My Burnout Story

I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer.

Career day at school was a no-brainer. College majors were generally irrelevant. Just get good grades, get into a good law school and then start working as an attorney. Seemed simple and easy enough. And I always took solace in the fact that law school wasn’t an afterthought for me, like it was for so many of my colleagues.

What I hadn’t anticipated was that a legal career might not be a long-term fit for me.

My first job after law school was a pretty great first. They specifically wanted entry-level attorneys because they wanted to be able to train everyone in their narrow specialty. Perfect!

The learning curve was steep, but by the time I’d been there two years I was running deals on my own and was the first point of contact for several clients. BAM!

I felt like I was a real, live functioning attorney.

Once I had the actual lawyering part under control, I had time to examine my long-term career trajectory. Partnership seemed like the most logical step. And my superiors agreed that I was on track.

The details for when and how that would work weren’t so clear. And my requests for clarity and planning were brushed off at each annual review. As were my requests for raises based on performance and profitability. The frustration mounted. All the while, my practice was growing in size, but also in monotony.

How could I grow into the attorney I always imagined with these maddening obstacles to growth?

Almost on cue, a recruiter contacted me about a position at another firm. This position would include my current expertise, but would enable me to expand into related practice areas.


The answer to my boredom and frustration! Maybe it wasn’t the practice of law that was my problem, but rather the firm in which I practiced.

I was offered the position along with a hefty salary increase and was on my way. Now I would be back on track.

And yet I became bored and frustrated in a matter of months. No sooner had I learned everyone’s name in my new firm when I began started looking for new jobs.

I got interviews for in-house counsel positions, boutique firms, regional and international firms. Although until then I had never had an interview that didn’t lead to an offer, I wasn’t receiving offers this time around. And I was kind of relieved. No. I was super relieved.

That being said, I was still miserable.

I could barely get out of bed in the morning because I hated every aspect of my job. The 45-minute commute each way just added to the misery. But I felt stuck. What was going on? Why was I so miserable?

On paper, I had everything I ever wanted. Or at least what I thought I wanted -- six-figure salary, successful career, supportive husband, beautiful house, luxurious vacations, a legitimate net worth.

Yet it wasn’t enough.

How did this happen? I had everything I had hoped and planned for, but I felt like I had nothing, not even hope.

How did I get here?!

When I realized I was getting nowhere fast, I enlisted the help of a life coach. I purchased her digital course that would supposedly help me re-introduce joy into my life in just 30 days. Well, that was a crock of sh*t. Because it only took about nine days to figure out my problem.

In life coach speak, I was not living in sync with my values. Or in laymen’s terms, the decisions I made about my career when I was not much more than a teenager no longer suited my priorities. The values and priorities of my younger self were not the same as those of a 30-something professional. I literally had a hand-meets-forehead moment upon that realization.  Uh, doy!

So now what?

Well, I had to figure out my current values and priorities. The real mind-f*ck of it all is that my number one value of freedom is the very same value that pushed me to become a lawyer. Yup.

Even though my top priority appeared to be the same, the meaning of freedom had fundamentally changed.

Growing up, freedom to me meant physical and financial independence from my parents. While my childhood obviously didn’t destroy me, it wasn’t particularly pleasant. And I just wanted to be sure that I didn’t have to rely on my parents for anything.

Another way of framing this would be fear of being dependent on anyone.

The easiest path I saw to financial independence was becoming a lawyer. I grew up with several friends whose parents are lawyers, and they all had nice houses, fun vacations, cool clothes and their lawyer parents had interesting stories.

Becoming a lawyer seemed like something I could accomplish, too. Get good grades in high school and go to a great college. Check. Kick ass on the LSAT and get into a good law school. Double check. Once at said law school, getting a job will be a given. (At the time, this was true.)

All the while, William Wallace is galloping through the back of my mind proclaiming, “FREEEEEEEDOOOOOOOM!!!!”

What I hadn’t considered is how I would feel once I achieved this so-called freedom.

Turns out that almost immediately after achieving my desired level of physical and financial freedom, my priorities shifted. Freedom now meant starting a family, not working full-time while raising babies, being able to travel for longer than a week at a time, knowing with certainty that I wouldn’t have to work on any given weekend, being able to live wherever I want regardless of whether or not I’m licensed to work there.

Once I started listing what freedom meant to me, I realized that the very value that had driven me to become an attorney was now in direct conflict with that career.

My Mind = Blown

I felt both incredible relief and paralyzing fear. I finally knew the source of my unhappiness, but had no idea what to do about it.

Do I try to get a part-time work schedule? Resume my job search for a different type of legal job? Maybe explore my interest in becoming a college admissions officer? Go back to school? Holy crap, would I actually consider starting my own business?

We all know which road I eventually took, but that’s not my point in sharing this. Regardless of the changes you ultimately make to reignite your zest for your life and career, discovering why those changes are necessary is the important part. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s downright frightening.

But you’ll recognize that moment when you’ve had enough -- when the pain of maintaining the status quo outweighs the fear of unknown change.

Have you experienced a similar turning point? What did you do when you got there? Hit me up in the comments below or shoot me an e-mail with your story.