The Importance of your Mindset in Achieving a Successful Career Change

career change mindset

Why how you think is just as important as what you think

Many lawyers who feel unfulfilled – or even unhappy – in their career end up doing something ridiculous: nothing.

As someone who was in the same boat, I know that we often justify this lack of action by reference to external factors.

Money, prestige, time and energy already spent, the fact that “things aren’t that bad”.

And then we plod on as before, still feeling unfulfilled and unhappy.

But as I came to realise, none of the external factors is a true roadblock to making a change to our career.

It’s our mindset that sees them as obstacles.

And when you couple a negative mindset with a typical lawyer’s analytical and risk-averse tendencies it’s no wonder that many end up with burnout, stress, or depression.

They feel trapped.

I’ve worked with many clients in the legal profession over the years, and I found there are five key mindset areas that lawyers need to be aware of that could potentially harm your ability to accurately assess your career options.

Let’s look at them now, so you can make sure that your mindset is in the right place to help and doesn’t hinder your career choices.

1. You Need an Open Mind

This is important throughout your career change process, but it’s particularly crucial at the start.

As a lawyer, the temptation is to start analysing everything far too quickly.

This tends to mean you are dismissing options almost as soon as you discover them.

This is because, without an open mind, you will tend to latch on to the negatives of any given new path without following a defined process of research and analysis.

A common manifestation of this is the immediate dismissal of a desired career option because it will pay less than what you are currently earning.

By keeping an open mind, we can go on to explore whether there are other changes we could make to our lifestyle, our finances, or our own perceptions that mean that money isn’t the hurdle we first assumed.

Remember, career change and assessment should be a process, managed with care and given time.

Without keeping an open mind and allowing all your options to move through the process in its entirety you may be throwing away fantastic opportunities without exploring them thoroughly enough.

2. Learn to Live with Uncertainty

As legal professionals, most of us have been conditioned to avoid uncertainty as much as possible! We spend our working day trying to deal with facts, seeking clarity, gathering all the information, and minimising risk.

The problem with looking critically at what you really want from your career is that this will, by definition, introduce quite a lot of uncertainty into the mix.

At the moment, you probably have very little certainty about what you want to be doing in your job, or as a career.

After all, isn’t that why you’re researching career change options?

Even more unnerving for many lawyers is the fact that during this process it’s quite common for any certainty you find to be removed again as you move further along the process.

That’s ok.

Embrace it – and be comfortable in the knowledge that your outlook and ambitions will change through this process.

After all, this shows us that the process works.

Remember, whatever uncertainties you face, many other lawyers have been there before you and have moved on to find a life and work that truly fulfils them. I know, because I’m one of them and many of my former clients are too!

3. Fear of “Giving Up”

I find this to be a common negative mindset for lawyers who aren’t happy with their careers.

They worry that moving away from the law is somehow “giving up”, that it makes them “a quitter”.

This mindset automatically raises the stakes of a career change for us because no one wants to be seen as someone who gives up easily or runs at the first sign of trouble.

You need to adjust your mindset so that you see your potential career change as a change in direction, not as “giving up” on anything.

In fact, you’re seeking to take control of your career and pursue the next challenge – a challenge that will see you enjoying more fulfilment and new achievements.

That’s rather the opposite of giving up, don’t you think?

4. We Create our Own Reality

The thoughts we have, the words we speak, the images we create in our minds – all of these combine to form the reality that each of us then lives and experiences.

The results we achieve are often a reflection of our thoughts and feelings.

It may be a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason:

“You can if you think you can, but you can’t if you think you can’t.”

It’s really worth writing this on a card and putting it somewhere that you’ll see it every day.

I work with people to help them develop that ‘can do’ attitude using techniques such as focusing on past successes and current strengths.

Try to notice limiting beliefs and negative thoughts – but don’t judge them or dwell on them.

Just let them go and re-focus on positive thoughts.

Part of maintaining positive mindsets is trying not to blame others or outside events when things don’t go as planned.

Why not?

Because if you do this, you give away your power to change things.

Realise that you’re not a passive bystander, and always do things that help to create your own reality.

5. Beware of Building Barriers

The biggest challenge when thinking about a career change is overcoming ourselves.

As lawyers, we’re more than capable of brainstorming alternative careers, researching our options, doing some critical thinking, assessing strengths and weaknesses, and all those classic “left-brain” things we do so well.

But we’re also very good at immediately building barriers between ourselves and those possibilities in the form of ‘doubt’:

  • What if leaving the law turns out to be a huge mistake?
  • I won’t be able to find an alternative career that pays anywhere near as well.
  • There will be plenty of more qualified people than me for that new job.
  • What if I can’t find anything else to go to?

This is where having a defined process – and trust in that process – pays dividends.

The lawyer in you will appreciate that by following a structured career change process and seeking out objective advice and support you are actively minimising those doubt barriers.

By understanding the role of uncertainty, you’ll recognise that you’re not making a huge leap into the unknown, and by keeping an open mind you will open yourself to far more possibilities than dead ends.

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Matt Oliver

Matt is the founder of Law Career Plus and a former in-house lawyer (Sky Sports, London & Foxtel, Sydney). With over 12 years of experience as a career consultant & executive coach, he supports lawyers with their career development & career transitions. He does this through this website, a regular email newsletter and his one to one lawyer career coaching.

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