Kara Hardin is a therapist and used to be a corporate and securities lawyer. In the latest episode of the podcast, I talked to Kara about her journey to becoming a lawyer and how she came to leave the law and choose therapy as a post-legal career.
The path for her to become a therapist is a little bit unique. She’s originally from Canada but moved to the States for a while and was not licensed to practice law in the States.
So, she ended up going back to school for a Clinical Psychology Degree that she thought she would bring back and apply in her legal practice. Instead, today, she is a licensed therapist. Keep reading to learn more about Kara’s journey to therapy as a post-legal career.
A Bit About Kara
Kara is a Mental Health Educator and Private Clinician, originally from Calgary, Canada, but has practiced in the States and now resides in Ontario, Canada. There, Kara’s title is a Registered Psychotherapist. She specializes in the intersection of mental health and performance. She also happens to be a former lawyer, practicing as a corporate and securities attorney.
Kara became a lawyer because to her, it was easier than not going. It was an opportunity that she thought would ensure a stable and meaningful career while doing something stimulating. But at the same time, she didn’t really know who she was or what she wanted. She had pressure to know but felt ill-equipped to answer those questions.
To Kara, law school was an all-in-one solution. Law school gives you direction. You attend school, apply for jobs. They even have a process that tells you how you should apply to jobs. It was easier for her to go to school than it was to sit with the question, “What do I want?” After all, many different things can be done with a law degree.
Why Kara Decided To Leave The Law
In law school, she worked with a coach to help find out what she wanted to do and how she wanted to grow. She leaned into what worked for her, and she found herself being drawn to coaching. She decided to become a coach to help elevate the way she practiced law and as a bit of a side-hustle. As time went on, she started taking on clients.
Kara’s coaching practice started to grow, and she started seeing things that she wasn’t well-equipped for and wanted to know more. And, at the same time, her partner got a job in Minnesota. They had already been long-distance for three years, and now, it was time to decide what that meant.
She wanted to move, but she wouldn’t be able to practice law in Minnesota, meaning she would have to go back to school. But this time, she dared to see where it took her. She said, “Well if I’m going to go back to school anyway, why don’t I go back to school for something that I’m interested in?”
Going Into Therapy
Kara did her Master’s in Counseling Psychology at the University of St. Thomas. This journey was the opposite of law school. It was academic and rigorous, but it wasn’t going to make her an academic therapist. It was going to make her into a practicing therapist.
She ended up in a training program at Relate Counseling Center in Minnetonka, which is a non-profit institution. It’s just an unbelievable training facility, and to anyone who is in the counseling world and pursuing their work, this is Kara’s biggest advice. To find a training facility to learn how to do the practice.
Under the tutelage and supervision there, what Kara realized is that the conversations she was getting to have as a coach could be meaningfully and deeply a profession. It could be a calling. The parts of her that got to show up as a lawyer, the curiosity, the learning, they were even fuller as a therapist because the things that she was learning about were of interest to her.
Advice For People Looking Into Therapy As A Post Legal Career
Kara has some advice for those second-guessing their legal career and looking into going into therapy or any other career. Firstly, you’ll need to get clear on things.
Get Clear on What Is Important
Create a circle on a piece of paper and you start dividing it into a pie, there’s going to be different parts and different pieces. Figure out how big the pieces are. Is finance significant? How significant is it? Is it two-thirds of the pie? Is it a size where you could have a plan, but you have to wait till you see a certain number to pursue it?
If that’s the case, what are some other ways that you can start educating but can you do a coaching program on the side? Can you engage with a coach? Oftentimes in the grind, that kind of clarity can be a source of relief and also direction-giving. Because you know well what it would have to look like for you to take a different action.
Know Who You Are
Becoming a therapist is the process of becoming more of who you are, at the same time as other people becoming more of who they are. What matters to you, your values, what drives you, what you prefer, your tendencies?
Put that in the external things that you need. What are the realities and then what are the sacrifices? But first know what you are, so that you can meaningfully even show up in this new way.
Stop Obsessing Over Planning
Lawyers, both the people who tend to self-select into law school and lawyering and then people who practice law, they are trained by the profession to tend to have this idea that if you can’t tell me what you’re going to be doing and when, there’s something wrong.
Breaking out of that kind of mindset will be extremely important when you decide to leave the law and want to practice something else. It wasn’t until Kara moved back to Canada, that the question of, “What do I want to do?” really evolved. Then, she found an answer in a role like Mental Health Officer or Director of talent, that would combine her mental health and legal knowledge.
Join The Former Lawyer Collaborative For Help During Your Journey To A Post Legal Career
If you’re interested in taking the next step to your post-legal career, whether that’s going into therapy like Kara, or something else, the Former Lawyer Collaborative is where I work personally with lawyers to do that.
I do have an important announcement about that, which is that the price is going to be going up from $1500 to $1950. So, if you’re looking to get into the Collab, this is your last chance to snag it at the lower price before it goes up on December 10th at 5 pm.
When you join the collaborative, you get lifetime access. So, now is a great time if you have ever thought about joining in the past and thought maybe sometime in the future. Head on over to see the details and sign up today.
And, if you haven’t already, sign up and download my free guide: First Steps To Leaving The Law to get tips on how you can leave your job as a lawyer without all of the stress and panic of finding out what’s next.
Connect With Kara:
Mentioned In This Article:
Relate Counseling Center: www.relatemn.org/
Karin’s Mental Health Consulting Practice: www.karahardin.com/
Karin’s Therapy Services: www.karahardintherapy.com/
First Steps To Leaving The Law: www.formerlawyer.com/first
Former Lawyer Collaborative: www.formerlawyer.com/the-former-lawyer-collaborative/
Sarah: Hello everyone. This week on the podcast, I'm sharing my conversation with Kara Hardin. She is a therapist, and she used to be a corporate and securities lawyer. The path for her to become a therapist is a little bit unique. She is based in Canada and she moved to the States for a while and was not licensed to practice law in the States. And so she ended up going back to school for Clinical Psychology Degree that she thought she would bring back and apply in her legal practice. Instead today, she is a licensed therapist. So, I'm excited for you to have this conversation. Let's get right to my conversation with Kara.
This is an important announcement for anyone who has thought about working with me to figure out what it is that they want to do outside of practicing law. So, if that's you, I want you to know that my program, the Former Lawyer Collaborative, is the only way that I work with lawyers, I work with lawyers inside of that program. The price of that program is going to be going up on December 10th. So Friday, December 10th at 5 p.m the price will be going up from its current price of 1500 to 1950. I wanted to make sure that you had plenty of time to think about whether or not to join the collaborative right now. The next few weeks are right for you before that price increase happens.
When you join the collaborative, you get lifetime access. So, now is a great time if you have ever thought about joining in the past and thought maybe sometime in the future. Or if you're someone who just now is hearing about it for the first time and it piques your interest I highly recommend you to check out the page with all the information. You can go to formerlawyer.com/collab, C-O-L-L-A-B and all the information is there. Again, the price increase is going into effect on Friday, December 10th at 5 p.m. Eastern. If you're someone who's thinking about wanting to make a move out of your job in 2022, this is a great opportunity to get in before that price goes up. If you have any questions, as always, feel free to reach out to me. Again, the page to go to is formerlawyer.com./collab
Hi, Kara, welcome to the former lawyer podcast.
Kara: Hi, Sarah. Thanks for having me.
Sarah: I am so excited to have you share your story. We were talking beforehand and there are multiple reasons. I have lots of lawyers, I mentioned this before on the podcast who mentioned to me that therapy is one of the things that they're very interested in as a potential option. And then also just my own experience having been in quite a bit of therapy. There are many things that I really want lawyers to know about the experience and about mental health in general. So, before we get into all of those many things, can you introduce yourself to the listeners?
Kara: Absolutely. Hi everyone. My name is Kara Harden. You may hear a little bit of an accent because I am Canadian. Surprised. I always feel like I'm talking to a primarily American audience, and there's like pride in me that wants to be like, "Ah, you should know this." So, I don't know if there are any Canadians listening but shout out. Shout to you.
I work as a Mental Health Educator and Private Clinician. In Ontario, my title is a Registered Psychotherapist. I specialize in the intersection of mental health and performance. I also happen to be a former practicing corporate and securities attorney. [laughs]
Sarah: Okay. So, where to even begin? Well, first of all, I will say that I do have quite a lot of Canadian listeners and a number of the lawyers in my program are based in Canada. So yes, we are...
Kara: Shout out. Hello. I'm from [crosstalk] Calgary originally. Hello, hello friends.
Sarah: Hello, Canadians. [laughs]
Kara: Country people, I see you and I care deeply for you. I also trained in Minnesota. So, I also have an affinity for the U.S, but it's wonderful to know that there are going to be people listening that are across both of our geographies.
Sarah: I love it.
Kara: Actually even, Sarah, you're going to... Because in Canada, was the first-ever National Truth and Reconciliation Day I don't know if you're familiar with that?
Sarah: Yes. That was recent. Right?
Kara: Yes, and it was significant. It was on the time... Well, well, well way overdue to mark the complex history of Canada's past and how it intersects with our present and future. I would love to just acknowledge the sacred lands on which we are meeting that many nations have lived on before us. It's been the site of human activity for many thousands of years. So, I'm grateful to be connecting with you across Turtle Island.
Sarah: I love it. Okay. So, this is the question that we start with typically in most episodes and it's where we're going to start here. Which is, how did you decide to go to law school?
Kara: [laughs] This is where I wish your listeners had a little bit of like a camera and then show the office so I could turn to the camera and give a face that's like, "Oh, I think you know this story." [laughter] I feel like what I'm about to say is I hope, I hope it is an experience that resonates and at the same time my privileges show up in full force.
I became a lawyer because I had the means and opportunities that going felt easier than not going. I wanted to ensure I had stable meaningful employment and I had done an undergrad that I absolutely loved in Philosophy. But coming from a generation of children who were told there's like no such thing as jobs at the philosophy factory. [laughs]
Kara: I was really searching for something that would be intellectually stimulating. I think when I was digging deeper about this question and over the years, I've thought a lot about how I ended up in law. Fundamentally, as most young 20-somethings which is the average age of most people going to law school, I didn't know who I was or what I wanted. Which is developmentally, completely appropriate. I also felt pressure to know who I was and what I wanted. I felt ill-equipped to answer those questions.
Law school was this all-in-one solution. When you go to law school, it gives you the direction You attend school, you apply for jobs, they even have a process that tells you how you should apply to jobs. There's even a baked-in system for which jobs are more prestigious and why they're more prestigious. Even if I didn't subscribe to it all, it was laid out before me. It gave me the direction I didn't have as well as the external comforts that I thought will at least a job could provide.
So, I was overwhelmed and I was afraid that if I left school to take time and space, the answers wouldn't be clearer. Law school was this really seemingly easy answer.
Sarah: You know, it's interesting because those themes come up so often on the podcast, and in particular, I relate a lot to the idea of the use of that going to law school based on your context and where you were was easier than not going. And I think that was also very true for me for many of the same reasons that you described. And I know that reasons that many, many other people who decided to go to law school share, which is, basically being in college not really knowing what they wanted to do when they graduated and feeling like, "Well, I should know what I want to do? Law school is sort of this clear path that is set before you and very few people are going to be like, "I don't think that's a good idea." I mean, I might say it to someone now, but that's a separate thing. [laughs] But it's just a very safe and structured path.
Sarah: Do you feel like you thought a lot about what it would be like after you graduated? And when you were a lawyer, when you decided to go to law school?
Kara: Not at all. I feel like this is where a get... Like my intersectionality and privileges show up like that. It was easier for me to gather the debt and go to school than it was to sit with the existential, "What do I want?" I didn't have to spend time thinking about what it would be like. That was the whole purpose, that going would answer the question, "I would be a lawyer." The narrative that I was most familiar with was like, "Well, you can do anything with a law degree."
Kara: You can do anything with a law degree and you can do a lot of stuff with a law degree, right? You absolutely can. I mean a lot of it is law-related but as someone who's now an entrepreneur and mental health educator, like my law degree, it definitely helped me. I don't regret it. I just like what I wish I had had the wherewithal to do and I probably would have made the same decision. But I wish I had the wherewithal to have it be less of like, "Huh. I don't know, how do I know?" to an "I don't know, I'm gonna just sit with not knowing and see if I can trust myself enough to figure out how to know."
Sarah: Yes. Can I just say as a side note? The fact that so many of us I think we're in that place of, "I don't know and I don't know how to know," and ended up on the path into law. I think it explains a lot of what I see with my own clients and just listeners to the podcast who reach out and my own experience in law, which was when you realize it's not really a fit, it's not like you can fall back on like, "Oh, I remember how I got myself here and these are the tools I have in my toolbox to reassess." I think a lot of people feel they just hit a wall and there's vast empty nothingness because law school and the "path" was doing that work. When you contemplate that going away, it can feel like there's nothing.
Kara: Totally. I think the other thing to add to the dimension is people are multifaceted and so it is not that the decision doesn't fit all of the parts of you. Like I love big projects, I love huge deals, I love thinking critically and the philosophy behind it. I mean it's asinine but like the reasonable person. Who is this person? Are they culturally informed? What are they aware of? I liked it and I liked being around really curious ambitious, people because I am a curious and ambitious person. So, it fits just enough of the parts of you that when you enter the profession and you continue, enough of you is satisfied until it isn't. If that makes sense and then it is exactly what you're talking about where, "Well, wait for a second."
The parts that perhaps I could have been paying more attention to sooner that perhaps I should have gotten to know better earlier. I don't even know where to start and I'm so used to leaning on that muscle of like the external telling me what I should do, how I should do it, and who I should be. I don't even know. It feels so unfamiliar and woo-woo, and out of reach to even begin to be like, "Well, what? What do I want?"
Sarah: Yes. I think for a lot of lawyers, it feels wrong, right?
Kara: Totally. Totally.
Sarah: You've been conditioned to feel like that's wrong. I often ask someone some variation of the question of like, "Well, what do you want? What do you want to do?" I don't necessarily mean in terms of the over [inaudible] thing, even with smaller decisions along the way. I think it's a process of even being able to know what that is.
Sarah: Because so many lawyers have learned to answer that question with what they think they should want or what someone else wants. Or, as you said, some external marker or indicator that they feel should be guiding their decisions.
Kara: Totally. There are [laughs] 2 things. The first is, it's so funny you just articulated that. I posted it on my second screen. It's a work-from-home control and command center. It is a quote from Gretchen Rubin's book, Better Than Before. She writes, "It's very hard to know myself. I get so distracted by the way I wish I were or the way I assume I am that I lose sight of what's true."
It's so prescient. Even after going through the journey I have and going back to graduate school and learning these parts are tender. I think that would be the other pieces like it's not just that we turn outside of ourselves to figure out who we should be, but also that we tend to be really caring people. So, it's ambitious, curious, and caring. So, we want to show up in ways that are valuable and contributory to our communities, colleagues, families, and to our friends. For a long time, our value starts to root in how we show up for other people. So that questions like, "What do I want?" They seem not just foreign like what we're saying and also hard to grasp but almost unfair and strange. I like to do a quick thing. This is what I do with all of my clients when they're like, "I don't know what I want. Do I get hot or cold? Are you someone that likes hot or cold? I'm going to ask you, Sarah. Do you like hot or cold?
Kara: Do you like winter or summer?
Kara: Coffee or tea?
Kara: Red or blue?
Kara: So, there is a way. It doesn't have to be... don't start running the marathon. Start taking a step.
Sarah: Yes. Totally.
Kara: Start taking a step.
Sarah: A hundred percent.
Kara: You get to know small things about yourself. It's the same thing. So, when you say cold and blue, there's a feeling in your body that's like, Yes, that's right."
That's all it is. It is just sharpening that. So, if you're listening and you're like, "Oh my gosh, yes, you're describing me in that." Like, "Don't worry. You don't have to start running a marathon, just like hot or cold." That's what I was thinking while you were saying that.
Sarah: Yes. I think that's so helpful and we'll definitely circle back around and talk a bit about embodiment and such in a little bit. But I would love to know going back to your story a bit. So you chose Law School because it was the easiest path to give you a path essentially. So, you didn't have this particular vision of, "I'm going to go to law school, and then I'm going to be this type of lawyer." So, how did you decide through the course of law school what it was that you were going to do when you graduate?
Kara: Yes. That's really I think an interesting one because here, I think I was pretty unconventional and I haven't figured out what allowed me inside to do that. I went to the University of Toronto Faculty of Law which is just such a garden of opportunity. Anything you can imagine along the spectrum of opportunity that exists in the practice and content area, it's there. I kept looking for something to click and feel good.
I started a mentorship program and that felt really great. I went back and I did a summer... My first summer, my 1L, we set at a firm in Calgary and it was a regional shop and that didn't feel great. They were great, the shop was amazing but I just was like, "Oh." I didn't really love that. So, maybe it's Calgary or maybe it's the size of the firm. So, I tried on a fellowship on my second summer and I was like, "Oh, I didn't really
like that," either. And I thought it must be Toronto. It must be the pace, it must be the city. So, when I was in law school, all of that is to say I didn't have a vision of what it would look like, but I was trying to find something that felt it was coming together in the right combination of factors.
All the while, I was certainly receiving messages about what would leave the most doors open, right? Like if you go to a big law or if you go to a big firm, it allows you more opportunity for mobility in the future and I felt nothing was fitting. I was like, "Well, I need to leave the doors open. I ended up practicing out of just a fabulous shop in Vancouver. The people could not have been more kind and brilliant and the work could not have been more interesting. It was as close to a fit, I think as I could possibly get. I got it by ping-ponging around a lot.
Throughout law school, I was constantly applying for different jobs. That was close. [laughs] It's ironic that I'm laughing. It's ironic that I went to law school because I just want to be told what to do. That was like past Kara. [laughs] I'm just sending a voice. But that was never settled for just someone telling me this would do if that makes sense.
Sarah: Yes. It totally does. So tell me, you said that that job was as close to a fit as you think it could be. I'm wondering because some people will talk about how they started their first job as a lawyer. And from day one, they were like, "Uh, I'm not sure about this."
Other people will say that they started and they were really all in. They were like, "This is going to be it. It's going to be great," and over time, it was slowly dawning, the realization that maybe it wasn't it. So, did you have one of those experiences or was it some other experience for you?
Kara: Yes. I think it was a little bit different. I'm thinking it throughout loud because I've never really thought about it in this way, but I think I went in with a suspicion that a traditional career and trajectory were not going to fulfill all of the parts of me, but hoping that if I found the right place, enough of me would be satisfied. What I mean by that is, to be a therapist, you really have to like people.
I really like learning about people and their context and understanding them. I was at a shop that had 20 lawyers, but it was a national firm. So, there was... the context of the firm made it possible to really get to know my colleagues. One was more brilliant than the next. Why that matters to me is the part of me that I am a keen learner. I want to learn from people who I think are inspiring. There were people around the shop whose lives I looked at and said, "Yes." That would be satisfying to me.
So, it wasn't so much that I had this like, I'm Gung Ho and I'm going for it. And it wasn't that I was like, "Woo. This isn't a good fit." It was more like the analogy... The closest analogy I can come up with is like when you try on an outfit, that you're like, "Yes, I think this could look good." But like I need to wear it around a little bit to see if it's me. That's how my practice felt.
Kara: I was like wearing an outfit that I was inspired by and excited but I wasn't sure. It was quite me. I practiced for a handful of years. I think the majority of my experience in practice was constantly checking in that hot or cold. That knowing, "Is this me? Is this bringing out if this outfit feels comfortable? If it doesn't feel comfortable, why is that? If it does feel comfortable, why is that?"
Sarah: So, tell me a little bit about what ultimately made you decide to leave and what you decided to leave for. It sounds like you were having this experience of, maybe it's a fit but maybe it's not. There was maybe a little bit of unease there. So, I'm curious at what point it tipped over into you deciding like, "Oh, I actually don't think this is a fit."
Kara: So, I think there was a couple of things that we're coming together around the same time. In law school, I started working with a coach to... As I was applying for every job under the sun looking for a fit. I was starting to engage more directly with who do I want to be when I grow up and what parts of me do I want to cultivate and grow? In my practice, I continue those discussions and also found myself in leadership roles without having leadership training and sucking at being inaudible] [laughs].
Sarah: I feel like that's the classic lawyer way. [laughter]
Kara: But I was just so aware that I was like that. There was one time where I yelled at an articling student and it still mortifies me. It mortifies me. I was like, "I need tools. This is not okay." So, I leaned into what had worked for me and I was like, "I should become a coach." I love the conversations, I should become a coach for the purpose of elevating how I practice.
As any corporate and securities lawyer does. You start a side hustle where you go to the training and every week you're like, "Am I gonna be able to make it? Am I gonna have to cancel?" And by some miracle, I was able to go and certify. As a part of certifying, you have to have clients. So, I started taking clients and building something like a side business. It started in my head, not what I was going to do, it was to make me a better lawyer so I could show up more wholeheartedly.
But what I very quickly noticed is I became obsessed with how to practice and not the practice itself. Like, how do you practice law in this law decision latitude, highly unpredictable environment that is big law, but also in trauma-exposed parts of the law like family practice, human rights law, refugee law, and environmental? How do you do this? How do you be a high achiever, have mental health and have all the parts of you get to show up? I became convinced that it was less about the law and more about how we relate it to one another as colleagues, lawyers, co-counsel, and adversaries. There was an opportunity, so while I'm trying to learn how to be a lawyer, I'm also realizing that my attention is begrudgingly on that part of me and overwhelmingly interested in these other questions.
My coaching practice started to grow. In the practice, I started seeing something I didn't have language for. I now know it as anxiety, depression, and substance use. Like these clinical experiences where functioning is being impaired. They didn't know what that was as a coach. I felt ill-equipped and fundamentally desiring to learn more. All of that was happening professionally at the same time as my now partner got a job in Minnesota. We had been long-distance for 3 years and it was time to decide what that meant.
I say it humbly, but it wasn't like a great courageous moment that was like, "I'm not going to do this anymore because I'm going full force enter into this other counseling part of me." It was like, "Oh, I have the opportunity personally to pursue this relationship. "Minnesota only recognizes ABA-approved law schools. So, I was going to have to be there, go back to school. And I thought, "I'm going to learn about this academic stuff." And then for once have the courage to see where that takes me.
I was open to doing this and then going back into a law firm just with the education I had to start a coaching practice. I didn't think I was going to be a therapist, which is perhaps where we can go next. But for the first time, I said I don't know what this path is, but like the last time, I tried to lean into knowing it didn't help me. Or lean in to let the external path decide for me. It didn't help me.
Kara: That was a long answer, Sarah.
Sarah: No. No.
Kara: It's a long answer.
Sarah: I was just thinking. So at this point, it sounds what you're saying is, your partner got this job in Minnesota so you decided that you together will going to move to Minnesota. You weren't going to be able to practice law there without...
Kara: Going back to school.
Sarah: ... going back to school. So, it sounds like your thought process, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, was like, "Well, if I'm gonna go back to school anyway, why don't I go back to school for something that I actually feeling this interest in?" In particular, it was because you were encountering people that you were working with on the coaching side some of these clinical presentations like anxiety and substance abuse and these sorts of things. You basically decided, "I want to learn more about these things that are coming up that I don't necessarily feel equipped to handle."
Sarah: Yes. Sarah, that was very clarifying. [laughter] Edit that back, just put that right in there. That was absolutely what I'm saying and you got it. And that is just not equipped because the relationship is the agent of change and I think coaching is such a robust modality. It was just like the curious learning part of me that's, "Woo, I really could do more here." I could really get that hands around this differently here.
Kara: I had already done law school and trying to be a lawyer I thought, "Well, I know how this feels, I'm curious about how something else could feel." I just had the opportunity to try.
Sarah: So, tell me what type of program you enrolled in because you mentioned that at the time that... I think you're saying, the time that you enrolled, you were not thinking, "Oh, I'm going to pursue being a licensed therapist.
Kara: Totally. So, I did my master's in counseling psychology at the University of St. Thomas, go Tommy. [laughter] I found it because it was practical. It was the opposite of my law experience. It was academic and it was rigorous but it wasn't going to make me into an academic therapist. It was going to make me into a practicing therapist. And what I thought was, learn the thing that you're enjoying doing. Learn the thing that you're enjoying doing and in the U.S, counseling is housed under psychology in Canada. This is an evolving target but it's usually housed under education.
Kara: It allowed me... lt felt like not a no-brainer because obviously thought went into it but what I was interested in was psychology. So, there was a chance for me to pursue how to practice and get my arms around the clinical aspect of things in a really tangible way sooner rather than later. The program that I went to... I can't speak highly enough about it but most of the classes were, "Here's the theory, here's how it shows up, go practice. We will videotape you and we will tell you what we see and then come back and hear this experience. How does it land on you? Go practice. Let's debrief that."
I didn't expect to be a therapist as I mentioned. I ended up in a training program at Relate Counseling Center in Minnetonka, it's a non-profit. Clinical Director is Becky McNaughton. I cannot speak highly enough about this. I want to call it an institution. It's just an unbelievable training facility. And to anyone who is in the counseling world and pursuing their work, this is hands-down. My biggest advice is to find a training facility to learn how to do the practice.
Under the tutelage and supervision and with the consultation of all of the wonderful colleagues there, what I realized is that the conversations I was getting to have as a coach could be meaningfully and deeply a profession. It could be a career, it could be a calling. There are crafts and there is a joy that I found just doing it. The parts of me that got to show up as a lawyer, the curiosity, the learning, they were even fuller as a therapist because the things that I was learning about were of interest to me. I was just learning about how to be with people, how to help people.
Sarah: So, let's talk about a really practical question that I think a lot of people have in their minds. And I say that because this comes up often when people email me and are thinking about doing something that involves going back to school. Often people will say, I'm interested in X or Y therapy potentially is one of the career paths, but I'm concerned about going back to school and having to take on more student loans, or just like going back to school when I already have taken on so much student loan debt. I know I've had a couple of other guests who are based in Canada and at least one of them mentioned that they did not have the same type of debt that many people get in the States when they go to law school?
Kara: Yes. Yes.
Sarah: So, can you talk a bit about that?
Kara: Sure. There are very significant realities and consequences financially speaking that flow from school and a part of the decision that someone is making very practically when they decide to shift any profession is what does starting differently mean for me? How does that impact me? One of the measures is financial. One of the measures is geographical. It could be the personal fulfillment side. It would be so great if I could just wave a magic wand and student debt would be erased and anyone that wanted to be a counselor could go be a counselor. The other resource that I encourage people to be mindful of is their time. Knowing that resources are limited, I think the practical question you're getting at is like, "How did I conceptualize that?" Or, "How did I hold that? How could other people hold it?"
What I lean into as an answer is it starts with hot or cold. How well do you know yourself? What is the balance of factors? So, if you create a circle on a piece of paper and you start dividing it into a pie, there's going to be different parts and different pieces. You have to figure out how big the pieces are. Is finance so significant? Is two-thirds of the pie? Such that you could have a plan but you have to wait till you see a certain number to pursue it? If that's the case, what are some other ways that you can start educating but can you do a coaching program on the side? Can you engage with a coach? Does your firm pay for certain leadership opportunity training? If the financial piece is smaller, how small does it need to be before you're able to take a different step? What other things are you sacrificing in the meantime like having clarity around how your pie looks now, will put you in a position to know what sacrifices you're making and why? Oftentimes in the grind, that kind of clarity can be really a source of relief and also direction-giving. Because you know well what would it have to look like in order for me to take a different action.
Sarah: Yes, I think 2 things that they tell people, and I think this reflects what you just said is, one, make sure you've actually looked at the real numbers, right?
Sarah: That you were saying the pie. Don't just have this vague idea of like, "Oh, I can't do that because of X or Y." Sort of general reason. Really consider what it would take and then you're in a better position to decide whether that's something you're willing to take on. The other thing is, and you mentioned this point also is that every option involves sacrifice and giving something up and getting in something, right? It's not one option is all sacrifice and the other option is all getting something. You're sacrificing things either way and getting a better handle on the practical realities of, "Okay, what would be involved here? How would I make this work if I wanted to? Gives you a better idea of what exactly are you sacrificing in each of those directions. I don't just mean in terms of money. I mean in terms of...
Sarah: If that's something that you really want to do and you don't follow that path. Like you are also sacrificing something that is Meaningful and valuable. It just may not be monetary and each person is going to have to make their own decision about how to weigh the various factors.
Kara: Yes. I mean it fans at the other advise that I always give to people who are interested in pursuing therapy, psychotherapy, social work or the more helping people show up in those ways who have a history and any high achievement culture is to start exploring when they know they are making choices that are resonant. How that shows up. What are the limitations around resonant choices like the external things?
I encourage them to pay attention to that but to really start with who they are and figure out what they want. The thing about therapy is that it is fundamentally a real relationship between you and either one other person, or couple or a family or a group of people. It only works when you are able to show up as you are authentically. When you can bring the parts of yourself that are real, grounded, regulated, and anchored into the room. The relationship is as real for you as it is for them. Becoming a therapist is the process of becoming more of who you are, at the same time as you are with other people becoming more of who they are. Fundamentally what that means as you are on your path is that your path and your choices should reflect that.
Even more specifically when I get questions around which degree is better between social work or counseling or between psychology and counseling, my answer is always absolutely there is an external standard where one is valued more than the other, and you could view it on a number of metrics which private insurance takes the most? Which private insurance takes which licenses? In what measure? How many letters are there behind your name?
Fundamentally though, the practice you were trying to develop has nothing to do with those things. In order to be successful, you have to start being willing to risk showing up as you are again and again and again. I know that that is vague in terms of what that looks like. That's partially because I've never met you listening. If you're out there having this question, so I can't tell you specifically what that is. Also, it's because even if I did know you, you are the expert on you. How do you think matters? It's going to inform which modality you train and then how and why you pursue it.
So, all of that is to say the work doesn't start when you open your office and have a couch. You're already on the path to becoming, like David Foster Wallace has a quote, although of course you end up becoming who you are. You are already on the path of becoming to the extent that you can get clear about what is internal to you. What matters to you, your values, what drives you, what you prefer, your tendencies? Put that in the external things that you need. I love you to... what are actually the realities and then what are the sacrifices? But first know what you are, so that you can meaningfully even show up in this new way.
Sarah: I think that is such good advice and I think one of the many reasons that lawyers are sometimes drawn to considering a new career, like becoming a therapist, is that what I've observed and my experience has been that, many, many, many lawyers feel in order to be successful as a lawyer in their particular environment, they need to not show up as their whole self. Which is a problem that we've talked about quite a few times on other episodes. Okay. So, Kara, I would love to know when you... see you're in school for this degree in counseling psychology and your training at this Center and you're realizing, "Hey, I actually think that this is what I want to be doing. It's not that I want to take this back into lawyering, but I in fact want to be a therapist."
Sarah: How far into your schooling were you when you had this realization of, "Oh," this is actually little, I don't want to say detour but like a skill-building exercise which I will then take back into lawyering but instead I want to take this in a completely new direction.
Kara: I realized it when I was in my practicum. So, in Canada, it's the equivalent of articling in the U.S. It's the equivalent of your first-year associate. You have to do a certain number of direct client contact hours. I think probably within the first month, I was like, "Oh." I mean it's funny because when I'm in that first month, I was grumpy all the time because learning how to be with other people is hard, it's hard. And that showed up for me is like being really grumpy and irritable but also is just feeling so alive and being like, "Yes. This is it. This is what I'm going to do."
This is actually fascinating and retrospects because I do that in part, but I'm also a mental health educator. So my career has continued to evolve. I'm so curious, Sarah, about how you see this because I feel like it must show up all the time in your work, once someone starts asking the question, what is of me and in me to do? Although, of course, I'm going to become who I am and I am constantly going to iterate and evolve, the question is never singularly answered. lt is a progressive journey. I couldn't tell you what I'm gonna do in 5 years. Will it involve some amount of individual counseling? I love it. So, I hope so, but I also hold that in 5 years. Maybe that'll change. I don't know.
Sarah: Yes. I think that as lawyers, both the people who tend to self-select into law school and lawyering and then people who practice law, they are trained by the profession to tend to have this idea of like, "If I don't have a very clear 20-year plan and if I can't tell you where I'm going to be and what I want to be doing career-wise, 12 and a half years from now, in the month of April then something's really wrong with me and I'm probably doing something wrong and I need to fix it. I think that's part of why lawyers end up in this situation where they feel so trapped in what they're doing. Because if they can't see a 20-year plan doing something else they think that they shouldn't pursue it.
I think breaking out of that kind of mindset at least for me, became much easier when I had actually exited the practice of law. But can you tell me a little bit about... So, you're in that first month of your practicum, you're realizing, "Oh, I actually think this is the direction I want to go." It sounds like at that point, maybe it wasn't like a shock, a total shock. Like, "Oh, my goodness. I'm not going to go back to lawyering." Is that right? Or, was there still a little bit of, "Wait, am I really going to leave this part of my work and not do it anymore?"
Kara: Yes. I feel it wasn't an active question. I actually feel it wasn't until I moved back. So, I couldn't practice law in the US, it was unavailable to me.
Kara: So, I think it wasn't until I moved back to Canada and was, "So, now I have choices. What am I going to do? And how am I going to do it?" That question really evolved. Even in coming up with my own work and business now, I connected with law firms, not to be a lawyer, but be a Director of Talent or to be a Mental Health Officer or to somehow combine the learning. The other thing that's probably important to add is that I was working with the Hennepin County Bar Association on leadership programs. So, I was still interacting with the bar as much as I could. Also, my private practice started to fill with high achievers, judges, their kids, lawyers, paralegals, with cross-functional legal providers. My practice was filled with high achievers. So, I never felt far from law. I just felt I got to be the person like...
You know, when you're practicing and someone comes in your office and closes the door and just tells you... That was my office. That just got to be my office. So, it didn't really dawn on me that I wasn't... This sounds so trite to say. The process of leaving the law, was never that present for me because I was always so steeped in the culture and steeped in the practice still. Externally.
Even when I launched my own education and practice. lt is, I worked at the intersection of mental health and high performance. This is what I do. This is all I do. And so yes, I left like I'm not a lawyer but I sincerely, engaged with legal practice. Just in a very different way.
Sarah: That makes a lot of sense. I can see how it feels almost like... where you almost have to be like, "Oh, right. I'm not actually doing that piece of it anymore."
Kara: Right. Yes. [laughter] It's like, "Oh, I don't have my folders on my desk. You can't send me that diligence report to review, no problem.
Kara: Send a purchase agreement your way. Exactly.
Sarah: Totally. Okay. Well, Kara, I know that we need to wrap this conversation up now but I definitely want to have you back to talk some more about mental health in the legal profession generally and we'll talk a bit about trauma and its role. So, I'm really excited to have that conversation. Until then, is there anything else that you would like to share with the listeners that we haven't had a chance to talk about yet?
Kara: Thank you for that. I would love to come back and talk more generally and about anything else today that would need expounding. There's a part of me that feels quite... maybe vulnerable? Would it be talking to a therapist if the word vulnerable didn't come up in the conversation?
Kara: There's a humility and a vulnerability that anyone could listen to this and either see themselves in it or think it's worth listening to. I just really want to express my gratitude to you for making this face and implore your listeners to have generosity in their hearing. So, that as I share my story which feels very much my own to just know that it's hard. Even in sharing like this, it's hard. Opening yourself up to the world takes a certain amount of courage and bravery and trust in both yourself and in people like you, Sarah, and in your listeners. So, I just appreciate having a space where hopefully I can be helpful and continue to grow in the ways that I'm trying to grow. So, thank you.
Sarah: Thank you. I really appreciate you sharing your story. If people want to connect with you, where can they find you on the internet? [laughs]
Kara: Thank you. Just plug in my name, Kara Harden. Maybe you can link it in your show notes, but it's Kara, K-A-R-A, Harden, H-A-R-D-I-N. Feel free to reach out, I'd love to hear from you and see how this all landed in if I can be helpful in any way. I always loved being a resource.
Sarah: Thank you so much, Kara. Those links will be in the show notes and we will definitely have you back again soon because I know there's a lot more that we want to talk about. Thank you for sharing your story with me today.
Kara: Thanks for having me, Sarah. I appreciate it.
Kara: Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide. First Steps to Leaving the Law at formerlawyer.com/first. Until next time. Have a great week.
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