Why Unhappy Lawyers Need To Stop Chasing Their “Dream Job”
How the pursuit of ‘passions’ and ‘dreams’ actually stops lawyers from successfully changing careers.
“Find your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life” or some variation on the theme is responsible for far more unhappiness than success.
Talk of following desires, of passions, of dream jobs, is often well-meant, but it’s just not helpful.
Because thinking that you have to identify your true passion first before you can clearly plot your new career path is one of the biggest blockers that causes many unhappy lawyers to “fail to launch”.
Having a true passion – a genuine “dream job” – is actually very rare, but the few who have found this holy grail make it harder for the vast majority of us who think if we can’t find the same then we’re falling short.
Seeking your true passion or dream job actually becomes a dangerous aspiration.
Many people either find it incredibly hard to choose one of the many interests they have or opportunities that excite them, or they don’t have one thing in their life that stands out enough to spark the energy they need to take it on.
Either way, doubt and paralysis ensue.
Passion is cultivated not found
The reality for most of us is that we don’t actually have a single true passion that can easily translate into new career directions.
And even for those that do, that passion often doesn’t translate well into a career that can actually pay the bills, too.
For many people, the joy of hobbies is that they don’t have to be treated like a job.
Professor Cal Newport has managed to hit the nail firmly on the head with his book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love”.
In this excellent read, Cal helps us to reset our expectations by showing us that there is no one passion out there waiting for us.
Rather, passion is something that is cultivated, and usually in and around many different things.
As Cal writes:
“Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”
So rather than finding your passion, you should be choosing something to focus on that you will do well and see if you can then cultivate a passion around it.
Cal believes – and I agree with him – that loving what you do is much less about the type of work you do and much more about what you do with it.
Be open to opportunity and be prepared to pivot to something into which you can pour all your energy.
Here’s a link to a 20-minute presentation from Cal where he elaborates on this in more detail – it’s really worth a watch: Cal Newport: “Follow your passion” is bad advice
So what can you do instead?
For all of my fellow “passionless” lawyers, there are plenty of strategies you can employ in order to avoid the trap of waiting around for a dream career that almost certainly doesn’t exist.
Here are my top four suggestions for how to start the journey of cultivating your passion from scratch.
1. Understand what “passion” actually is
Passion is more than excitement.
It’s easy to get excited about a potential career path, or a new type of work, or even an idea.
But the truth is, excitement comes and goes and rarely persists.
Passion runs deeper – it creates a fundamental drive and determination to get better at something.
It keeps you going when the excitement ebbs and flows.
Passion is when you are doing something that gives you what you truly want.
Instead of focusing on a mindset that says “I haven’t found my passion yet”, try instead to think “I haven’t yet cultivated my passion.”
That cultivation will involve focusing on one thing you’re curious about and beginning a process while being completely open to pivoting along the way.
2. Become an Explorer
Reflect on your current interests and start to explore them further.
It may be that once you explore these further, some interests strengthen. Some may excite you more than others.
I don’t just mean your personal interests. Identify areas around your work where becoming more of an expert might appeal. What could you really throw yourself into in the pursuit of mastery?
Solely pursuing work connected to personal interests is not necessarily the key – I am an example of this.
I have always been very into sport so I made a career pivot into sports law.
I enjoyed elements of it for sure, and the sports part was a big part of that.
Yet I never felt I found my true calling or passion or wanted to really become great at it.
The nuts and bolts of being a lawyer in the sports sector didn’t suit me personally and therefore I could never develop a passion for it.
I eventually realised that to have a better chance of ‘finding my passion’ I needed to move away from the law completely.
3. Let your “Passion Path” evolve
As the name suggests, this is a journey – something that develops over time.
The start of that journey is usually not going to end up being the passion the path leads you to.
I know that’s a bit counter-intuitive: surely you need to have found your passion in order to pursue it?
In fact, the opposite is usually true – passion is found by doing something in an area that really interests you.
That interest is then developed, your skills in that area are honed, and finally, your passion starts to develop.
If it doesn’t, then the path can meander a bit, or even take you in a completely different direction, based on those explorations.
In one of my all-time favourite quotes, Steve Jobs wisely said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
If you think that you need to find your “true passion” first and then make a bold move towards it you are most likely going to be paralysed by the enormity of that move.
It takes more courage than most of us would be comfortable with because the stakes have become so high.
That’s why we can get trapped trying to identify our true passion and figuring out how we might get ourselves to the jumpoff point rather than seeing it as a pathway – stepping stones towards greater career satisfaction.
4. Build a process – and trust it
This can be the most difficult part of making a career change as a lawyer, and where I recommend you don’t try and “go it alone”. Build a plan and design a process for your career change.
Seek advice from trusted friends, or work with an experienced career coach.
Although you should build a process and follow it, make sure that it gives you the encouragement and confidence you need to be free to explore, to make micro-discoveries, and to speak to others who have trodden the same path.
The key to a successful process is to get under your own skin and understand who you really are.
This allows you to seek out new work where you can be yourself and play to your strengths more often than not.
Remember, there will be many career paths you can take that will give you this, not just one.
A little bit like dating, you may have to try a few “passion paths” before you know you have found “the one” you want to stay with for the long term.