Leaving the Law to Build a Calligraphy Company with Shinah Chang

This episode is exciting as Sarah talks with Shinah Chang, who is building her calligraphy business. 

Shinah worked in corporate law for six years before leaving to start her Crooked Calligraphy company. Her company takes on client jobs and teaches people how to do calligraphy in a fun and exciting way!

Shinah shares a lot of wisdom from her experience working as a lawyer and leaving the law to embrace her passion. Here’s a reminder that you, too, can be like Shinah and pursue your passions outside of the legal profession. Sign up for the Former Lawyer Guide that shows you how to take the first step to getting started!

Now, let’s get right into the conversation!

Desiring Success

Shinah is Korean-American. Her parents came to the US and gave birth to her there. Her parents were pretty creative parents who wanted traditional success for their children. 

For Shinah, that meant she spent all her childhood trying to get into Harvard for her undergraduate studies. She achieved that by getting straight As and having a tutor for everything. 

She started studying for her SATs in eighth grade and learned to play the classical piano. She was a member of the speech and debate club and did everything traditionally known as successful

Shinah didn’t know another way, and she assumed that that was the only way to succeed. Her definition of success was to have a nice and stable life, be a role model, and provide a wonderful life for her family and herself. She thought that the best professional paths to guarantee success were studying law, medicine, and engineering at a good school. 

Struggling to Choose Law

Shinah struggled with the thought of going to law school throughout her undergrad. Once she got into Harvard, she felt like there were many things that no one told her about. For example, she wondered how to meet expectations like her parents’ wanting her to try out medicine, pre-medicine, or maybe engineering. 

However, she chose psychology because it sounded interesting to study why people behave the way they do and what might influence people to behave differently. Even though she had no idea what she wanted to do with her psychology degree, she had always considered studying law because she was told she’d be good at it because she liked to argue. 

Since Shinah was an excellent writer, president of the speech and debate club in high school, and was great with languages, it felt natural that she would study law. 

But, even though she did not know what to do, she knew she didn’t want to be a lawyer. Studying law seemed dull, and she didn’t find constantly arguing and battling with people appealing. She dreaded the paperwork but thought it was a prestigious, stable, and safe career.

Taking a Break Before Law School

After her undergrad studies, Shinah delayed deciding what to do by choosing to go to Japan to teach English for two years. She found a program that allowed her to teach English at government high schools in Japan and signed up for it. 

She still didn’t know what she wanted to do after two years. She had started studying for the LSAT and looking at law schools. While in Japan, she considered other options but was scared because they appeared scary, dark, and difficult, laced with the fear of ruining her entire future. 

So Shinah chose law school.

Enduring Law School

Shinah didn’t get a chance to dwell on the fact that she got into law school because she just entered school mode like she had been doing all her life. She found a way around it, like she often did. She knew what the teachers were looking for and enjoyed being surrounded by intelligent people. She was in her comfort zone. 

Despite all of these, she didn’t love law school. Although she found the materials interesting, they weren’t as fascinating as she wanted. She was just doing what she needed to get through classes, get good grades, and continue on the path that made sense.

Two months into law school, a guy from her small writing group decided it wasn’t for him and left. Word quickly spread that he quit to work in a bar somewhere, and while many people thought him crazy to do that, Shinah envied him. 

Working in a Law Firm

After graduating from Law school, Shinah got a job at a law firm, and as usual, she was just following the mill that most lawyers find themselves stuck in.

She told herself to put her head down and do an excellent job at the firm. She knew what the bosses wanted and wanted to excel while ticking off the traditional markers of success in the legal profession. Her sense of value was based on compliments from her bosses. Even though she went into the job thinking that she didn’t want to do it long-term or make a partner, she ended up working at the firm for six years with the same attitude toward work she had throughout law school. 

Deciding to Leave the Law Firm

For Shinah, deciding to leave the law firm was a slow progression as she realized that she was unhappy with the lifestyle and needed a change. 

However, she didn’t make the change instantly. Instead, she thought that if she could get out of New York and move to LA, she would find it easier to cope. So, she moved to LA, which was a little better with fewer expectations. Slowly, Shinah realized she had gained weight, wasn’t feeling healthy, and was much angrier. Although she had become emotionally desperate while working as a lawyer, leaving was still a slow and fearful process. 

The first thing she did was sit down with a partner in charge and ask for some time off because she was feeling overwhelmed and burned out. After returning from her time off, she asked for reduced hours, and she got it. Since she was a good junior associate, her law firm agreed to her request.

At some point, she had to make a decision. So, she took some weeks off and returned in a couple of months. It was at the end of the two months that Shinah decided to leave.  

Leaving the Law Behind

Before leaving the law, Shinah had a reflective moment where she assessed her life and financial situation. Because she was terrified, she had to make a spreadsheet of her basic needs to have a view of her financial chances. She also looked at her savings and found that she had over $100,000 in savings and spoke to her friend, who had a spare room in his condo, to see if she could rent it.

Shinah was in a dilemma because, while the fear of what could happen was dealing with her, she also feared that she would be stuck in a law firm forever. So, she just looked at how much she had saved and her daily expenses to determine how long she could go on her savings. It was important because she felt that she would be too scared to leave the law if she didn’t take that step. 

She also looked at her support network and decided that if things didn’t go as planned, she could move in with her parents or sister. Knowing that she would not be homeless if the worst happened was all she needed to quit. 

Furthermore, Shinah kept a good relationship with her law firm and some partners that had moved to other firms. She talked to people who had switched careers and realized she could get another job. That made her feel more comfortable about quitting without a plan. 

Dealing with Social Pressure

Like most lawyers, Shinah also had to deal with the social pressure of quitting. Over the years, she had built her self-worth on external validation, so what people around her were saying mattered to her.

Her biggest concern was her family and the fact that her parents had worked extra hard to put her through school. Although she was scared of disappointing them, she had to talk to them about her true feelings while practicing law. She knew that if she kept doing what she was doing, she would suffer health consequences like the majority of her friends, who were already crumbling under the stress of being in law. Thankfully, her parents understood, or maybe they just thought it was a temporary decision. 

Also, to ease her anxiety about leaving, Shinah often checked out law job openings. Initially, she worried about her colleagues, but they all congratulated her and were happy for her.

She believed that the more insecure she felt about her future, the more scared she was of what people would think.  So, she got a life coach after quitting, and her coach advised her to guard herself against adverse or judgmental opinions. 

Shinah realized she was at a transformation stage and didn’t need people poking at her all the time. She followed her coach’s advice and avoided disclosing her personal information to anyone she suspected of being judgmental.

Six Years After Leaving

After she left the law, Shinah tried a lot of stuff. Her life coach advised her to find a part-time seasonal job that offered some income. She helped kids with their college essays and applications. This ensured she wasn’t bleeding out her savings and stifling creativity. 

Then she tried other things that helped her explore her creativity. She often attended workshops and classes while trying her hands at woodworking, watercolor, and figure drawing. She even opened a knitting Etsy shop and was blogging about all the DIY stuff she was trying. 

Although none of those businesses worked, doing them led her to discover calligraphy.

When Shinah found calligraphy, she knew she had found the perfect craft because she was ready to do it. She had learned a lot from taking photos, writing for her blog, and writing descriptions for her Etsy store, which came in handy for starting her calligraphy business. 

Four years later, her company, Crooked Calligraphy, is still doing great!

Building a Calligraphy Business After Leaving the Law

Shinah started her business by making greeting cards. She’d print them on her Canon PIXMA Printer, cut each one by hand, score them, stuff them into envelopes, and ship them out one by one. That was how her business started on Etsy.

Then she realized that process wasn’t giving her a better profit margin, and since people were asking her to teach, she started teaching in-person workshops. With more people putting courses online, she got the drive to scale her business with online courses and created one. One became two, and now she is focused on her online courses. 

While she has a few clients for whom she does calligraphy, her focus is on teaching, building a community, and using her platform to reach people and teach creativity and calligraphy.

Shinah found that business is both exciting and terrifying. She didn’t start out knowing about teaching or building an online course. Her calligraphy wasn’t even that good. But she knew to start.

She also embraced the possibility of pivoting, like most billion-dollar companies in Silicon Valley. 

Utilizing The Legal Training

Lawyers looking to transition out of the law will find that one of the downsides to legal training is that it is risk-averse and sees everything that could go wrong.

However, Shinah has channeled her legal training into helping her be more organized, improve her research, get her legal papers in order, and organize her finances. 

She is better at sending professional emails and appearing professional because the law is a service profession. Every time she takes on a new client, she leans on her legal experience to make her emails as clear and easy to understand as possible. That helps her clients trust her to provide a high level of service.

Want to Leave the Law Like Shinah?

To leave the law, you must look at the world of possibilities. One way to do that is to access resources that show you that it is possible to leave the law and have a wonderful life that allows you to do things that you could only dream of as a lawyer. 

A perfect way to let go of the limiting fear is to find a support group like the Former Lawyer Collaborative that helps you through the terror of leaving the law. 

You can get a more personalized and detailed experience by signing up for 1:1 sessions with Sarah, the founder of the Former Lawyer Collaborative. During these sessions, Sarah will provide personalized feedback based on her experience working with former lawyers who have made the leap. She will also walk you through the Former Lawyer Framework to discover what your heart wants, an exit strategy, and the courage to follow through.  

If that sounds like what you need, book a call with Sarah to get one of the available slots and be on your way to building a wonderfully fulfilling life for yourself!

Connect with Shinah:

Sarah Cottrell: Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. On this show, I interview former lawyers to hear their inspiring stories about how they left law behind to find careers and lives that they love. Let's get right to the show.

Hi everyone. I'm so excited for you to hear my conversation with Shinah Chang this week. Shinah is someone who I discovered on Instagram and as soon as I ran across her account, I knew she was someone I wanted to have on the podcast. She worked as a corporate lawyer for six years and now she owns her own business Crooked Calligraphy. She does client work, she teaches people how to do calligraphy, and she has lots and lots of wisdom to share from her experience working as a lawyer and leaving the law. I can't wait for you to hear the conversation so let's get into it.

Hi, Shinah. Welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.

Shinah Chang: Hey, thank you so much for having me.

Sarah Cottrell: Okay. How about you introduce yourself to the listeners and let them know a little bit about who you are and what made you go to law school in the first place?

Shinah Chang: My name is Shinah. I currently have a small business, small in that it's just me, where I do calligraphy professionally for clients and I also teach calligraphy to students mostly online. My company is called Crooked Calligraphy and it's called crooked because I approach calligraphy in a totally not traditional way. I do a bit of swearing and I mostly emphasize having fun with calligraphy and creative expression, but also really learning it so that you can do something with it if you want to. That's what I do now.

But six years ago, I was working as a corporate securities lawyer at the law firm Akin Gump. I had gone to NYU Law School and before that, I went to Harvard University for undergrad. Before that, I basically spent my childhood trying to get into Harvard. It's probably a familiar story to a lot of your listeners. But I'm Korean-American. My parents came over here to the US and had me here. Although they were fairly creative themselves, for their children they really wanted that traditional success. That's what I did.

I just got straight As. I went to tutors for everything. I started studying for the SATs when I was in eighth grade, so four years in advance of actually taking it. I did classical piano. I was in the speech and debate club. I basically did everything that you're supposed to do to be “successful.”

Sarah Cottrell: Yes, which is not to minimize the work or the achievements, but I think a lot of people who listen will be familiar with this, “Well, I'm just on this path and the path is get really, really good grades and do lots of stuff to get into a really, really good undergrad, get into a really, really good law school, and then go to a really, really good firm.” It sounds like that was the experience that you had.

Shinah Chang: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I didn't know any other path, just like you said, I just assumed that that was pretty much the only way to become successful. By successful, I mean, just have a nice life, be stable, be looked up to, be able to provide for your family, and provide a nice life for yourself. The only path laid out for me and that I saw from my experience was the professional paths, so lawyer, doctor, engineer, go to a good school.

Sarah Cottrell: When you started in undergrad, did you already know you were planning to go to law school or is that something that you decided while you were an undergrad?

Shinah Chang: I fought it all through undergrad. No, when I went into undergrad, really my entire life before then was just get into Harvard. Once I got to Harvard I was like, “Oh, what do I do with myself now?” It's totally different like, “Nobody told me about this part.”

Sarah Cottrell: Right. “Is there a goal that I'm aiming for?”

Shinah Chang: Yes, exactly, like, “Oh, am I supposed to turn into a magical princess?” I don't know. Of course, I was still confused once I actually got into Harvard. My parents wanted me to try out medicine, pre-med, and or maybe engineering, something like that. I chose psychology because it sounded interesting to me to study why people behave the way they behave and what might influence people to behave in different ways. But I had no idea what I wanted to do with the psychology degree. But the law option was always there in the background because people kept telling me that I would be a good lawyer.

Sarah Cottrell: Oh, and why do you think they were telling you that?

Shinah Chang: Because I like to argue.

Sarah Cottrell: I was going to say was it because you like to argue? But then I thought that might be presumptuous.

Shinah Chang: No, totally, totally.

Sarah Cottrell: I've absolutely heard that story many, many times, including already from people who have been on the podcast because that is a very common thing.

Shinah Chang: Yeah, no. I like to argue and debate. I was president of the speech and debate team in high school. I was also a good writer and just good with language overall, so lawyer was always a possible path. But I really didn't want to be a lawyer. I didn't know what I wanted to do but I knew I didn't want to do that so the fact that I just ended up there speaks to what my view of the possibilities were.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Was there a specific reason that you didn't want to be a lawyer or was it just like “I just am not interested in that”?

Shinah Chang: It just seemed boring to be honest. Even though I like arguing and debating, the idea of standing up in front of people constantly, arguing, and battling with people all the time didn't really appeal to me. The other side of it was I thought it would be a lot of paperwork, which it is. I didn't really know any lawyers, it was really just this theoretical “You would be good at this and this is a prestigious, stable, safe career.”

Sarah Cottrell: I think there are a ton of people who end up in law school with that exact story of “I'm good at arguing/writing and someone said they thought I'd make a good lawyer.” I think there's also, in that same story, a lot of people getting to the end of law school and saying, “What am I doing?” Did you go straight through from undergrad to law school?

Shinah Chang: No, I didn’t. I delayed that choice by basically going to Japan and teaching English for two years. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my psychology degree. I knew I didn't want to be a clinical therapist or a psychiatrist. I didn't know what else I wanted to do so I found this program where I could move to Japan and teach English in the actual governmental high schools there, which was great and it was a wonderful experience.

But at the end of the two years, I still didn't know what I wanted to do. That was when I really faced the decision, law school had continued to be an option for me so I had started studying for the LSATs and I took the LSATs and I had started looking at law schools. But I do remember this point when I was still living in Japan and I was starting to apply for law schools where there was this choice in front of me of “Okay, do I do this even though I know it's not really what I want to do? Or do I explore this other path?”

But the other path was so dark and mysterious. It was foggy and overgrown with thorns. It was like if you watch Beauty and the Beast, the original Disney animated movie when her dad gets lost in the woods and there's wolves, it's foggy, and it's terrible, that was how that path looked to me. It was so terrifying because there wasn't anybody showing me any possibilities along that path. It was just this dark, scary “I'm going to be poor, struggling, and not knowing what I'm going to do. I'm potentially going to wreck my entire future by not choosing correctly,” so I chose law school.

Sarah Cottrell: Yes. When you got to law school, was it an immediate “Oh, maybe this wasn't the right choice” or did you get there and you're like, “Okay, this is fine”? How did you feel when you actually showed up at law school?

Shinah Chang: I think I just clicked into school mode which I had been doing my entire life. It was way more intense as your listeners all know in the first year and the Socratic method and everything but it was still school and I knew how it worked and I knew how to do it well. I knew what the teachers were looking for and I liked being in that environment just surrounded by smart people and being able to study and be in a comfort zone to be honest.

Funnily enough, I didn't love law school, the material to me was interesting but not fascinating to me. I didn't really want to dive deeper into the history of the supreme court or what's behind this case that I saw some people doing who were really genuinely interested in the law. I was just doing it to get through the classes, get my good grades, and continue on the path that was laid out for me.

One thing that I remember really, really clearly is there was a guy who was in my small writing group who decided two months in, it was not for him and he just wasn't there one day. He just dropped out, quit. I think he lost $20,000, some huge chunk of money just starting law school and not continuing. The word quickly got out that he was working in a bar somewhere and he decided law school wasn't for him and everyone was like, “Oh, what's he doing working at a bar? He's probably going to end up a failure.” I secretly envied him. I feel like a lot of people secretly did too.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, like, “Oh, you actually know what you do andwant.”

Shinah Chang: Yeah. He got out $20,000 in the hole maybe and I got out $200,000 in the hole, who's better off? He did do this courageous thing where he just made that decision even though there was a lot sunk in already and even though he might face a lot of criticism. I look back at that now and think that was really interesting.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, like “You were the smartest person in our class.” I also know a couple people who dropped out in that first year and I'm like, “That was a good life choice.” But anyway, I totally identify with what you said about you just clicked into school mode and went because I think I had a very similar experience and I think a lot of people do. It was like, “Okay, school I know how to do this,” and I went, and then it just kept rolling like classes and then there was OCI. For you, did you think about taking some different paths or was it just like “I'm in school, I'm in school mode, now I'm going into OCI, and now I'm going to a firm”?

Shinah Chang: Yeah. I like to think that in the beginning, I was going to do things differently. One of my justifications for actually hitting that apply button to law school was telling myself that I would not be a corporate lawyer. If I'm going to do this, I'm going to come out of it and I'm going to do something noble or I'm going to do something meaningful like a non-profit or something, helping people.

It's funny that putting off that decision, it's like I was staying the same person but assuming that I would make different choices in the future, which why would I make different choices if I was staying the same person? That same person that applied to law school was the same person that went to law school and faced basically that same choice. Do I do OCI, go to a law firm job, or do I go down the murky, thorny, foggy path that's scary that maybe you're not making very much money, you get fired, and your whole future is ruined? Of course I made the safe choice again because I was still the same person, so yeah, I chose the law firm.

Sarah Cottrell: Totally. Of course, you end up with the additional pressure of having law school debt which I think even for people who do have a very strong pull to do something else, if you have two $200,000 in loans, then it definitely seems like there are only so many options.

Shinah Chang: Absolutely true, and even I went to NYU, and this is a stellar for law school option of if you go into a non-profit, they do help you with your loans and it's a program that's available, and there's some problems with it but that was there. If I had been a different person and really had a strong pull and really was determined to do something other than corporate law, I feel like I could have done it. But I didn't see that as even an option because of the way that my mind was.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, well, and part of it is if you go into law school because you want to have a known path, it makes a lot of sense that ultimately you end up on what is the most known path which is going through OCI and going to a law firm. When you got to the firm, did you already know “This is not for me” or had you decided “Maybe this could be for me”? How did you feel when you first started?

Shinah Chang: Now that I'm talking with you about this and really hashing out my experience, I'm just realizing it's the same cycle over and over again. I was the same person. I was still looking at two choices, I got in there and was just like, “Okay, well now this is a place where you do a good job, put your head down, and work.” I know what the bosses are looking for and I want to excel here and get those traditional markers of achievement, success, and pats on the back that I've always been basing my value on.

Even though I went in thinking I'm not going to do this long term and I don't want to be a partner but I still fell into just it was like work mode, it was basically the same as school mode, it was like do a good job, do what's in front of you, don't make any waves, give the bosses what they want. I ended up being in law firm for six years which was longer than I thought I was going to be there.

Sarah Cottrell: At what point in those six years did you start to realize, “No, maybe I really do want to get out“? Or was most of that time still in the, “Well, I'm just doing what I need to do to achieve in this job”?

Shinah Chang: It was a slow progression and it wasn't like suddenly I knew I needed to get out, it was a slow realization that “Hey, I'm really unhappy with this lifestyle and things need to change,” but I didn't jump straight away until I'm just going to burn it all to the ground and leave law completely. It was like, “Hey, maybe if I get out of New York and move back to LA, that'll be an easier lifestyle. Maybe LA won't be as intense.”

I did that, I moved back to LA and it was a little bit better and the expectations weren't quite so high. But I was still working in a law firm, I was still working with a lot of New York partners, it was still pretty bad, but for a while, I was adjusting to life in LA. Then slowly I just started to realize I had gained weight. I was not feeling healthy. I was becoming angrier.

I remember these moments where I would be out with friends and I would snap suddenly and just say something really harsh and unwarranted. It was coming out of a place of just emotional desperation I think. All that stuff just started to add up and it still wasn't like I worked up the courage and just left all of a sudden. Leaving was a very slow and fearful process for me. It was asking first for some time off, just sitting down with a partner in charge, and being like, “Hey, I'm feeling really overwhelmed and burned out. I think I need some time off.”

I was a good junior associate so my law firm was very kind about giving me that. When I came back from that, it was like, “Hey, I'm still feeling a little burned out here. Can I work just some reduced hours unofficially?” Again, they were very kind about accommodating me there. Really at the end of that was when I had to make a decision of “Do I come back full time just the same as it was or do I make another choice?” That's when I made the other choice.

Sarah Cottrell: How long did you take off as the sabbatical and then how long were you on reduced hours before you realized this is not? Which just I know pretty much everyone listening knows this but reduced hours is like, “Hey, you're working maybe the hours of a normal job but also things are still crazy,” because work needs to get done when it gets done. I feel like a reduced hour sounds a lot better than it often can be.

Shinah Chang: Yeah. I've heard that from other people as well. I probably took maybe two, three weeks off, I can't remember precisely to be honest so I probably took two or three weeks just off and then I came back in for a couple months. I wasn't officially on reduced hours, the partner spread the word that I wasn't taking on as much as I was in the past. It was really at the end of that two months that I had to make the decision.

Sarah Cottrell: How did you go about making that decision? Were you talking with friends? Did you have a therapist? Did you have a coach? Was it just your own internal processing? I know a lot of different people on the podcast have talked about working with a therapist and/or a coach and some people just were like, “I'm done and I'm out.” I'd love to hear a little bit more about that.

Shinah Chang: I was not working with a therapist or coach when I quit, but I did have to really sit down and take a look at my situation financially and just my life situation and what would make me feel a little less terrified doing this. Because I was still terrified but I really just had to sit. I remember making a spreadsheet of just like, “Okay, what are my basic expenses that I need in order to live?” I talked to my best friend and he happened to have a spare room in his condo and he let me rent that room and live there for a pretty cheap LA-wise rent, so I had that.

I looked at my savings, I had over $100,000 in savings, and that just was personal, I tend to live frugally, that's just the way I live. But I think also in some part of my mind, I was thinking, “I'm not going to be in a law firm forever. That's not what I want for myself,” so I don't want to get tied in too much to those golden handcuffs where I get used to a certain way of living. I had always lived below my means. I had almost paid off my car.

I just looked at all the little actual expenses, what I would need, and I looked at how much I had saved, I looked at what that would cover, how many months that would cover for me. It was a lot of months because I had so much saved up and I could reduce down my expenses. That was just something I needed in order to actually do it. Otherwise, I would be way, way too terrified to even enjoy the time off or get into anything productive.

I also looked at my support network. If things really went south, I could move in with my parents. Not ideal but I could do it, or I could move in with my sister. I looked at what I had around and I really had to look at those major fears and just reason with them. The worst is not going to happen. I'm not going to end up homeless in the street. I have these things in place. That's what I needed to quit.

But I also didn't think that I was just quitting forever. I made sure I kept good relations with my law firm. I kept up with a couple partners who had moved to other law firms where I thought they could hire me. I talked to some other people who had switched careers or paths in law and heard that I could probably get another law job if I really wanted to. I also had those backups in place. That's what I personally needed in order to feel comfortable just quitting without a plan.

Sarah Cottrell: Got it.

This episode of The Former Lawyer Podcast is sponsored by my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law. Look, I know that there are a lot of unhappy lawyers out there who are overwhelmed at the thought of leaving the law and literally don't know where to start. You can grab this guide and take the guesswork out of it. Go to formerlawyer.com/guide and start your journey out of the law today. Seriously, you can get it and start today.

It sounds like there was at least some family pressure initially that pushed you into going to law school. I know there are a lot of people listening, one of their biggest concerns about leaving the law is either just what other lawyers will say, they imagine what other people in their law firm might think of them if they leave the law, but then also family, friends, or law school classmates, so is that something that you had to work through? I'd love to hear a little bit about that because I think that's something that a lot of people who listen are struggling with.

Shinah Chang: Yeah, for sure, definitely something I had to work through. Not surprisingly, my entire self-worth as a human being was based on external validation, so people around me, what they had to say and what they were thinking about me, that mattered a lot to me. My family I think was just the first biggest concern. My parents had worked really hard to send me to all those tutors and all those classical piano lessons and help me go to Harvard. I didn't want to disappoint them. But I just had to talk to them and tell them that I was actually dying working in the law firm.

If I continued the way that I was going, I was going to start suffering more health repercussions. I knew friends who had already been through that just from the stress of being in law. They came around to an understanding of that and also I think they secretly thought inside, “Well, this is just temporary and she's going to go back at some point.” Hey, if that's what you need to let them believe, let them believe that so they don't fester you every day with, “What are you doing now? What are you doing now?” That's fine and you can always change your mind.

You could even tell that to yourself, tell yourself that if that's going to give you some peace and offer you a backup and then you can change your mind. I really did think when I first quit that I would go back into some form of law. I was on monster.com looking at law jobs every day. That's what I needed to tell myself in order to ease the anxiety a little bit. My colleagues, yeah, I was a little worried about what they would think, but honestly they all were like, “Congratulations. Good for you. I can't wait to see what you do.” It was surprising. Not surprising now looking back at it but surprising at the time.

I had had the fortune of a classmate of mine who had done something similar. She quit her law firm job to start an artisanal cookie company. Everybody at the law firm was talking about it because we like to gossip and she did that cookie company for a little while and then she decided to shelve it and she went and found another job at another law firm and she was fine. Everybody that was whispering about, “Well, her business failed,” I think they were secretly envious too. I talked to her and she was like, “No, dude, it didn't fail. I just didn't want to keep pumping money into it and it was something that I always wanted to try and so I tried it, and now I'm glad and now I'm at a law firm that fits me better and it's great.” I had that example to look to that really helped me as well.

The fear of what other people think really is worse when it's touching that pain point inside your own self. The more insecure I was feeling about my future and what I had done and if I had made a mistake, the more other people saying that really got to me. I did find a coach, a life coach shortly after I quit, and she gave me some really good advice which is like “Don't expose yourself to that unnecessarily. If you sense that someone might be a little bit judgy or have strong opinions about what you're doing, you don't need to tell them what you're doing. You gotta guard your fragile new self.”

I was basically transforming into a butterfly I guess, it’s a really cliche metaphor but it’s like I’m squishy in my cocoon. I didn't need people poking at me all the time asking me, “Well, so what are you doing? How are you making money?” She gave me the advice to really guard myself against that which is great advice.

Sarah Cottrell: I think that is great advice. I think it's really insightful to point out that often, the criticism that we have the hardest time with is because there's some kernel in it that we actually think is true that we personally are struggling with. If you have concern about what will this other person or these other people think about my decision to leave, I think the most valuable thing you can do, and this is exactly what you were pointing towards, is work on your own mindset about what you're going to be doing and what you want because ultimately, if what you're doing is aligned with what you want and your values, it's not going to matter to you that someone else thinks you should be doing something else. We all have people who think we should be doing something other than what we're doing.

Shinah Chang: Yeah, and even to take it one step further, stuff that other people have to say, not just realizing that that's your own stuff but using your intense feelings to identify, “Oh, that's really something that's bothering me.” The stuff that most gets under your skin that most bothers you, there's a reason that that's what's most bothering you. It's something that's one of your deepest fears, insecurities, or whatever. I now like to look at fear and what's distressing me as signals of what I need to focus on.

Sarah Cottrell: Yes. I think that is really, really good. How did you go from leaving the law firm and being like, “I'm not really sure what I'm going to do. Maybe I'm going to go back to law,” to where you are now six years later?

Shinah Chang: Yeah, well it was a journey. I tried a bunch of stuff. One of the first things I did when I left was I found a part-time seasonal job that would bring in some money, and again, this was my life coach, super, super helpful, I recommend this to anybody who is making a huge transformation in their lives, is getting some therapy or coach to help guide them.

But what she told me is, “Look, for your personality, you can't just be floating around, not making any money, bleeding out of your savings. That's going to stifle any creativity, ideas, or whatever you have. You need some bread and butter.” I went out and found just a seasonal job helping kids with their college essays and applications, and that brought in enough money to make me feel like I wasn't just frantic about my savings going down. Then I started trying different things.

I knew I wanted to explore more creativity so whenever I saw a workshop, a class, or a little something, I went and tried it. I took a woodworking class. I did watercolor classes. I went to a figure drawing session. I started knitting more. I tried opening a knitting Etsy shop. I was doing a lot of DIY stuff and I started blogging about it. None of that worked out. I'm not doing any of that stuff anymore but it was all stuff I needed to do in order to inch myself along the path and really make the discovery that is calligraphy.

I had done a lot of things and when I found calligraphy, it just happened to be the perfect craft because of the way it is, but also I was ready for it. I learned so much from taking photos and writing stuff for a blog that didn't go anywhere, and writing descriptions and opening up an Etsy shop for knitting that I ended up closing down. All of that, I applied and I opened a calligraphy business. That's Crooked Calligraphy and I'm still doing it four years later.

Sarah Cottrell: My impression from following you on Instagram, which everyone should follow Shinah on Instagram because she has some awesome stuff that you should see, is that it's changed a little bit over time, over those four years, in terms of what you're doing in the business, so can you talk a little bit about that and how that has evolved over time?

Shinah Chang: Oh, yeah. My business looks nothing like what it started out with. The Crooked part remains. I do still use swear words and I approach things in a non-traditional way. But I started out with greeting cards. I thought it'd be fun to design greeting cards, and it was fun to design greeting cards. I literally printed them out at home on my Canon PIXMA Printer and cut each one by hand, scored them, stuffed them into envelopes, and shipped them out one by one. That was how my business started just on Etsy.

Then I eventually realized that that wasn't making me a very good profit margin and people were asking me to teach so I started teaching in-person workshops. Then I saw that some people were putting courses online and I thought that would be a really cool way to teach and it would be much more scalable. So I created an online course and then I created a second online course and now I'm at a point where I'm really just focusing on those online courses. I call myself a calligraphy teacher. I have a few clients that I do calligraphy for, but mostly, I focus on the teaching and building up my community, audience, and my platform to reach people and teach creativity and calligraphy.

Sarah Cottrell: Got it. The classes that you're teaching are basically different levels of experience with calligraphy?

Shinah Chang: Yeah. I have a beginner online course called Modern Calligraphy 101 that teaches from the very beginning if you've never picked up a calligraphy pen before. Then after that, if you are wanting to learn more about how to really add style and make the calligraphy your own, I have an intermediate course called Modern Calligraphy 201. I'm still in school mode even here with my own business, but yeah, those are the two courses that I have. We'll see where it goes.

The thing that I have found in business, the exciting and terrifying thing about it, is that it is always changing. There's no way I could have gone into business and right away started teaching and built an online course from the very beginning. No way. I didn't know how to teach. My calligraphy wasn't good enough at that point when I first started. I didn't know anything about being online in business, marketing, and any of that stuff. I had to build that all up on the way. I consider that an essential part of my business journey. I know so many others who start with one thing and they just pivot. That's why you hear it right in Silicon Valley even with billion-dollar companies, they're pivoting all the time. It's just part of the business journey.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Do you think that the training that we receive as lawyers pushes against what you need to do in order to grow or pivot in business or in life really?

Shinah Chang: Yeah, there's definitely good and bad things about that lawyer training. The bad thing obviously is that we are trained to be risk averse and see all the things that could potentially go horribly wrong. That's a quashing terrible attitude to have when you're launching this itty-bitty business. But you know what, there's a lot of great stuff in our law training. I use it constantly to this very day. In the beginning, it really helped me with getting organized, researching things, and actually getting my legal paperwork and stuff in order, and my finances.

Even just stuff like sending professional emails and giving the appearance of being professional because lawyers were a service profession. Anytime I took on clients as a calligrapher, I would look back to that experience and be like, “Okay, how can I make this email as clear and as easy for the client as possible? How can I let them know I'm taking care of them?” I knew what it was like to provide a very high level of service.

I'd say that law stuff, it really, really helped me. Where it's a challenge is actually I feel like maybe now in my business where I am trying to really grow it, think big picture, and take some risks, I am fighting against that law training.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, no. I think that's totally right, that there are a lot of things you get, especially from the professional experience of working as a lawyer that do translate helpfully into lots of other arenas. But that risk aversion is one that is not necessarily incredibly helpful for doing anything that requires, especially making changes, because any change, big or small, includes a certain level of risk. That's just something I think that is helpful for people to be aware of if they are working as a lawyer and thinking about leaving.

You might be making more of the risks in your own mind than they necessarily are just because of your training. One of my big things about law school and working as a lawyer is if people ask me for advice, I would say don't fall prey to the sunk-cost fallacy, and I think that's something that you've talked about also, so can you talk about that for a minute and just explain to people what you mean by that?

Shinah Chang: Yeah. I actually just did a whole blog post on it because I got so fired up about it. I got fired up about it because someone messaged me over Instagram saying, “I really want to do something more creative. I love photography. People are asking me if I'm going to do a photography business but I'm so afraid to waste all these years that I spent studying to be a nutrition dietitian,” something like that. She had gone to undergrad and was now in a master's program and it sunk so many years and so much money. Isn't that all a waste if I go into photography?

I'm like, “No, no, it's absolutely not a waste.” For so many reasons, one, you're going to use all that training in whatever you do in the future in photography, and who knows, you might use it in ways that you can't even anticipate right now. Two, it's all a part of your story. I never regret the fact that I went to law school. I never look at that as a waste even though it was a $200,000 investment because it's such a powerful part of my story right now. It's why I'm talking to you. It's why so many people gravitate towards my content and what I'm putting out there because I did have that background. So it's priceless. It's worth way more than $200,000, that being a part of my story because I'm embracing it now.

Then the third thing is that you never know when that training is going to come back. Not just in tangible ways like I know how to draft an email, but who knows, in the future I could do something with law and creativity or helping business owners get set up properly. Who knows? That might become a part of my future story and I don't know that. I never think of it as a waste. Wouldn't it be more of a waste to know that you are not meant for this and to spend your entire life doing it anyway because you don't want to waste some amount of money? Your whole life, yes, what a waste that would be. That's the sunk-cost fallacy to me and that's why I'm so fired up about it.

Sarah Cottrell: No, I completely agree. I think especially as lawyers we also can get into this mindset of, “Oh, I want to have made the ‘right’ choice and if I leave the law and do something else, then that is evidence that I didn't make the right choice and therefore I need to continue because I need to prove that's taking on all this debt, and spending this time was the ‘right’ thing.”

I'm super sympathetic to people thinking that way because I've had my own experiences with thinking that way but, like you said, you need to reframe it for yourself so if you're listening and that's how you think, you need to reframe it for yourself because really what you're saying is like, “I'm going to continue in this thing that I'm not supposed to be in or it's not meant for me just to prove to someone, myself, unclear that what I did was the right thing.” That is not a very inspiring thing to spend your life on.

Shinah Chang: This is morbid but I like to picture myself on my deathbed. Are you going to be on your deathbeds being like, “I'm sure glad I stuck to law for 45 years just to be right.” Or are you going to be like, “D*mn, I wish I had tried that other thing that I was super interested in”?

Sarah Cottrell: Yes, so true. I think that is really important. Well, as we get towards the end of our time, I would just love if you have any specific advice for people who are listening who either are like, “Man, I hate being a lawyer and I want to get out but I'm being held back for whatever reason,” or even if someone is listening and they’re a lawyer and they're like, “Maybe I should think about getting out,” but they aren't quite sure, what advice would you have for those people?

Shinah Chang: Start diving into the possibilities. Part of that is you can come follow me on Instagram. I'm @CrookedCalligraphy on Instagram, I talk about this a lot. Or you can listen to The Don't Keep Your Day Job Podcast or whatever resources are out there that show you that it is possible to leave something like law, go on, have an amazing life, and do things you could never dream of. I think once you see that possibility, your brain can start to let go of the fears, the limiting beliefs, and the white knuckle grip on like, “But what might happen if I leave?”

For me I'm so glad I had small examples in my life of people like the guy who left law school two months in, like the woman who started a cookie company. I think those gave me small glimmers of, “Hey, I can do this. I can leave law and I won't die,” because that's what your brain is telling you, that you're going to die. Use your law, find evidence to the contrary, and that's I think the first most important step to really getting yourself prepared to face the terror of leaving law.

Sarah Cottrell: I think that's really good advice. Shinah, is there anything else that you would like to share or talk about before we sign off?

Shinah Chang: Yeah. I know it can be, and I totally, totally empathize, I was totally there, it can be so, so terrifying to be stuck in law and not know any other way and to have grown up your entire life or known your entire life like you must do this or your life will be terrible and a disaster, but I'm telling you, I am six years out, I am not a millionaire by any means, but I live such a rich life. I stop work at five when my family comes home. I have an annual pass to Disneyland. I go and I have fun and I scream on the rides.

I wake up most mornings with purpose and I even just hired a masseuse to come and give me massages two times a month. That's something that I thought I would never have until I became a millionaire and it's not true. You can totally build a wonderfully fulfilling life for yourself. It's totally, totally possible. You just gotta get out of that terrifying fear.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that so much. Thank you so much for joining me today, Shinah. I really appreciate you sharing your story with us.

Shinah Chang: Yeah, thank you so much, Sarah. I appreciate you doing this for all the lawyers out there who need to hear it.

Sarah Cottrell: Thanks so much for listening today. I absolutely love getting to share these stories with you. If you haven't yet, subscribe to the show, and come on over to formerlawyer.com and join our community to get even more support and resources in your journey out of the law. Until next time. Have a great week.