If you’re on the edge of burning it all down as a lawyer here are some tips on what to do next.
If you’re like me, you’ve definitely had one of those “burn it all down” moments during your legal career.
A “burn it all down” moment happens when you get so sick and tired of your current work situation that you have to hold yourself back from cursing out your boss, quitting, or burning down the building.
In those moments, it feels like it will only take one false move to push you over the edge and into a decision you’ll likely regret.
Need an example? Let me tell you about a “burn it all down” moment that happened to me.
About 10 years ago, I was working as a local government attorney. One spring day, I had become so frustrated with my job, supervisors, and the politics at the office, that I decided to leave for lunch and never come back.
I wasn’t going to put in a letter of resignation or give my employer time to replace me. I was just going to disappear. That day. At lunch. ????
I know this sounds like a joke, but I was very serious about this plan at the time. I remember gathering my things, telling my co-workers that I was “heading out for lunch,” and then walking a few blocks to a bank where I called a friend to help me make my getaway.
At this point, I know you can’t get over how fool-proof this plan was. Sigh…???? But at that moment, disappearing seemed like my best and most immediate option.
Thankfully my friend had better sense. He refused to be my getaway driver or let me run away from my job. So after a long talk, I returned to the office and got back to work.
Certainly, there are times when employees are justified in quitting and exiting their offices immediately, but that wasn’t my situation then.
It’s also not the situation for many of the attorneys that I talk to regularly now.
We get to the point of wanting to “burn it all down” because we don’t take control of our careers before moments like that arrive.
Long before I tried to pull my disappearing act, I knew it was time for me to move on from that position. But because I couldn’t figure out an alternative career option that didn’t involve putting up with the same issues in a different building or taking a huge pay cut, I stayed and complained.
That’s what most of us do. We wait until things are so bad in our current roles that we are forced to change because our health is failing, our relationships are suffering, or we can’t take it anymore.
That approach doesn’t make us feel empowered about our careers. Instead, we feel resigned, defeated, and lost.
If you’re on the edge of burning it all down as a lawyer, or you already have and need advice, here are some tips on what to do next.
Tip 1: ReTrain Your Brain
Because we are risk-averse, stepping out into the unknown to take back the reins of our legal career means retraining our way of thinking.
Broadly speaking, there are three categories of thought. There are things that you know, like performing the day-to-day duties of your job.
Then there are things you know you don’t know, like what rocket scientists do or the process for becoming an astronaut. You’ve heard of those professions, but you know that you have no clue how to do those tasks.
Finally, there are things you don’t know you don’t know. These are schools of thought, mindset shifts, and concepts that have never crossed your radar. You don’t even know they exist, and you don’t know that your next career move (or the courage to make it) will likely come from those thought patterns.
To figure out things that you don’t know you don’t know, you will have to turn into THAT person. You know the one that meditates, reads self-help books, and goes to the conferences where they walk over hot coals with their bare feet or shout weird affirmations.
We make fun of all of that stuff, but self-help and self-care are popular because they work. They transform you. So if you’re really committed to figuring out what comes next in your career, get ready to dive deep into self-transformation.
Tip #2: Be Honest And Get Vulnerable
We lie to ourselves all the time. We tell ourselves that we won’t overindulge in sweets or keep dating that partner that disappoints us. However, as soon as the munchkins are out at work and our phone lights up with our partner’s number, all bets are off.
Those responses are natural and human, but if we want to change them, we have to become aware of our behaviors, get ruthlessly honest about them, and be vulnerable enough to ask for help.
Awareness means recognizing our psychological needs, values, interests, desires, financial constraints, and boundaries. Asking for help means understanding that no one cultivates the life and career they want in a vacuum. We all need help in holding the space for our goals and dreams and people in our lives to hold us accountable for the actions we need to take to get us there.
Tip #3: Create Your Ideal Work Day
Take out one sheet of paper and write a description of an ideal workday for you. This day should be an ordinary weekday where you go about the normal routines of your life.
In your description, include where you are in the world and who’s there with you. Even if you don’t know the type of work you want to do, write down the things you know you want, like I only want to attend 1 meeting per week, etc.
Be as detailed as possible but limit your time to complete this task to 10-15 minutes. You want an honest, stream of consciousness style description. No editing or judgment allowed.
Once you finish this step, use this as your north star. This is your goal for the next step in your life and career. You want to bring this ideal workday into reality.
Tip #4: Use S.M.A.R.T.E.R. Goals
Now that you have your ideal day goal, it’s time to reverse engineer that day by setting some S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals.
The S.M.A.R.T.E.R goals framework comes from Michael Hyatt and is a rift off of the often-cited S.M.A.R.T. goals. A goal is SMARTER if it is:
Specific enough to focus and direct your energies;
Measurable so you can keep track of your progress;
Actionable with a strong initiating action verb to prompt specific activities;
Risky enough to be outside of your comfort zone but not delusional;
Time-keyed so you know exactly when to take action;
Exciting enough to inspire you to keep going when things get tough; and
Relevant within the overall context of your life.
So in thinking about your ideal workday, what SMARTER goal can you set for the end of this quarter that will move you closer to it? What tasks do you need to accomplish to reach that quarterly goal? Where can you find time in your schedule every week to complete these tasks?
By answering these questions, you’ll be well on your way to creating the career you want and discovering what to do next if you hate being a lawyer.
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