Walking in and out of courtrooms and being addressed as “counselor” can make you feel like you’re on top of the world.
As a courtroom lawyer, there were plenty of things that I enjoyed about my profession, from the title and the prestige to being a voice for so many people.
There’s no more empowering feeling than standing in front of a judge or jury and representing your client (except when they pronounce your client “guilty”).
Sure, the hours were long and the job was stressful, but the pay and job stability made it worthwhile.
For. Some. Time.
It’s been at least 4 years since I last walked into a courtroom. I no longer wear my fancy
Armani Ross suits. Or sit in the corner office. Or hang my diplomas on my wall. Or fill my bookcases with legal books. (Or smoke cigars with my suspicious clients in the back office)
I’m free from most of the trappings of my former profession.
Many people might think I’ve totally lost it for giving up a profession that had given me so much. Yeah, that includes me!
I even doubt my decision when I see my friends from my former life still toiling away at the legal craft—talking law and strategy, fighting for their clients, or rolling around in their BMWs.
I feel like an outsider looking in. And even more doubtful when I see my two doctor brothers achieving success in their own careers.
“Why can’t I do that?”
“Why can’t I do a traditional job that’s stable and in demand? And pursue a normal career path?”
“Why am I resisting and abandoning a professional career that has been so good to me?”
“Why do I need to find a career that feels good and that makes a difference—a conscious career—when I should just shut up and earn a good living!”
Well, the thing is…as decent as the law had been, it didn’t conform to my values.
So, my mind said no.
As exciting as the job was, stress and sleepless night were its unfortunate side effects.
My body screamed no.
And as empowering as the job was, I was disconnected from pursuing my true purpose in life.
My soul cried no.
You might also feel the longing to escape from your professional career to do work that’s more in alignment with your being and has the most impact on people around you.
I have a pretty good hunch as to what might be holding you back: the very same limitations that held me back from letting go of my profession.
You’re likely worried to let go because of some of these reasons:
- Guilt for having spent so much time burning the midnight oil at university and all the years you’ve spent toiling away at your profession.
- Fear because you have no idea what you’d do without your stable income. Will you have food to eat? Will you be able to pay your rent? Will you be able to pay back your student loans? Will you have to move in with your parents?
- Uncertainty about what you’re going to do next. Yes, fear of the future is terrifying. At least in your current job, you know that your skills are earning you a living. You have the expertise, knowledge and know-how, and you’re not entirely sure that you can survive in any other field.
HorrifiedDiscouraging reactions from your friends, family and random strangers. Tell your mom, dad or anyone you know about your plans to quit your profession and pursue a different interest, and they’ll start going to church more regularly to pray for your soul.After of course, they try to cajole, entice, trick or bribe you into staying in your job.
As you can imagine, most of the time, none of these fears and concerns come true.
When I got out of the law, I found myself working for a labor union representing workers. Before I knew it, I catapulted from being a worker representative to the director of the organization in less than 6 months, managing 10 employees and a million-dollar budget.
Although leaving the law was a big shot in the dark, I soon found my footing and success in a new industry and organization where many of my legal skills were appreciated and rewarded.
I felt extremely comfortable in my advocacy role and in helping to improve the lives of thousands of workers. In the quest for justice, I was in my element. The work felt like it was a divine calling and resonated with every part of my being.
I left my professional career, then left my advocacy job and have continued transitioning towards more meaningful work.
Others I follow online have also transitioned to work that is more in tune with their purpose: conscious work.
Author and coach Jenny Blake, quit her job with Google Online Sales and Operation to pursue her passions, and now advises people on career direction and entrepreneurship.
Alexis Grant, a former journalist, quit her job and now runs a social media and digital strategy firm.
Celestine Chua quit her job with Proctor and Gamble and now inspires an international audience through her blog.
Most of the fears running through your mind as you plot your career exit can be faced and worked through, but that process starts with awareness and recognition that it’s fear that’s holding you back from moving forward.
And especially for us in the professional world, it’s doubly scary.
Many of us have licenses which we spent a lot of time working to obtain. We thought they were our tickets to financial freedom, career fulfillment and meeting societal expectations.
I was there once and left. The folks I mentioned were there once and left.
And now, you too have the choice and permission to leave.
A step-by-step guide to make a career transition to meaningful and inspired work.
1. Coming to terms with saying goodbye
If your professional career feels worse than working for the mob or like you’re imprisoned, you are likely already weighing the pros and cons of an escape.
Acknowledging that your career doesn’t fit you is the first step to finding work that does.
Saying ‘no’ or even, ‘I don’t know but not this’ will get the ball rolling on how to move on.
If you’re in denial about your career, addicted to it for the wrong reasons, or feel trapped, you’re going to continue the cycle of hopelessness and frustration.
If you’re open to leaving and can acknowledge that you’re not happy, then you can explore how to make a move.
You can work on the self-doubt and fears that will enter to foil your escape.
The point here is that you can’t deal with blocks or formulate a plan until you get honest with yourself.
2. Know who you are
Don’t book your trip to the Himalayas and take a trip around the world in search of yourself.
Ultimately, your career fulfillment comes from how well you know yourself.
Deep down, you know who you are, how you feel about your career, and what your dreams and aspirations are.
Problem is that this voice and self-knowledge are regularly quashed when we look outside ourselves, ignore our intuition and fall into the ‘follow the crowd’ mentality.
Where you and I falter is when we fail to listen to our intuitions or stay attuned to our inner selves.
Knowing who you are is about realizing what’s important to you, understanding your values and getting clear about how you want to feel in life.
Knowing who you are is about self-reflection and gleaning wisdom from the experiences and actions you take.
No, I’m not telling you to meditate your way to your next career. Or suggesting that self-reflection alone will lead you to your dream job.
But what’s wrong with acknowledging what’s important to you and getting to know yourself better?
It can’t hurt to reflect on jobs you’ve had and remember how they made you feel.
It makes sense to understand your joys and stay away from energy-draining work.
And it makes a whole lotta sense to have continued clarity about yourself and be aware of your insights, awareness and preferences in work (and life)!
3. Know your values
The ultimate key to knowing yourself is to know your values. This is really the magic bullet to discovering and living your ideal life. Values are a set of guiding principles that identify what is most important to you, but most people pay hardly any attention to their own values.
To live a fulfilling and meaningful life, discover your values, understand your guiding principles, and actively start putting together a life based on those values.
Values are a critical life coaching concept to help you understand what matters most to you. An easy way to do this is to read this invaluable guide put together by Tim Brownson. Tim’s the life coach’s life coach, and has written at length on how to uncover and live your values. The best part is that it’s language we can all understand.
He’s my go-to life coach, and it would be well worth your time if you spent a couple sessions with him to discover your values and understand yourself better, before a career transition.
Other excellent coaches who can help you discover and find a career more in line with your values are Michelle Ward for creative people, Jenny Blake for younger professionals and Jen Polk, the career coach for PhDs.
4. Design your lifestyle
While this tip might come across a little dreamy for all of us (ok, you), it’s worked for me in a profound way. This is advice I’ve listened to, implemented, and use in my life today.
It’s what helped me go from frustrated lawyer who couldn’t wait to make it out of the office everyday into a dream job that allows me to help people on my own time and schedule.
Before you go about figuring out how to get out of your job, think about what you want your day to look like. Do you want a busy job where you travel all the time? Or do you need a job with no overtime and weekends free so you can spend time with your family and catch all the World Cup games?
Do you need a lifestyle business where you set your own hours and work around your personal schedule?
Would you like summers off, as teachers and professors regularly have ?
Or have time during the day to take care of your personal errands?
Are you comfortable sitting in traffic for 90 minutes each day, or do you need a job closer to your home? Or at home?
Most professionals have a tough time with setting boundaries on their time and working continuously.
One of the most important things you can do for yourself is to start first with figuring out the lifestyle you want.
“Haha,” you laugh, “I want a job that allows me to sleep on my own hours, wake up at my own hours, travel the world and live the lifestyle of my dreams.”
Lifestyle businesses are possible, but the question you have to ask yourself is if it’s practical for you.
If it’s not and you need more of an office job with less risk and more stability, you have options. It might take a little creativity to get there. And a little sacrifice. And a pinch of luck.
How do you want to live and work?
What would be your ideal work scenario?
Think about these issues and consider them before transitioning to your next job.
5. Check out what’s out there.
One way to break out of your career is to start being more aware of and alert to what’s available.
Look for people, either in person or your profession’s trade magazines, who are taking different career routes with their professional qualifications.
Lawyers don’t only practice law at law firms.
Doctors do things other than treating people.
Accountants don’t just work at accounting firms.
And MBAs have careers outside of the consulting and corporate worlds.
There have been professionals before you who have ventured into other fields. Some of them have had very strong ties to your profession, and others have jumped to completely unrelated fields altogether.
Did they go back to school? What experience did they acquire? What additional certifications did they pick up?
As an example, in my case, I looked around for other fields where people were using their law degrees. There were so many opportunities related tangentially to law.
There were careers in public policy, politics, the non-profit world, and other types of careers that required critical thinking, analysis and advocacy.
I saw people with law degrees working in labor unions, working as human resources managers, working as administrators, working in the offices of politicians, running large non-profits, etc., etc.
What are former doctors, accountants, Ph.Ds doing with their degrees? Look around and see what colleagues, friends and friends no longer practicing in that profession are doing.
6. Look for work to help people or improve the world around you.
The common thread in meaningful work is helping others by giving back.
If you’re in a professional job, you’re at an advantage. Most likely you became interested in your profession out of a desire to help people already and spend large parts of your day helping those who come to you with their problems.
Even MBAs chasing after ungodly sums of cash or corporate attorneys seeking the corner office are trying to help people (in their own special ways).
You can’t go wrong with helping others, and you don’t just have to do it in a professional capacity.
You’re helping others when you invent a much-needed product or help someone stay organized or release your art into the world. You’re helping when you serve a delicious meal you’ve cooked up or help people achieve an ‘a-ha’ moment in their lives.
If you are having trouble finding meaningful work, just start helping others.
Look for places where you can serve or where you can contribute your talents to improve systems or conditions for other people.
You can wait to be asked, but why not look for a problem or inefficiency and offer to improve it? And it doesn’t have to be in your day job – it could be for a neighbor in need, your kid’s school or the local community center.
7. How to acquire the experience and skills you need while seeing if your new interest is for you
When most people decide they need to make a profession change or career makeover, one of the first things they look at is more education.
UGH GRGRGHAHL $$*#@)(*$)()@*$)@#*$ Just stab me a with s’more stick or tandoori skewer!
Step away from your computer and put down the brochures for additional masters programs and other professional schools.
I’m going to venture to say that 90% of the time, you’re not going to need any more school.
Unless you’re planning to cut people open as a surgeon or work on a nuclear reactor (or require some other super-specialized knowledge) you DO NOT need more education.
You can make the transition, acquire the experience and even test the waters with one of these 6 strategies.
- Volunteering. No, you’re not too old or mighty to volunteer. Finding the right volunteer opportunities gets your foot in the door and gives you experience in the field. You’ll pick up skills you can use and stuff to put on your resume, and can also see if the new career path is a good fit.
- Consulting. If you have experience or knowledge you in a particular field, can you start consulting for others? You can start by offering your knowledge and know-how for free to pick up the experience you need for your new career direction. You might be looking for outside institutions and certification programs to validate you, but as James Altucher challenges us all to do, why not choose yourself?
- Blogging. You’re laughing. I’m not. Did you know that blogging can help you position yourself as a leader or expert in the field? What field? Any field. Once you start sharing your know-how, opinions or insights, you’ll help position yourself for a new industry. Even better is that blogging can help you learn more about the field you want to go into, see how you feel about it and pick up specialized knowledge along the way. Blogging is an excellent source for learning and teaching.
- Side hustle. Start a business on the side. You don’t have to jump all in to a new business or venture. Start something small on the side, ideally, doing freelance work related to your current field that you can transition to a full-time business. Two experts I read who frequently write on this topic are Kristin Wilson and Ramit Sethi.
- Self-education. If you don’t see yourself going public with a blog, no worries, there are alternatives: your own education and studies. Before plopping down big deposits for certifications and even more education, study on your own. Find the must-read books and guides in the field you’re interested in and do a period of self-study. How long does this new field interest you? How many books are you willing to read on it? How much time are you willing to spend on researching the ins and outs of the new career?
- Networking. You may hate networking and think of it as slimy or useless, but it doesn’t have to be. Networking could simply be an exchange of energy or bonding of people with similar interests. You don’t have to go out there into the world believing that you need to get something from someone. Networking for a new career allows you meet others already in the field you’re interested in and inquire more about the ins and outs of that career.In the process of networking, you’ll find out the insider information about the field you’re interested in, see what programs or courses people take, and even find out who might already need your contribution to their businesses or organization.
8. Take small steps before you make large leaps.
I was pretty scared to leave a profession behind that paid well, had unlimited career prospects and did a lot of good in the world (yes, lawyers in fact do
a lot some good in the world).
But I think the best advice is doing this in small steps. If you’re afraid, or think it’s impractical or not possible to get out of your 6-figure career with your 6-figure loans due, then there’s no need to rush it.
If your soul can tolerate your career for some time and your personal checking account will appreciate the paycheck, there’s no need for sudden or furious leaps.
Go at your own pace, but start developing a plan. Start getting clearer on what you’d like to do before hatching a plan on how to go about doing it.
9. Reduce expenses and save up.
If you are ready to start making a move to a different career, think about ways to cut back your expenses, reduce your commitments and obligations ,and live a simpler lifestyle than you are now.
It’s about choices, right? If you would rather pursue your dreams and stay true to yourself, you might have to cut back some expenses temporarily, maybe live in a smaller apartment or more affordable part of town. Maybe you can put off buying a new car for a bit?
At least in the beginning, you’ll have to invest some of your finances into a new direction or even take a temporary pay cut to make the leap to more fulfilling work.
10. You can make a difference outside of work.
I’m just going to throw this in here in case you don’t see any way out of your professional career.
If you’re searching for meaning and trying to make a difference with your life, you can do so outside of your day job.
Your work isn’t everything, and there is life outside work. You can find meaning, purpose and fulfillment in your relationships or contributions outside work.
You can use your earnings to fund the things you care about!
I hope you’ve found some of these tips useful to help you make the transition out of an unfulfilling career, even professional ones that you’ve spent years working on. There are ways out!
Even if you can’t stomach or envision a career change now, simply becoming aware of the fact that you have to make a change or coming up with a game plan to quit your profession are productive first steps.
If you are contemplating leaving your career, please read my book One Way Ticket: Your One Way Ticket Out of the Courtroom, Boardroom and, Hey, Even the Lunch Room.