Do you ever find yourself wondering if you’re on the right career path? Maybe there’s a small voice that pops up every now and then with thoughts of a different way to spend your days. Or perhaps it’s a full-on shout. Wherever you are on the path, it’s normal to feel a bit paralyzed and stuck when you think about making a drastic job change. The status quo is so easy to maintain, after all. But if you’re looking for something different, read on. We’ll share five building blocks to a new direction—which you can start implementing today.
1. Start With Baby Steps
Making a change can easily become overwhelming when you try to do everything at once. If it’s a big change, even the planning stage is too much to consider as a whole, not to mention the actual execution.
A better approach is to start with one baby step, and build on that. You’ll create forward momentum as you go, and (as any parent knows) those baby steps rapidly become toddling, walking, and running.
For example, say you’re considering a move out of the law firm you’ve worked in for the last several years. You’re not sure BigLaw is for you long term and you’re not convinced you want to continue doing the type of work you’ve been doing. Really, when it comes right down to it, you’re not sure you want to stay in the law at all. But, you do know that you want to move to a different part of the country for a better quality of life.
Where can you even start? Clearly, not with all of these topics at once. Each one is a huge decision that deserves its own independent, detailed consideration. Rather than doing nothing, pick one area to explore and then come up with a single action (preferably one you can easily accomplish in an hour or less) that you’re willing to commit to. For example, maybe you’re going to make an appointment with a career coach to talk about whether law is the best fit for you. Or maybe you’re going to call a law school friend who has an interesting-sounding job and ask her to meet you for coffee. Or perhaps you want to do some research on low-cost locations with a robust legal market.
The exact action doesn’t matter—the key is to do something to get the ball rolling.
Ask yourself: What’s one thing I can realistically do in the next hour to advance my career explorations?
2. Master Your Craft
Hopefully if you’ve been working as a lawyer, you’re pretty good at what you do. But, when it’s time to make a change, there’s a good chance you’ll need to learn some new skills. Try approaching this reality as an opportunity to further master your craft—whether that means doing a deep dive into a new area of law, taking on a pro bono project to gain new skills and connections, or signing up for a course on sales and marketing or business planning to fill gaps in your personal skill set.
Ask Yourself: What are the three most important things I need to learn this year to move my career forward?
3. Join the Community
The simple fact of the matter is that no one succeeds alone. When you’re considering a career shift, it’s critically important to look around for others who are similarly situated (either to where you are now, or where you want to be).
These people don’t have to be inside the legal community, either. If you’re considering a solo practice, for example, look for local entrepreneurs who meet regularly in whatever context. Even if their companies are very different from your law firm, anyone starting a business has similar concerns and needs. When you join this community, you’ll find the cheerleaders you need to move your own project forward when the going gets tough. And you’ll have a sounding board for ideas that might sound crazy to your lawyer friends!
If there’s no one physically in your location who seems interesting, don’t give up hope! You can find a community on the internet, or even in books. The goal is to find like-minded people who are willing to be supportive. If those people happen to exist in cyberspace, so be it.
Ask Yourself: Who can I contact this week to start building a mutually beneficial relationship?
4. Become Politely Persistent
As you move along in your career, it’s inevitable that you’ll face rejection. Learning to be politely persistent is a critical skill in our modern, interconnected world.
If you reach out to someone and they don’t respond, what’s your reaction? Don’t immediately assume they’re not willing to interact with you! People are busy, and a well-timed follow-up message can work wonders to move a relationship along.
Likewise, don’t ignore social media channels. It is indeed possible to build a relationship on platforms like Twitter (we met there, after all), and it’s a great way to set yourself up for a warm outreach when the time comes. Sending an email saying, “I loved that article you put up on Twitter/Facebook last week about how work is evolving to accommodate the Millennial generation. I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on this. Would you be willing to [meet for coffee/talk on the phone] next week?” is far more likely to yield positive results than one just saying, “Will you have coffee with me?”
Ask Yourself: Who should I follow up with that I’ve been neglecting?
5. Develop Resilience
Finally, and perhaps most important, is developing the resilience to confront and overcome obstacles that stand between you and the career you really want. On this point, we highly recommend Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dwyck. Cultivating a growth mindset in all aspects of life, but particularly in the career context, is critically important for success.
We’re all going to face challenges, especially in the legal business. Developing your resilience muscles can really help you move forward and stay the course when things get difficult.
Ask Yourself: What can I do this week to start developing more resiliency?
Charting a new career path can be intimidating and overwhelming, but it’s not impossible! Start with baby steps, and keep moving when things get tough, and you’ll be on your way in no time.