Don’t Settle for Less Just Because You’re Good at Your Job

Don't Settle for Less

I got a really sweet message through my LinkedIn page this morning.

It was from a former client. Former legal client, that is.

She was extremely complimentary of my legal skills, said she misses working with me and that she’s happy that I’m living my dream.

Then she wrapped up her message by asking me to let her know if I ever go back to practicing law.

Really a sweet message from one of my favorite clients.

But it got me thinking about an obstacle I faced back in the day and that many of my clients face today.

If I’m a great attorney who’s good at my job, why would I quit?

Oh, I remember being in that headspace. For like…years.

The willingness to settle for less than I deserved. And to endure suffering I thought I did deserve. All coming from place of fear.

You’ll probably recognize the inner monologue, which goes something like this:

Okay. I’ve spent three years in law school (let’s not even address the financial cost), found a job, learned the ropes and now I’m kicking ass. I’ve got a nice salary, an element of prestige and I’m putting my law degree to use.

So what if I don’t ENJOY it?

It’s called work for a reason. This is probably just what it feels like to pay my proverbial dues. Once I’m a senior associate/partner/general counsel/lead attorney, I’m sure it’ll be different.

I’ve just gotta stick with it. And why wouldn’t I? I’m not a quitter.

Oh, gawd! I can’t even IMAGINE what people would think if I quit my job. Or, dare I say, quit practicing law.

Wait. That’s not true. I imagine they’d say I couldn’t hack it in the real world. That I burned out. That I made a reckless decision to go to law school and spend all that time and money when I chucked it all aside when the going got tough.

And rinse and repeat.

In my high achieving, perfectionistic, fear-filled mind, I couldn’t get past the idea of quitting something at which I excelled. That notion weighed on me more than my six-figure financial investment.

I mean, I didn’t fancy myself a person who quit something even when she sucked at it.

But I HATED my job.

The micromanaging boss(es). The excruciating commute. The time I’d rather spend doing something I enjoyed.

Then something clicked.

As my husband and I were gearing up for our South African safari, I was already anticipating the dread I’d feel upon returning to work.

Yeah. It had gotten so bad that I was allowing my misery to cast a shadow over my joyful events.

I had a jillion thoughts at that point. But the following was one of the biggies.

If I’m this good at doing something I hate, what will happen when I do something I enjoy?

I owed it to myself to explore careers outside the practice of law. To not settle for a job that made me miserable. Shit, I owed it to my poor friends and family who had listened to me piss and moan about my job for years.

I needed to know what starting over looked like.

I spent the marathon flight to Cape Town reading Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup. Taking copious notes. Skipping the inflight movies (gasp!).

On the flight home, I busted out Pamela Slim’s Escape from Cubicle Nation. More note-taking.

Turns out, starting over looked irresistible.

I had to put Slim’s book aside before finishing because the brainstorming had begun.

What was I going to do if I quit practicing law?

A college admissions officer? I’d worked at Northwestern’s admission office for three years in college. I could do that.

BTW, that was me thinking small.

But it was a first step. And it just so happened to be hiring season when I arrived home. So I started revamping my resume and sent out a dozen applications to area colleges.

While I was waiting for rejections responses, I considered other ideas, too.

For example, I LOVE to travel. Maybe I could be a travel agent. Not like the middle-aged lady in a pink blazer who wants to sell you a cruise. But like in a modern, edgy kinda way. Like helping people travel hack. I had mastered racking up airline miles and credit card points to book amazing trips for super low cost — I could help other people do that!

Meh. Turns out I only enjoy doing that for myself.

But I was beginning to think outside my comfort zone.

Maybe I could be a travel agent/consultant/guide to attorneys. Whatever the hell that looks like.

After dreaming up and vetting a shit ton of ideas, I eventually made my way to attorney coach. But I took a winding path to get there.

You know that annoying expression that it’s not about the destination, but the journey? In the case of finding my next career, I completely agree.

Once I decided what I wanted to do and began working to make it happen, the promised land of doing a job I enjoyed — one that filled me up rather than drained me — kept me going.

Even while I was still working full-time at the job I hated. And taking coaching classes at night. And struggling with morning all-day sickness and bed-rest while pregnant. And trying to explain to naysayers what exactly it is that a life coach is and does.

Of course there have been setbacks, self-doubt and tears of frustration. And on more than one occasion someone has had to remind me that I wouldn’t be doing my best work if I went back to practicing law. That I’d be settling for less than what I deserved. (Oh, those were dark days when I considered returning to law!)

While I’d experienced all of those negative emotions as an attorney, I can’t say the same for all the happy surprises, personal growth and oh-so-many moments of joy I’ve already experienced (and witnessed!) in my new business.

And the crazy part is that I’m making this unconventional job happen.

Or is it so crazy?

After all, I am doing something I enjoy and believe in, all while helping talented attorneys do the same.

Whether that’s starting their own business like I did, switching practice areas, going in-house, creating a flexible work schedule or finding their inner rain-maker on the path to partnership, everyone deserves to discover what makes them excited to wake up in the morning.

And then go get it.

Because being good at something, doesn’t mean you can’t be great at something else.

What would you do if you knew you’d be even more successful than you are now?

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Comments

  1. I’ve got 8 years in education and hate it, hate it, hate it. I was looking at moving within the field, but once I really thought about what that entailed I cried. I’m struggling with what I want to do. I’m taking a business class and an accounting class to figure out if it’s what I’d enjoy. If I had it to do over again, I would have gotten my head out of my ass earlier and kept on with science or tried engineering. With the bills and the family, I feel limited by income requirements. (Probably strange to heat coming from a high school teacher.) Even though this is a site geared towards attorneys, it speaks to me…minus that whole African safari…so thank you. If you have suggestions or ideas, I’m all ears!

    • Awww, Kally! So sorry to hear you’re fed up with your career. But you’re on the right track by taking classes to see what interests you. One suggestion I have is to identify your values. Once you have a handle on what’s most important to you, start looking for careers that are in sync with your values. While money is always an important consideration, the intangibles (like happiness, balance, challenge, etc.) will be your non-negotiables. Hang in there and good luck!

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