6. Give yourself permission to explore.
One of the main challenges of leaving Biglaw is that you probably have no idea what you’d like to do. All you know is that your stomach clenches or you get a headache on Sunday night as you think about reporting to the office on Monday. You spend your days alternating between billing as many 0.1 hours as possible and passing time reading Above the Law (then figuring out which client you can bill that time to.)
I remember looking longingly out of my office window at the people who were walking on the street, wishing I could escape this glass cage. And hating myself for thinking that because this job was all I ever wanted. Make no mistake — it takes courage to admit that this job, this thing you have worked so hard for and sacrificed so much for, just isn’t right for you.
For me, my journey to finding work that I can feel good about, work where all of my skills are put to use, work that I love so much that I would do it even if no one paid me, started by giving myself permission. I told myself, “You no longer have to be a lawyer if you don’t want to.” This gave me the space I needed to try on and explore different options. It was liberating.
7. Put up barriers, set boundaries.
Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others. ― Brené Brown
In order to figure out what you’d like to do after your Biglaw job, you need space and time. Space to daydream, wonder, wander, and explore. You need time to meet other people that pique your interest.
To the extent possible, start putting barriers around your personal time. Set boundaries. Decide what you’re not willing to do, what you’re not willing to put up with. What this looks like will largely depend on your job and its demands, but start figuring out ways you can carve out more personal time and less work time. Consider it an emotional divorce from your work.
8. Get out of your head and into the world!
As lawyers, we take pride in our analytic skills. We love to think about problems and find solutions. You cannot approach career transition in this way because in order to figure out what you want to do, you need to explore your options. You must go out into the world and explore the richness of options that are available to you.
There’s a natural tendency to approach career transition like a legal issue. Research it to death, read up on the subject, study it, master it. This is as useless as preparing to run a marathon by reading books on it. Is it helpful? Of course, but the thing that matters the most is the experience — lacing up your running shoes and doing it.
Spending more time with the family, developing your hobby, saying no to the partner you can never please anyway, lobbying for cases that interest you. Exercise some autonomy and start doing things you want to. Obviously, you don’t want to just drop clients and cases that need attention, but you can slowly refocus and reorient the direction you want to aim in your law practice.
In other words: less thinking, more doing.
9. Follow your bliss. Follow your genius.
I am stating the obvious here, but the world is rapidly changing and evolving. It’s impossible to predict the jobs that will be available in five, 10, or 20 years. Take a look at many of the technologies that we use on a regular basis — iPhone, Uber, Airbnb, Amazon — or some of the organizations that are gaining popularity such as Conscious Capitalism, B Corporation, or Wisdom 2.0.
We live in a time where people regularly start companies or create jobs for themselves that do not fit neatly into a traditional job title such as lawyer or doctor. One guy I know started Digital Detox, which among other things runs summer camp for adults. Former attorney Jonathan Fields started the Good Life Project movement, exploring what it means to create an “extraordinary life, deeper relationships and a meaningful vocation.” Nathan Sawaya quit being a lawyer to create Lego art. This woman created a movement by playing with dolls.
People that do extraordinary things don’t get there by following other people’s paths. They get there by unapologetically following their own bliss and genius.
Start by approaching your life with curiosity. Consider your life like a laboratory. Notice the things that grab your attention. Notice the things that repel you. What are you naturally good at? What do you suck at? What are some things you can spend all day doing while completely losing track of time? What does your heart desire?
10. Be very gentle with yourself.
Do you regularly tell yourself that you’re a loser? You’re not good enough? You’re not smart enough? And gosh darn it, nobody loves you? Our inner critic can be very loud, and perhaps it’s the fear of judgment that propels us forward. Are you driven by the stick or the carrot? I’ve found that lawyers’ primary motivational tool is the stick. It’s the thing that has gotten us through the SAT, college application process, college, LSAT, law school, and of course, the bar exam.
What if you can quiet your inner critic and replace it with a different script? Can you approach yourself with kindness and gentleness? What if it was your best friend that came to you and asked for advice about quitting her Biglaw job? What words of advice would you offer? How would you feel? Would you tell her that she is dumb, useless, and no good, or would you treat her with compassion?
Your inner dialogue matters. Many of us walk around with our inner critic yammering away, saying things we would never say to anyone — not even our worst enemy.
One of the most helpful and powerful experiences I had in shifting my inner dialogue was in a Stanford class called Compassion Cultivation Training with an amazing teacher, Robert Cusick. Throughout the eight-week course, we intentionally practiced being compassionate towards ourselves and others.
What I got out of the class is this: a deep commitment to always be my own best friend — even if I fail at something, even when I screw up, even when I do something that’s completely and utterly dumb. It was a deep commitment to always stand by my side. This is key in finding your life’s path because let’s face it, if you’re going to break out of the box and do something radical, you’re going to make mistakes. Things won’t always go your way. You’ll hit bumps along the way. You may even get a few black eyes along the way. You’ll ruffle feathers. People will tell you that you can’t do this, that you’re crazy.
“Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly
Make no mistake about it. Once you decide to take the path less traveled, you’ll be shining a spotlight for those who chose to maintain their status quo. You’ll meet resistance. You’ll meet negativity. This is the reason that you must be your own best friend.
My sincere wish for all of you is that you follow your purpose, your mission, the thing that you are meant to do without apology, with passion, with joy. As for the naysayers? I say, f*ck the haters.
This article was first featured on Above the Law.