Why I Left the Law Despite Wanting to Be a Lawyer

The first time I stumbled across my life coach’s website and saw her latest program on career change I remember thinking:

Why the hell would I change careers? I want to be a lawyer.

Fast forward a few years to me enrolling in her year-long mastermind to make sure I was able to quit practicing law by the time my firstborn arrived.

How the eff did that happen?

While my desire to transform my career didn’t manifest overnight, it had been percolating beneath the surface of my lawyerly discontent since law school. I simply wasn’t aware of what I needed.

As a young attorney, I thought I would be happier once I overcame the learning curve at my specialized boutique firm. Turns out I wasn’t so much happier as I was bored.

In my boredom, I began looking for jobs at other firms -- never mind that I was a real estate finance associate in the midst of the Great Recession. When a position at a different boutique firm miraculously appeared with the opportunity for a lot more money and expansion into other practice areas, I didn’t think twice before accepting the offer.

Long story short, I went through the same cycle I had at my previous firm. Only this time I completed the cycle in a few short months. And the job hunting commenced soon thereafter.

This time around there were a lot more positions available, and employers were interested in my skill set. We’re talking AmLaw 100 firms and Fortune 500 companies. Not only was I flattered to be included in their interview processes, I was also left to deal with long waits between interview rounds as their giant organizations worked through lengthy HR processes.

Because I felt like I was doing everything I possibly could to improve my job situation, I allowed myself to dive into the world of personal development to see what else could “make me happier”.

I struggled with infertility, so I delved into healthy eating, yoga and acupuncture to make my body happier. I endured a difficult “break up” with one of my friends, so I focused on nurturing old friendships and cultivating new ones to make my heart happier. I wanted intellectual stimulation, so I made time for pleasure reading to make my brain happy.

My results weren’t trivial. I got pregnant. I grew closer to my true friends and opened my heart to several amazing new girlfriends. And my increased interest in current affairs and politics occupied my previously idle brain.

I assumed my legal career would similarly fall into place. When it didn’t, I realized I had gone about everything all wrong.

I needed a holistic approach to my career dissatisfaction.

My happiness couldn’t be compartmentalized. No matter how well every other aspect of my life was going, my legal career cast a dark cloud over my psyche.

I was clinging to an idea of who I wanted to be. But I wasn’t accepting that my idea of being a lawyer didn’t align with the reality of practicing law.

I tied expectations and ideals -- prestige, wealth, intellectual challenge, opportunity -- to a lawyer archetype that didn’t exist in real life. At least not for me.

Uncovering what had led me to become a lawyer gave me invaluable insight into why I had been so unhappy practicing law. I was seeking freedom. Freedom from my rural roots. From my dysfunctional family. From financial scarcity.

In other words, I was running away from my past rather than running toward an intentionally chosen future.

This realization provided both an incredible sense of relief and a crippling rush of despair. I wasn’t a failure. I’d just picked an ill-fitting career...and was now realizing it at 31 years old.

Thanks to the support of my coach, husband and friends, I didn’t dwell on how long it took me to realize I needed a career change. Instead I embraced the opportunity to figure out which career would better fit into the lifestyle I wanted.

Once I allowed myself to be truly honest about what I wanted my life to look like -- both day-to-day and long-term -- I finally understood that choosing a fulfilling career was about more than money, prestige and job security (or a false sense thereof).

Selecting a career that is compatible with your ideal lifestyle requires an examination of what is most important to you at your core.

Affirming what you value most. Understanding your priorities and the corresponding trade-offs. Embracing your strengths and having the confidence to apply them in novel settings.

For me, the desire to be a lawyer wasn’t enough.

I needed to acknowledge that practicing law wasn’t integral to the person I am and the life I want to live. Realizing those facts finally yielded the freedom I had mistakenly set out to find in law school:

The freedom to choose a career that fit into my life and not the other way around.