How Sarah Rutledge Fischer left Biglaw to be a Working Artist: Part Two [TFLP039]

Welcome back to the Former Lawyer Podcast. Today’s episode picks up from the last bit of Sarah’s discussion with Sarah Rutledge Fischer.  

In the first half of the conversation, Sarah talked about her journey through the legal track and into a Biglaw firm. She also spoke about seeking therapy and being pregnant while practicing law. 

In the final part of this conversation, you’ll read about her journey out of the law and into the art world. You’ll also learn a bit about the concept of “following your passion” and how Sarah (Cottrell) helps lawyers to leave the law. 

Leaving The Biglaw Firm

After that review, the time spent in the Biglaw firm was an odd combination of horrible and hopeful. Sarah felt awful knowing that the upper-level associates knew what happened, even if she tried her best to keep busy. But, she could see the light at the end of the tunnel. She was getting out, and she was hopeful. 

Sarah saw a career counselor within the Biglaw firm, trying to sort out what she enjoyed and hated about her job so she could move forward to a successful position outside the firm. But, doing this kind of work was difficult because all she could think about was leaving. 

Moving & Starting Anew 

Sarah and her husband were also looking to move, but they kept running into the issue of California’s high cost of living. So, Sarah started looking at positions back in North Carolina. However, there was a position at a nonprofit in Alabama that really caught her eye. 

Sarah applied for a fellowship at the Equal Justice Initiative. Her background and pro bono experience made her the perfect fit. She nailed the first round of interviews, which made her seriously think about it. 

She even told her father about it, which prompted them to discuss Sarah’s husband joining the family business. Unfortunately, the fellowship fell through, but the rest of the plans did not. Sarah’s dad wanted to retire, and her husband was interested in the family business. Not to mention that Sarah was having a baby. 

It was perfect timing. And even better, it was a chance to get out of the law. So, they decided to make a plan to move to Alabama in a year. Sarah had her son and took 18 weeks of maternity leave. She returned to the firm to win an asylum case for a victim of domestic violence. The next day, she packed up and left.

By 2014, Sarah, her husband, and their son were in Alabama. Sarah’s husband joined the family business, and she took some recovery time to focus on her son. When September came, she started to get the itch. She had to figure something out. 

Going Back To The Law 

Even though she wanted to leave the law, Sarah was still caught in that sunk-cost fallacy that holds back almost every lawyer who wants to leave. She had invested all that time and money into a legal career and was still paying off the loans. 

So, Sarah decided to go back to the law. But, she didn’t think she would get a federal job without passing the Alabama bar. So, she prepared for it. Eventually, however, Sarah finally admitted to herself and her husband that she did not want to practice law. 

Fortunately, Sarah’s husband was supportive of her, saying that she didn’t have to practice law if she didn’t want to and prompting her to think about what she wanted to do. So, Sarah took some time to think about it and remembered that she had always wanted to be a writer.  

She gave herself a year to try out writing as a career. The plan was to train, get educated, and hone her writing skills. But something else was in the works at the same time. 

Re-Entering The Art World

Sarah found a figure-drawing group, where she quickly gained responsibility. Being accountable for others made this group a priority, which made her feel great. She wasn’t getting very far with her writing career. Even thinking of writing was exhausting. So,  she turned to her art to let off some steam. 

She played with her figure drawings, embellishing them and adding some colors. It became a passion for Sarah and a genuine interest. Sarah’s husband noticed the difference in her when she talked about art versus how she was talking about her writing. 

That was a lightbulb moment for Sarah. She thought, “Wait. I can choose based on happiness and enthusiasm for something?” So, she started to explore the art world a little deeper, letting herself play more and more. 

Leaving Biglaw to Be a Working Artist

Later that year, Sarah contributed to a family member’s booth at a community festival. Selling her artwork at that festival was her very first introduction to being a working artist. After that, she started finding mentors to help guide her. 

Sarah was eager and excited to have conversations with other working artists. Unlike her time in the law, she was never shy about asking questions. She allowed herself to immerse herself in learning about the art world and being an artist. 

She counts herself lucky because after walking through that first door, she kept finding more and more opportunities that have gotten her to where she is today. 

The Concept Of Following Your Passion

Sarah mentioned Big Magic, a book by Elizabeth Gilbert. The book speaks to the trap of being told to “follow your passion, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” But passion is a broad concept. 

Not all passions should be a career. And some people, especially those who have practiced law, don’t have interests beyond their jobs. Most of the process of finding your post-legal career involves being curious and figuring out what you like and don’t like, as well as what you want and don’t want in your life. 

Sometimes, you’ll find out that your passion can make you money. Or, you may find a job that doesn’t involve your passion, but you enjoy it, and you get a good work-life balance that allows you to pursue your passion. But, saying “find your passion, and you’ll never work a day in your life” is unrealistic. And honestly, it puts a lot of unnecessary pressure on someone.

The other side is that even when your passion could make you money, and you really love doing it, it might not be the right career for you. Doing something as a hobby and doing it professionally are different. And even if it does work out, there will still be bad days. 

Sarah’s Day-To-Day As A Working Artist

As a mom, most of Sarah’s mornings revolve around getting her son up and off to school. After that, it’s a different lineup every day. Some days, she teaches figure drawing, meditative contour drawing, and gesture drawing classes. 

Other days, she’s alone in the studio, deep diving into pulling images out of the subconscious or working on commissioned portraits. She also runs a nonprofit to support LGBTQ youth in her small town. 

While she does something different every day, Sarah’s time is almost always focused on connection. All of her work comes down to connecting with people, and she wouldn’t change a thing. 

Leave Your Biglaw Job Like Sarah Did With Former Lawyer

Just like Sarah Rutledge Fischer, Sarah Cotrell left her Biglaw firm. Her work also revolves around connecting with people. But instead of artists, Sarah connects with lawyers who want out of their jobs and into something they love. 

She does that with her free download, First Steps To Leaving The Law, which contains the first steps to take when you want to explore the possibility of leaving the law. The other way is the Former Lawyer Collaborative, a support community for high-achieving women in the law, where you can explore your career options in a confidential environment and connect with like-minded women who are doing the same. 

If you’re ready to get out of that soul-sucking Biglaw job, join us today by downloading the free guide and getting on the email list. Or, for a guided approach, join the Collab

For information about 1:1 coaching with Sarah Cotrell for Biglaw lawyers, click here.

We can’t wait to have you!

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Mentioned In This Article:

Episode 38: Leaving A Biglaw Firm For The Art World With Sarah Rutledge: Part One

The Equal Justice Initiative

Big Magic By Elizabeth Gilbert

First Steps To Leaving The Law

Former Lawyer Collaborative

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.

Hello everyone. This week on the podcast, I'm sharing the second half of my conversation with Sarah Rutledge Fischer. I shared the first half last week and if you haven't listened yet, I highly recommend that you go back and take a listen. Sarah is an artist and art teacher. She spent three and a half years in Biglaw before she left, or as you heard last week, more accurately was forced out and found her way to her current career as a working artist. This conversation was so honest and inspiring and I loved it so much.

Before we get to the conversation, I want to remind you that there are three ways that I help lawyers who are unhappy in their jobs in addition to this podcast. The first is my free First Steps to Leaving the Law Guide, which contains the very first steps to take when you want to explore the possibility of leaving the law, the second is Former Lawyer Fundamentals, which is a series of many workshops to help you jump start your pivot, and the third is the Former lawyer Collaborative, a support community for high-achieving women in the law where you can explore your career options in a confidential environment and connect with like-minded women who are doing the same. To learn more about all of these and get access, go to Okay, on to the rest of my conversation with Sarah.

I think all of this is super helpful, especially you mentioned your experience of shame and then a little bit ago you also mentioned this idea of in your reviews feeling like there was something about who you were like you're being that was just somehow wrong for not complying with the every aspect of the Biglaw experience. I think that is so, so, so common.

I know for me, one of the things that I struggled with, which was very much an identity thing, was I'm doing pretty well in this job at this Biglaw firm but I hate it, so there must be something wrong with me. It wasn't like, “Oh, there's something wrong with this or this just isn't a good fit,” not even a moral question one way or the other, it was like there's something wrong with me and who I am that I'm not just over the moon about this work. I think the shame piece also for people making a mistake is just huge, and huge in the sense that I think the fear of feeling that shame drives a lot of lawyer behavior and in very unhealthy ways.

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: I think it's Brené Brown who says that guilt is the feeling that I did something wrong and shame is the feeling that I am wrong, that as a being, I am wrong, and that's the overwhelming feeling I had for probably all of my law experience which is terrible.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It is terrible and maybe some people hear the story about your final review and think, “Oh, that sounds fine,” but for me coming from a similar big firm background, it sounds terrible.

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: It was so bad. I understand how people outside of the law don't fully understand the trauma that law firms can inflict but I think if you've had the law firm experience, you understand how traumatic something like that can be.

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: Yeah. I think of that a lot in terms of abusive interpersonal relationships, and I don't want to go into that, but if you go in to the psychology of how a battered person responds, the way the expectations are changed, and the way the markers are moved and isolation of family and friends, all of that stuff, it's really consistent.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I recently shared a video on Instagram basically talking about something that I find incredibly annoying. I talked to several people recently who are having this experience where they had decided to leave their Biglaw firm because it was like “This is not working, it's a terrible environment,” and then they would give notice. Then all of a sudden, it's like, “Oh, but if you'd only done this or that, or told us this or that, it would have been different,” that just I think is so interesting because you're talking about the ways in which it can sometimes reflect a relationship where there's characterized by abuse and that's classic stuff. Like, “Oh, you made me do this, or if you'd just done it differently, it wouldn't be like this,” all of that stuff. It really infuriates me.

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: Yeah, for sure. That review was horrible and the time afterwards was this weird mix of horrible and hopeful. Horrible because I was still showing up at the firm every day and sitting in my office in this weird limbo pretending, like talk about FaceTime. I was sitting there trying to pretend that I had enough to do, pretty certain that all of the partners and most of the upper-level associates knew what was going on, and the shame of sitting there wondering who was whispering and talking about me, but at the same time I had this light at the end of the tunnel like, “I'm getting out. I'm getting out.”

I don't know that I would have been able to find my way out. I think I had to lean on the doorway of having a child to really lever myself out the door. In my firm at the time—and this may still be true of some firms—there was a guy, I think his name was Jim, his job was to help attorneys. He was a career counselor within the firm, literally my firm employed a person whose job was to help people who were going to be leaving the firm find their way to good and successful positions outside the firm so the firm could brag, “Oh, these many attorneys make it on partner track but for all the attorneys who don't, these many go in-house, and these people are doing these wonderful things and these peoples went on to these prestigious positions.” it's definitely self-serving for the firm. That's his job.

He's nice, he's kind. I worked with him and I would do those weird things where I'm trying to make a list of the things that I most enjoy about my work and the things I don't enjoy about my work, but I had no perspective. Really at the end of the day, it was just like, “No, no. Get me out of here.” It was so hard to even think about what I liked or what I didn't like. But I started applying for positions outside of the firm, and like I said, I couldn't find work that would support our lifestyle in Newport Beach, one of the most expensive zip codes in the country, unless I was doing the exact same work that I was doing, which I did not want to do.

We were looking at moving to other areas of California but we kept running into the same cost of living issue and so we started looking outside of California, which was a big step to say, “Okay, we went through all this trouble to get here but maybe California is just not the right place.” I started looking at positions back in North Carolina where I had been in law school and the thing that ultimately became the first domino in what has led to my current life was that I applied for a fellowship with a nonprofit called the Equal Justice Initiative.

This is Brian Stevenson's social justice nonprofit. His star has really risen wonderfully over the past few years, but it's an organization in Montgomery, Alabama and they do phenomenal criminal justice, social justice, and actual innocence work. With my innocence project background and my pro bono work, it was a good fit. I made it through the first round of interviews. We really started thinking about it.

I have family here in the Gulf Coast of Alabama, so for people who are not familiar with this area, not all Alabama is the same. Where I live, it's down in the Gulf of Mexico region so it's a really beachy area. My father and stepmom lived down here in a town called Orange Beach and we came to visit them and we were talking about the fellowship, we started talking about the possibility of moving down here outside of this law fellowship. The fellowship fell through. I didn't get it but we had already started this conversation and my family has a family business and my husband and my dad started talking about the business.

My dad is older, he wanted to retire, and my husband had an interest in the business and so they started talking and doing this very cute little dance of my dad not wanting to impose on my husband and my husband not wanting to step on anybody's toes in the family business. Eventually, it just seemed, I don't know, maybe it was the pregnancy hormones, maybe it was just the chance to escape law firm life, but the idea of moving down here to South Alabama, my husband joining in the family business, and us starting over here seemed like a good fit and so that's what we did.

I had my baby and I had what anybody should have, which was I think 16 or 18 weeks of maternity leave. I went back early because I had a hearing in my pro bono case. I was representing an asylum seeker on a domestic-violence based asylum claim and so I went back early. I prepared for her case. I went to her hearing, we won her asylum, you know what, I'm going to change that, I'm going to say I won her asylum because it was my case. Then the next day I packed up my things and left so it was a fantastic way to leave the firm.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that. Tell me when that was when you ended up actually moving down to the Gulf Coast.

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: My son was born in September of 2013 and we flew out here and found and bought a house in our Town of Fairhope, Alabama in December of that year. Then January of the next year, which was I think 2014, we moved here.

Sarah Cottrell: Tell me about when you got there, were you already thinking, “Hey, maybe this art thing that I've been doing on the side, maybe that's something I might do more of,” or were you just like, “I'm just getting out of Biglaw, we're starting over, and I have no idea what's going to happen”?

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: Yeah. The second, totally the second, not at all in my head that I would be where I am now. I gave myself some recovery time. Because my husband was joining in with the family business, we knew we were moving in here with a guaranteed income for him. The cost of living from Alabama to California worked really well in our favor and that move, and so I gave myself the grace of not having to return to the law until at least my son was one. I gave myself that first year.

That was great, it gave me time to really settle in to weather the transition. That first year is really quite a journey with a new baby. When September came and I started thinking, “Okay, time to figure this out.” I've never really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom full-time so that was never my goal. I was still in that mindset. I still was caught in that sunk-cost fallacy that we all think about so much, so I had gone to law school. I had invested all of this money and I was still paying off all of these loans.

I decided that I was going to study for the Alabama bar because I didn't think that I could transition into a federal job here. I could have sought federal legal employment based on my California bar and not taken another bar exam but the federal-based jobs that I could have taken would have been a 45-minute commute and I just didn't want that life, we just left that life. I studied and I took the Alabama bar and somewhere in the back of my mind, the voice that I was not listening to was “I'm just going to put this off a little longer. I'm just going to put this off a little longer. Okay, now I'll take the bar exam, okay, now I'll delay in this way, in that way.”

Eventually I admitted to myself and my husband that I don't want to practice law. There are types of law that I think I would enjoy and find fulfillment in practicing, but I did not see a way that I could transition into those types of practice without a ramping up period of learning an expertise in that new type of law that would require 80 to 100-hour weeks and I did not want to do that.

I still have a small child at home, that's not the life I want for my family. We just sat down and I said, “I think I really don't want to do this,” and my incredibly supportive husband said, “You don't have to. What do you want to do?” So I took some time and thought about it. I had always wanted to be a writer. My whole life I always wanted to be a writer. When I was a kid, I would imagine I was going to grow up and be a poet, and then I was going to grow up and be a novelist.

In the back of my head, I've always thought if I could do anything, I would be a writer, and so I somehow persuaded myself that it was okay to give it a try, and because I'm still an attorney in heart and spirit in some ways, I had to set some boundaries on that freedom I'd given myself and I said, “Okay, I'm going to give myself a year. This year is going to be training, education, skill gathering, but I'm going to take a year and really try to be a writer.”

I had a part-time babysitter so three or four hours, I think three or four times a week, I would go sit upstairs in my spare room at a desk and just bang my head against the keyboard figuratively, not literally, and try and try and try to be a writer. I would try to write short stories, I would try to write poetry, and I would write personal essays. I just tried and tried but I still had my shame-based achievement-seeking lawyer hat on and I just couldn't find my way through the block.

At the same time, I had found a figure drawing group here and so every Tuesday night, I would go and I would do figure drawing with this group about five minutes from my house which is a really nice change from living in Southern California by the way, driving everywhere is so much easier. The person who was running the figure drawing group very quickly assessed me for the can't-say-no person that I was and passed responsibility for the group onto me, which was great because it meant I went every week, I was in charge of scheduling the models, setting up the room, turning on the lights, playing the music, and timing the poses.

I still do, but what that meant is that I was accountable to other people and so I always made it a priority, whereas if it had only been for myself, I was not in the habit of prioritizing myself so I would have always found something else that was more important. That was amazing. For about a year, I was trying so hard to be a writer and it was just agonizing. I felt like I was terrible. I don't think I was terrible but it felt that way. I was figure drawing at night and I was still the mother of a very, very young child. At some point, I had some free time or maybe I was just exhausted with the writing and so I decided to let myself play, which goes against all of our lawyer training but somehow it snuck through.

I had taken some of my figure drawings and I just started playing with them, embellishing them, and playing with pastels and colored pencils. Maybe later that week or the next week, I had been doing that a little bit and I was telling my husband about it. I was really excited about how interesting it was that the way this one changed and the way this brought out this aspect, and he looked at me, this is one of those pivotal moments that really changed the trajectory of my life, and he said, “I don't want you to take this the wrong way but when you talk about this—meaning the artwork—you just light up with so much energy, enthusiasm, and happiness, and when you talk about your writing, you don't sound like that. It's all stress and frustration.”

It was like a light-bulb moment for me. I had this moment of “Wait, you mean I can make my choice based on that? I can choose the thing that brings me enthusiasm, joy, excitement, and interest?” It was one of those cartoon hammer on the head moments and that question somehow gave me permission to start exploring. So I started exploring my artwork and I started letting myself play more and more. He bought me this enormous beautiful set of watercolor pencils, that I almost never use now, but they opened a door for me and again gave me permission to follow my interest, my curiosity, and my enthusiasm, and to not feel like a failure for not having become the world's best writer in 10 months.

I really dove into that and later that year, I participated in an art festival. It actually wasn't even an art festival, it was like a community festival. A couple of family members had decided they were going to set up a booth and we all went in together. I sold some of my artwork. Some people came along and they wanted to pay me money for it and put it on the walls of their homes. Then I started finding mentors, which is one of those horrible things that people tell you to do in law school and the law firm, and it was always like climbing an impossible mountain for me in the law, I couldn't find mentors and conversations were never easy and yet somehow in this, I haven't struggled to find mentors.

There's an eagerness and an excitement to my conversations with people who are further along the path I want to travel, where I don't feel shy about asking questions and I can think of the questions I want to ask. In the law I never could figure out what the right question was but when I'm talking to an artist who has an expertise that I don't have or who has figured out something about the business of art that I want to understand, I just don't feel shy in the same way. I've been really lucky and it's one of those things where once I walked through the first door, I just kept finding more and more doors opening to me. That's how I got from law to allowing myself to dive into the interest of art.

Sarah Cottrell: I love that. I think your point about questions in particular is such a good insight because it's sometimes almost like you maybe didn't have the questions in law because you didn't care about the answers. You thought you should care about the answers so you thought you cared about the answers, but you actually didn't because you didn't actually care about the answers. I think there are so many people in that position. Also, you're describing this realization of “Oh, I'm allowed to choose what I want to do with my life based on what I like, is that actually a thing I'm allowed to do?”

For me, that was 100% part of my own realization when I realized, “Oh, yeah, I don't want to be a lawyer forever,” because I was like, “Yeah, I hate it, but I've decided this is what I'm doing.” I think having this realization that not only that you can choose what you want to do based on what you like, but that making a living, making money, or just what you're doing in the world can feel fun and easy in certain ways, I mean in other ways it's not, but I think for me and I think a lot of lawyers, especially people who end up in Biglaw firms, there's this idea of “Well, you can only really succeed if you're just grinding basically,” which is not actually true.

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: No, I agree. That made me think of two things. The first one is something that Elizabeth Gilbert said or wrote. She's the author of that book Eat, Pray, Love, but she more recently did a book. I think it's called Big Magic, it's all about creativity. She talks about the trap of being told to follow your passion. You're 17, 19, 23, whatever, and you're told, “Oh, you just need to find your passion and you'll never work a day of your life.” Passion is a really big concept, and that's a lot. Maybe you don't feel like you have a passion or maybe you're not sure if what you're interested in is big enough to call it a passion, and she advocates for following your curiosity.

That gives me so much peace. I feel like if you say “This is my passion,” you have to back it up in some huge ego and testosterone-fueled way, but if you say “I am just really interested in this, it makes me so curious and I just want to put all of my time and attention into figuring it out,” that's what really leads people down a path of developing a skill set, expertise, and an enjoyment of what they're doing.

Sarah Cottrell: I think that's so right. This is something else we talk about on the podcast a lot which is figuring out what you like, enjoy, and want to do more of or want to learn more about is not necessarily about just finding the thing you like and then monetizing it. That's how you're going to make your living. I think sometimes that is what the idea that gets pushed in a lot of personal development career-coaching spaces, but to me part of it is just figure out what you like and then figure out what your life needs to look like in order for the things that you like to be a part of your life.

You don't necessarily have to be trying to find the perfect job in which you're going to be making money based on your singular passion. You might just find a job that works for you, that you enjoy well enough, that gives you a good work-life balance, and lets you do the other things that you want to do.

I think that this idea of, like you said, “Find your passion and then that's what you're going to do and you'll never work a day in your life,” that is so much unrealistic pressure and then people are like, “Well, I don't love every moment of this job so I guess I'm not doing the thing that I'm supposed to be doing,” and essentially distrust themselves.

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: Right. This idea of the grind I think that in law practice, or at least in the type of law practice I was in, like many other careers I imagine in today's society, we really learn this idea that we must be grinding it out all the time, that you're waking up in the morning and answering emails before you get out of bed, you're constantly multitasking and eating lunch at your desk, and people are trying to get the most billable hours and trying to use every spare moment for skill development, or I don't even remember the jargon anymore.

But I found that even in my current life, I'm still fighting that idea that now I am an artist, I'm a working artist, I sell my work in shops and galleries, I sell them at art festivals. I'm also a teaching artist. I teach figure drawing and I teach some workshops. I still do some writing. I write an advice column and I do some personal writing. I'm working on a novel and some other things and I have a nonprofit organization, a chapter of a nonprofit that I've just launched.

I've got a lot of balls in the air and the temptation to continue to approach it in that grind mentality is really high. Society really rewards that idea and promotes that idea, but I have, for the past year, been trying to really question it and to make room and space in my life for rest, if you can imagine that, and for play. The hardest for me is an unproductive time, to do things that don't have any measurable outcome, any measurable work product or accomplishment. I think that is somewhat, not completely, but some of it was pre-existing law school, but I think a lot of that is a remaining behavior pattern from law practice.

Sarah Cottrell: I think that is such a good insight because it's really something that I have seen both myself and other people who have left the law have to come to terms with and deal with. Because I think some people tell themselves, “Well, if I leave this legal job, then everything is going to be 100% better,” and certainly if your job is really terrible, yes, leaving is going to improve things but if you think that leaving is just going to make everything better and that you will no longer have any struggles and you don't do any internal work, you're going to end up in a situation where you're still, like you said, mimicking some of the behavior patterns that you learned from your legal training in legal practice, which is problematic. Tell me what your life looks like today.

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: Today my days really change day-to-day. I have a six-year-old who's in kindergarten so most mornings I get up, I make him breakfast, and we get off to school. My lovely little town that I live in has something called the Walking School Bus, so most days I go with him, we meet near the town's library, and we take a little half mile walk with all the elementary students to school instead of sitting in a car line or traffic. Then from there, my day varies greatly, some days I am teaching classes, which I have only been doing for the past year. I teach introduction to expressive figure drawing and I also teach workshops on contour drawing. Actually I teach the meditative art of contour drawing and then I teach a workshop on gesture drawing. That is the most amazing experience.

I love working with my students in these classes because we think the law students are brave but they have a world of accomplishment behind them preparing them for what they're heading into. When students show up at the art easel, they have to lay themselves bare, shed all of their expectations, deal with the strongest voice of the inner critic and judgment that you can imagine.

Anyway, I love teaching, and teaching gives me an opportunity not just to teach people how to put a line on a page but it's really about learning to be present in the experience of looking and seeing, it's about learning to trust your eye and to turn off the voice of criticism and control in your brain. It's just really an amazing experience. I love having that level of connection and interaction with people.

Other days I'm alone in my art studio, which until now has been the guest bedroom of my house, but my husband and I recently bought a big funky commercial warehouse building on the outskirts of town and so now I'm slowly moving my studio out to that building. Some days I am just diving deep into the work of pulling images out of the subconscious, or sometimes I'm working on commissioned portraits, sometimes I'm working on articles to meet a deadline. I write an advice column. Other days I run a nonprofit to support the LGBTQ youth of my small Alabama town, which is as much work needed as you would imagine.

I'm doing something different every moment of every day but it is almost always focused on connection. Way back at the beginning of this conversation, I told you that what I thought about my real estate job, that what I thought I liked most was this contract work, but it's because I was taking for granted that I had the opportunity to have a deep day-to-day connection with all of these people and be involved in their lives and help them in some way. I took that for granted then, I do not take it for granted now. All of my work comes down to connecting with people.

Sarah Cottrell: I love how it comes full circle. I think that's just lovely. Okay, Sarah, as we're getting to the end of our conversation, is there anything else that you would like to share that we haven't talked about yet?

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: I think it can be so hard. I really wish that I had this podcast back when I was in my shell of despair just trudging away at the law firm and I try now to send some compassion back towards that person. Even now I struggle with feeling ashamed, even ashamed of having been trapped in that situation without getting myself out of it for so long. The only way I know to heal that is to try to send compassion back towards that part of me that still lives inside of me.

I'm sure that there are people who listen to this podcast who are struggling with that too, whether, like me, they can't even admit it to themselves or whether they're present in it. I don't know whether it would help them to know and to hear that as I'm sending compassion back towards myself, that I'm sending empathy and compassion out towards them, where they are now with the full knowledge that there is a future version of them that's going to be sitting in a different place.

Sarah Cottrell: I think that is so good. I think learning how to be compassionate towards yourself is something that lawyers, people who end up in law school as lawyers often really struggle with and it's one of the most important skills to cultivate if you are unhappy and are wanting to make a change. I think that is really great. Sarah, if people want to connect with you, where can they find you online?

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: Ah, well, I am on Instagram and on Facebook. I'm also on Twitter, but I never check Twitter, so find me on Instagram or Facebook. On both platforms, I'm at Sarah Rutledge Fischer, but you should check the show notes because Rutledge is a pain to spell if you don't already know how it's spelled. My husband's family spells Fischer with all the extra consonants, but you can find me on Instagram or Facebook at Sarah Rutledge Fischer. I have a website too. I'm terrible about updating it but it is easily enough, Please feel free to reach out to me with questions about art, writing, Alabama, Duke, or anything else. I'm always happy to connect with people.

Sarah Cottrell: Awesome. Thank you so much, Sarah, for joining me today. I really appreciate you sharing all of the different parts of your story. I know there are so many people who will identify with the experiences that you've had and it was just great to hear more about your experience.

Sarah Rutledge Fischer: Thank you, Sarah. I'm so happy to be a part of this.

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 to get even more support and resources in your journey out of the law until next time have a great week