorney without first explaining how and why I became an attorney.

I have always excelled academically and had diverse interests including writing, literature, education, law, economics, and theater. After graduating from college with honors in economics, earning a graduate degree seemed like the logical next step.

Young attractive business woman on the highest bar of a 3d graphic

You can leave the law track. It will be OK. Really!

I had considered going to law school and becoming a lawyer from the time I was in high school. From an economic standpoint, a law degree had the greatest return on investment. I wavered back and forth throughout college as to whether I would really pursue a law degree. With the support from my family as well as several great mentors, I had every reason to believe that I would succeed.

As I searched for LSAT prep courses, I decided that if I signed up for the LSAT prep course, I was going to go to law school.

No matter what. Continue reading

Instrinsic Motivation for Lawyers: All in One Place

Lawyer misery is depriving us of a lot of talent and energy that would be much better used to improve the world instead. Many bright, creative people are lawyers, and their gifts are not used in a typical BigLaw or Lawyerland setting. We as a nation and a planet have a whole heaping pile of problems in desperate need of innovative, creative solutions, and some of the people who could contribute ideas and energy are locked in the airless, pessimistic environment of law.

Man walking on bridge toward lightMuch of what is wrong with law firms and lawyers generally is the maniacal focus on money as a motivator. As I’ve discussed at (much) greater length and am reposting in a one-stop-shopping format below, using money as the main motivator results in poorer performance and ethically shaky behavior.

So other than change law firm culture—a long-term project for sure—what can you do? It’s deceptively simple: Do what lights you up, as often as possible.

Dan Pink in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us gives a nice list of tools you can try that will help you achieve a flow/autonomy/mastery state. Try some of them.

I particularly love his idea for using “brain bomb” cards for getting mentally unstuck when you’re unmotivated, panicked, or otherwise not connecting with your best self. These cards, called Oblique cards, contain a single, often bizzarre question or statement to jar you out of a rut. Like, “Your mistake was a hidden intention,” or “Don’t avoid what is easy.”

The cards were designed in 1975 by famed produced Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt, specifically to overcome the pressure-packed moments that go with deadlines. Sounds perfect for lawyers.

If you’re reading this blog on posting day, join me at 1:30 pm ET to discuss all these lawyer motivation issues–and probably lots more–at the Unhappy Lawyers Book Club. Here’s the skinny on that:

Unhappy Lawyers Book Club, Drive edition Details

Date: September 15, 2011

Time: 1:30 pm—2:00 pm ET

Format: Conference call

Call-in info: (209) 647-1000. The access code is 535240# (yes you need to enter the # sign).

Cost: Free!

Now, on to the one-stop-shopping collection of my posts about Drive and what it means for lawyers. Continue reading

How Lawyers and Everyone Else Blew 9/11

Ten years ago, when September 11 became September 11, I felt that deep, shared national longing to find meaning in the senseless and horrific acts of violence. And, like so many, it motivated me to find more meaning in my own life. I was living in the D.C. area then, and was so struck by how gently we treated each other in the aftermath, with kindness and compassion. For about 2 weeks, anyway.

sad shopper sitting in park

All that post-September 11 bling, and still the sadness deepens.

Our leaders may have felt that longing to find meaning, too, but they caved instead to their many fears. We weren’t called upon to reflect on what had brought people to such a level of hatred. We weren’t asked to find a way to give meaning to all those deaths by being courageous ambassadors of peace and beacons of hope to the world—you know, living out the American ideals of democracy, tolerance and freedom? No, we were called upon to . . . shop.

Yeah, that was an effective way to heal spiritual wounds and honor the dead—get all materialistic. Worked like a charm, didn’t it? Because now, as we approach the 10th anniversary of September 11, our country is a happy, peaceful, fulfilled place, and most of the world wants to be like us. (Insert irony emoticon here.)

Lawyers, Desperate To Numb Out

It amazes me how deeply embedded that response—pursuing solace through materialism—is embedded in our culture. After 10 years, it still hasn’t worked: We are a people in agony Continue reading

Laziness and the Leaving Law Job Search

The end of summer looms ever closer. And maybe also a deadline you’ve created to get the hell out of law by Labor Day, the end of summer, September, whatever.

So how is your alternative legal career job search going? Have you done lots of informational interviews, created a master resume with your legal experience recast in business lingo, diligently scoured the online legal ads? Networked like a mad thing, since summer is the perfect time to ask old friends out for a drink? Yeah, I thought not. And I’ll bet you think you’re lazy if you haven’t done all of that and more, right?

fat shirtless man in office

Lazy may look like the life of Riley, but it's a cover, especially when it comes to switching to an alternative legal career.

Here’s the really hard truth about laziness: It doesn’t exist. It’s a cover for scared. Shit scared to the point of paralysis, with a fat layer of “I’m OK, in fact I’m having fun!” deception slathered on top. It fools a lot of people.

The Laziness Myth, Explained

Clients often tell me that they’re lazy. I have to try very hard not to laugh hysterically when they say it. (Sometimes I’m even Continue reading

You Can’t Buy the Career Ticket Before Knowing the Destination

Here’s what most of you unhappy lawyers do when you decide you want an alternative legal career: You try to buy your plane ticket and book your hotel for the destination. Problem is, you have no idea what your destination actually is. It’s not, as you might guess, a particularly effective legal career change strategy.

plane engine propeller from window

Choose your career destination, then worry about whether you're going to be in a middle seat.

Now y’all know I love to talk in metaphors, so I’ll unpack that one a bit for you. In a legal career change quest, the plane ticket equivalent is worrying about salary, whether you might still like a new career after 5 years, whether you can afford to go back to school, salary, whether it’s self-indulgent to walk away from the money in law, what will everyone think at the 10-year reunion, how can your children survive attending public schools, and did I mention salary?

You might have caught on that I’m thinking these are not the things Continue reading

The Conditions Are Never Ideal

You know what a lot of resistance to getting an alternative legal career boils down to? The conditions are not ideal. That’s it, really.

man looking over hot pepper plants

If you keep waiting for the perfect career change conditions, you'll miss the spice that life has to offer.

That’s what “I need a high-paying job (that just isn’t law)” is about. That’s what “But my parents/spouse/  inner critic /dog/society won’t approve” is all about. That’s what “I need a steady paycheck, not the risk of entrepreneurship” is about. That’s what “I don’t have time to look for a different career right now because my life is so crazy” is. Conditions are not perfect, so you convince yourself you cannot move at all toward your dreams.

These are all dodges. As Patti Digh puts it in Creative Is a Verb, many of us, especially the perfectionists, are convinced Continue reading