Megan Smiley: From Law To Higher Ed To Interior Design (TFLP 064)

I’m so excited to share this episode with my friend Megan Smiley with you.

Megan and I are kindred spirits. We just met earlier this year, but she started her podcast, The Lawyer’s Escape Pod, the same week that I started The Former Lawyer Podcast. I love what she’s doing in the world, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Meet Former Lawyer Megan Smiley

Megan Smiley: From Law To Higher Ed To Interior Design

Getting on the path to law school

Megan went to law school for the same reason that a lot of us did. She was a liberal arts major and wasn’t sure what to do career-wise. Law school seemed like a safe path.

Meghan landed a job at a big firm after graduation. Things were fine, but she pretty quickly realized that it was not the place for her.

Trying to find the right path

Megan had a friend from law school who had gone back to school to get her masters in higher education. Her friend now worked in a law school career office.

Megan wasn’t interested in working in a career office, but some other position in higher ed seemed like a good fit for her skills and background So, Megan decided that higher ed was her new path to follow.

Megan left her firm an enrolled in a masters program in higher education. When she graduated, she landed a position at a law school coordinating their international students and programs. It seemed like the perfect fit with Megan’s undergrad degree of international studies and her interest in study abroad.

Megan realizes there is no “right” path

But several years into that role, Megan realized that it wasn’t really what she wanted to do, either. She felt incredibly lost, because she had already made a career change once that was supposed to be “the answer.” She met with a career coach, who told her to stop trying to apply for new jobs and go all the way back to the drawing board—what did she actually WANT to do?

Megan wasn’t thrilled with this advice because she knew it wouldn’t be a quick fix, but she also knew it was correct. She started exploring, learning more about herself, and learning how to be mindful.

Rebuilding her career from the ground up

Out of this process came several things.

First, she launched her podcast, The Lawyer’s Escape Pod, where she shares interviews with former lawyers and people who help lawyers figure out what’s next.

Second, she realized that she had a passion for interior design, demonstrated in the past when she gut-renovated her apartment, and began an interior design side hustle.

She planned to quit her job at the law school in June to work on building her interior design company full-time, but COVID pushed those plans back a bit.

When we spoke in September 2020, she had just given notice and was going full-speed ahead with interior design, focusing particularly on helping lawyers design spaces that support their creativity and mental wellness, a service she’s calling “Illegal Design.”

In this episode, Meghan shares about:

  • Why her process to figure out what to do after the law firm wasn’t well-developed.
  • The revelation she had after being told at the end of her first year at the law firm that her work was exceptional, but her bonus was not very high because it was “based on hours, not quality” (she had met and exceeded her hours target, but not by much).
  • Why she kept looking externally for what she should do next, instead of internally.
  • The reason she thinks you don’t need to go get a masters like she did if you want to move into higher ed.
  • Her emotional crisis that occurred when she realized her higher ed job was also not the thing for her: “I already made this big change, where am I supposed to go from here?”
  • Why hearing that she wasn’t ready to apply for new jobs from her career coach was one of the most helpful things she’s been told.
  • Not liking the fact that she really needed to engage in a long and challenging process to reconstruct her career from the ground up, but knowing it was the right call.
  • Why the combination of working on the podcast and developing her interior design business has been eye-opening.
  • The fact that 10 years ago, she never would have seen herself here.
  • Moving from NYC to Montana to San Diego.
  • “Illegal design,” her design service for lawyers—why she calls it that, and how it helps lawyers.
  • The importance of having an environment that helps your ideas and creativity grow.
  • Why you should start working on a financial plan to support your exit even if you have no idea what you want to do next.
  • The “tyranny of how,” and why it’s stopping you.

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