I love how this flower blossoms. Photographed with Nikon D300, 60mm micro lens.
It's coming up on six months since I left my law job.
I've been reading and speaking and writing a lot lately, and it got me thinking about how fast the time has flown. It's also occurred to me that I never really fully explained why I left the practice of law, or, for that matter, why I did practice law for close to 15 years before I left. So I thought I'd share some of what I've discovered over the last six months, in the hope that those of you who might be toying with a similar idea of switching careers can find some launching points for making your own decisions.
Why I practiced law for as long as I did:
- After working that hard on both making it through law school and passing the bar exam, it seemed a shame not to use the degree and the license.
- Despite the bad rep lawyers have, I liked that people assumed I was smart because I was an attorney. I'm not proud of this, but there it is. I also liked proving that not all lawyers are jerks, and would often find myself going out of my way to do so.
- I loved drafting deals. I really loved it. I didn't so much like reading contracts, and I could take or leave the negotiation part of a deal, but the crafting of a document that was easy to understand, and captured the intents of both parties? I loved that. I like to think I got pretty decent at it, too.
- I had some success in my law career -- I traveled around the world, I received promotions and recognition. I admit receiving accolades was pretty intoxicating, regardless of how I felt about the actual work.
- While I certainly wasn't anywhere near the wealthy end of the spectrum of lawyers by any stretch of the imagination, being a lawyer allowed me to contribute enough to our family so that Marcus, Alex and I could travel pretty readily. And we love to travel.
Why I ended up leaving the practice:
- The truth is that I never really had any passion for the law. Also, being a lawyer was very stressful for me, and naturally had an effect on my family life; without the passion, it was very difficult for me to see how continuing was worth the stress. As it turns out, many of the things I liked about my practice had very little to do with the law - even the drafting of documents was more about the writing, than it was the legal terms of art. These days, I write as much as I ever did -- except now, the documents I write are more likely to be articles and essays, rather than contracts; and I still get the thrill of trying to craft words that communicate effectively what I'm trying to say. In addition, the traveling certainly isn't going to stop, now it just means we have to save more between trips. And anyway, I'll never give up my law license - I worked too hard for it (and in fact, come to think of it, I need to start looking for a couple of Continuing Legal Education courses to take soon...).
- When I was still working at a corporate job, I used to dream about what I would do once I retired -- I knew that I would hate to practice law forever, but I also knew that after retirement, I'd have to do something, particularly because I suspect I inherited the don't-stop-working-after-you-retire gene my father has. When I daydreamed about how I filled my days after I finally stopped practicing law, I found my fantasies centered around writing, and photography, and public speaking (it also revolved around living somewhere beautiful near a large body of water; I haven't given up on that dream yet). Eventually, I got to the point where I didn't see any reason to put off writing and shooting and speaking any longer. And now, I don't fantasize about retiring -- I fantasize about working and being creative for the rest of my life.
- Ultimately, doing anything other than leaving law to pursue a more creative career felt inauthentic.
And for what it's worth, 6 months later, I don't miss it at all.
Finally and related, on the suggestion of a commenter (I'm not sure who you are, but I really owe you one), a few months ago I purchased The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.* If you're thinking about starting any creative project, whether as full-time work, or something to do on your off-time, I'd strongly recommend picking up this book. An excerpt:
If tomorrow morning by some stroke of magic every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step toward pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the directory would be out of business. Prisons would stand empty. The alcohol and tobacco industries would collapse, along with the junk food, cosmetic surgery, and infotainment businesses, not to mention pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and the medical profession from top to bottom. Domestic abuse would become extinct, as would addiction, obesity, migraine headaches, road rage, and dandruff.
A tad melodramatic, perhaps? Yeah, maybe. But still, a very fun and truly inspiring read.