It is no secret that lawyers as a group are an unhappy lot. I could give my own explanation for this but today, after we have just sworn in a President who is starting a new career, I thought I would share a few thoughts about career changes and career happiness (I’ll save my political comments for Facebook).
Once upon a time (i.e. back in the 1980’s when I was coming into the workforce), career professionals were quick to tell college students to follow their passions. The idea was to identify a career that inspired you and that was consistent with your skills and vocational interests. If you followed this path, career success was sure to follow.
There are still some merits to this approach. Law (and most other professions for that matter) are very competitive today. If you want to achieve success, in all likelihood you are going to have to work hard. And it is much easier to put a lot of time and energy into something that you love. So if you feel like law is your calling, by all means, go to law school.
But what if you don’t have a passion? Or what if you pursue your passion but you can’t find a job doing what you love?
As it turns out, there is a lot of serendipity in most of our careers. While it is all well and good to find a passion and pursue it, for most of us, career happiness is a journey, not a destination. We try things out, discover what we like and don’t like and based on what we learn (and the contacts we make, and the good and bad fortune we have), we move on to something else.
Career happiness comes through trial and error (wash, rinse, repeat). For an excellent podcast on the subject, I highly recommend listening to Episode 56: Getting Unstuck from NPR’s The Hidden Brain.
So what if you are already practicing law but you feel like something is missing? Your law firm job is prestigious and you are well compensated. But you want to be more involved in making business decisions. You want to be part of an enterprise that actually makes something. You want to have an ongoing relationship with clients.
Maybe it is time to explore a lateral move in-house. But how do you know you will be happy moving in-house? In reality, you don’t. Until you are actually living with the new job, you won’t exactly know what it is like to be in that situation.
This is hard for professionals like attorneys. Attorneys are professional skeptics and highly risk averse. They fear making career mistakes and in some cases, that becomes an excuse for inertia.
But as FDR said in his first inaugural, “The only thing to fear is fear itself”.
So if you want more career satisfaction, you have some work to do. You may have to take a chance on something that may not turn out the way you like. But if you take this approach, you stand a much better chance of finding career satisfaction; and maybe, just maybe, you too can become President some day!