I have been on the beaten path for some time now, and for the most part, I’ve liked it there. I liked school. I like structure. I like having objective ways to measure success. By all accounts, I am a type-A perfectionist, so me being a lawyer makes perfect sense. But six months ago, I made the decision to leave what I thought was my dream position for a non-traditional legal job that is definitely ‘the road less traveled’ for me. It was absolutely terrifying, and there are still days where I think I might be crazy. So why did I do it?
First let me say that I don’t write this to disparage being a lawyer or litigation or law firm life or especially my particular firm. I am proud to be a lawyer; there are people that thrive in private practice and that thrive as litigators, and I have nothing but kind things to say about my old firm. I’m writing it merely because it’s part of experience, and I promised to share that with you all.
In some ways, it feels like my entire adult life I’ve been checking boxes. Get into college? Check. Do something during your time off that will look good on a law school application? Check. Get into law school? Check. Graduate? Check. Pass the Bar? Check. Get a job? Check. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with checking the boxes, especially not if it makes you happy. And don’t get me wrong, a lot of it DID make me happy — I got an amazing education, I met some incredible people, and I wouldn’t trade my any of those experiences for the world.
After I graduated from law school, I worked at a boutique litigation firm, which was something I thought I always wanted. There were some aspects of it that I really loved: I loved my co-workers, I loved the grind, I loved the satisfaction of finishing a big project or a big case, I loved how much I was learning. But as I think most litigation associates would tell you, it’s a roller coaster. The highs are high, the lows are low, the hours are long, and the stress is…well, stressful. It’s a pressure cooker. And ya know what? I’ll toot my own horn for a second and say that I was handling it. I might not have thought so at the time, but I was good at my job. From the outside looking in, I was thriving — Successful with a capital S. On the inside however, I was suffering. I was constantly worried about messing up, about what people would think of me if I did, about disappointing my boss or clients. When I wasn’t at work or working, I was thinking about work. I flinched every time I saw I had a new email. I was constantly either tense or exhausted. Even when I had the time, I didn’t have the energy to devote to other areas of my life. I could feel myself changing as a person, and in some ways it wasn’t for the better. Eventually I knew I had to make a change.
I thought long and hard about what I wanted and didn’t want in my next job, and I found pretty much the perfect fit. I obsessed over the decision about whether I should leave. I thought I would be failing myself to change course, but I worried about where I would end up if I didn’t. So I did the unthinkable and I got out.
After I did, I fell into a deep depression. I felt so ashamed and disappointed in myself, like I had given up on myself and my dreams after all I had put myself through to get there. I had no idea how to give myself grace or to be kind to myself. I was still anxious, still worried about disappointing people, and I still felt like I wasn’t good enough.
And those feelings led me to what I think has been the single most important realization of my life: what job I have, what car I drive, how much I weigh, what people think of me…no set of external circumstances will ever make me happy if I’m unhappy with myself.
It might sound like an inspirational Pinterest quote, but it hasn’t looked that way for me. It’s not like I read it once and everything changed. Even once I believed it, everything didn’t change. It’s been slow progress and sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. Right now, all I can say for sure is that I at least notice all of the deeply rooted negative thoughts I have about myself, and that’s been enough for a little bit of change…enough for me to start a blog, and enjoy spending time with my family, and pursue some goals that I thought were going to sit at the bottom of my list forever.
People ask me a lot if I like my new job. And the answer truly is yes – I like what I do, I love that I constantly get to meet new people, and I love that I get to work with them and not against them. But right now what I love most about it is that I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, figuring out how to be comfortable in my own mind and body. And if I can do that, then I think the possibilities for what else I can do are just about endless.