Usually, on this blog, I share advice for lawyers who want to leave the law, strategies for aspiring former lawyers, and interviews with former lawyers who have left the law behind to find careers and lives they love. Today, we’re talking about a piece of trash advice that can really harm some lawyers who want to leave the law.
We really need to talk about a piece of advice that people give to lawyers about their jobs. Personally, I think that it’s just plain trash advice.
The trash advice we’re talking about today is, “Learn to love where you are.” Again, we’ll talk about why this advice is terrible for lawyers who want to leave the law and what you should do if you encounter it. Let’s get into it!
Why “You Have To Learn To Love Where You Are” Is Trash Advice
The advice for lawyers who want to leave the law hear most often is, “You need to learn to love where you are before you find another job. If you aren’t happy now and you don’t learn to love where you are, you’ll take your problems to the next job.”
What is so terrible about this advice is there’s a kernel of truth to it, as there is with most things that are harmful. If you approach a career change from the law to something else and you expect changing your job will fix every problem, you will be sorely disappointed.
Let’s be honest. Many lawyers have a hard time setting boundaries. There can be a lot of reasons for that. For example, difficulty setting boundaries can be a response to trauma or a negative experience, whether from childhood or the workplace. Saying “don’t do that” is not helpful. That’s not how humans work. The issue is much more complex than “fix yourself” or “set better boundaries.”
Of course, it’s important to recognize anything you might be doing that makes your job harder so you don’t carry that onto your next career. But also, telling a lawyer who wants to leave the law, “Learn to love where you are,” is not based on reality.
You Can’t “Learn To Love” A Toxic Work Environment
The majority of lawyers who want to leave the law are thinking about doing so because they’re in a toxic work environment, which is quite common in the legal profession.
Think about it this way: if a friend was in an abusive relationship, you would never tell them, “You need to work on yourself and make sure that you don’t have any problems before you think about leaving this relationship. You’re just going to take those problems into another relationship.” Of course not! You would tell them to leave as soon as possible.
That’s the problem with advice for lawyers that want to leave the law about how they need to learn to love where they are and not get affected by their work environment. It completely ignores the reality that most lawyers that want to leave the law have experienced some element of toxicity or abuse in their environment.
If that’s true, telling a lawyer to find a way to be okay with that is extremely unhealthy. It’s not helpful, and it ultimately makes lawyers have a harder time figuring out what they want to do next.
Listen To Your Body
To make yourself “learn to love where you are,” if you’re in an abusive or toxic environment, you essentially have to ignore signals from your mind and body. If your nervous system is telling you that your situation isn’t safe, and you’re trying to force yourself not to feel that way, you train yourself out of listening to your body.
If you’ve read the blog or listened to the podcast for any length of time, you’ll know that one of the most crucial things lawyers who want to leave the law can do is learn to listen to themselves. Knowing what you want from life and yourself, what you like and don’t like, and your values are the key to moving on from the law.
So, putting yourself in a position where you’re actively trying to not listen to yourself, to discover those things, is a horrible vicious cycle that sets lawyers up for a lot of needless misery.
Some GOOD Advice For Lawyers Who Want To Leave The Law
If you’re a lawyer who wants to leave the law and you’ve heard this kind of advice, here’s what you need to know. Yes, setting healthy boundaries is essential. That’s something that you should definitely work on. But, keep in mind that it’s a lot easier to progress on that sort of thing outside of a toxic or harmful environment.
If you hear someone say, “You have to learn to love where you are before you can move on. Or else, you’re just going to take all the problems with you,” you have my permission to throw that advice in the trash because it is trash advice.
If you want solid advice you can actually benefit from, join us at Former Lawyer. Start by subscribing to this blog and listening to the podcast. And, if you haven’t yet, free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law.
And, for next-level advice for lawyers who want to leave the law that you can really bank on, I’m opening up some spots for 1:1 Coaching with me. So, if you’re interested in getting some personalized advice and support with leaving the law, let’s get on a call.
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Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. I practiced law for 10 years and now I help unhappy lawyers ditch their soul-sucking jobs. On this show, I share advice and strategies for aspiring former lawyers, and interviews with former lawyers who have left the law behind to find careers and lives that they love.
We really need to talk about a piece of advice that I have seen people give to lawyers about their jobs. I think that this advice is trash. We're going to talk about it today. This isn't just advice that's given to lawyers, this is often given to people in all different sorts of jobs.
But the advice that people often hear is something like, “You need to learn to love where you are before you go find another job. Because if you aren't happy in your job, and you don't essentially learn to love it or be okay there and you go somewhere else, then you're just going to take all of your problems with you because, essentially, the reason you're having problems in your job are things like you don't have good boundaries, etc. If you don't work on those things before you go somewhere else, then you're just going to have the same problems or similar problems.”
Here's what is so terrible about this advice, and this is true of most things that are really damaging, there is a kernel of truth there. I know we've talked in this podcast before, many times, about the fact that if you approach a career change from the law to something else and you expect changing your job, changing your career, to fix every single problem that you have, and essentially for you to not be the person that you are in that next job, that you're going to be disappointed.
True. completely true. I am never going to be someone who says, “There's nothing for anyone to ever work on.” Especially, let's be real, a lot of us who became lawyers do you have a hard time setting boundaries. Now, there can be a lot of reasons for that, among other things having difficulty setting boundaries can be something that you develop in response to trauma or a negative experience either from childhood or in the workplace.
In other words, it's adaptive, and that means that to just tell someone “Well, just don't do that” is not helpful. It's not based in actual neuroscience or the way that we work. It's a much more complex issue than just “Fix yourself. Set boundaries without a more comprehensive approach.” One of the many reasons that I recommend therapy.
Anyway, the point being I absolutely think that it is important for you to recognize the things that you might be doing that are making your experience of your job worse or harder that you don't want to take into your next job or career if you're a lawyer who's thinking about leaving the law.
But here's the thing, taking that kernel of truth, that thing that is real and telling someone, “Well, that means that you shouldn't leave where you are until you have figured out how to do all of those things, until you have essentially learned to be okay where you are” is not rooted in reality.
Because the reality is that the vast majority of lawyers who are thinking about leaving their jobs are thinking about doing so, in part, because the environment that they're in is somehow toxic—if not outright abusive, often, we call things toxic in the legal profession when in fact what we really mean is abusive—but regardless, if your work environment is toxic, if you are in an abusive environment, I mean, let's think about this, if you had a friend who was in a relationship and that relationship was abusive, you would never tell them, “Well, you just really need to work on yourself and make sure that you don't have any problems before you think about breaking off this relationship. Because otherwise, you're just going to take those problems into another relationship.” No, obviously not. You would say, “You need to get out of there. And yeah, we all have things to work on, and sure, you can plan to work on those things, but right now, get out.”
This is the problem with the kind of advice that I see people giving to lawyers about how they need to come to a place where they're okay with their environment, where they need to come to a place where they're somehow not affected by their work environment, it completely ignores the reality that for most lawyers who are thinking about leaving, there's some element of toxicity or abuse in the environment.
If that is true, telling a lawyer to somehow figure out a way to be okay with that is extremely unhealthy, it's not helpful, and ultimately, it actually sets lawyers up to have an even harder time figuring out what it is that they really want to do next. Because in order to make yourself “be okay” with an environment that is toxic or abusive, or just highly problematic in some way, you essentially have to ignore the signals that your brain and your body are giving you.
If your nervous system is telling you, “This is not an okay situation. This is not a safe situation. This is not a situation where you can flourish,” and you are trying to tell yourself, “Don't feel that. Don't think that. Don't react that way,” you essentially are training yourself out of listening to yourself.
If you've listened to this podcast for any length of time, you know that I think that one of the most important things for you as a lawyer who's thinking about leaving the law to do something else is to be able to learn to listen to yourself, to really know what it is that you want, what it is that you like, what it is that you don't like, what your values are.
So putting yourself in a position where you're actively trying to not do those things because you think you need to feel a different way about your environment in order to be able to leave it, do you see how this is a horrible vicious cycle that sets lawyers up for a lot of needless misery?
Anyway, so if you're a lawyer who's in a situation like this, and you have been given this advice or you've heard this advice, if you've thought, “I want to leave, but I really need to learn how to do all these things, like setting boundaries, et cetera, et cetera,” yes, great, those are things that you should definitely work on, and also, it is a lot easier to make progress on those things when you are not in an environment that's actively harming you, that's actively harming your mental, emotional, physical health.
If you hear someone say “You have to learn to love where you are before you can move on because otherwise, you're just going to take all the problems with you,” you have my permission—If you want my permission, you don't need my permission—to just throw that advice in the trash, because it is trash advice.
I would love to hear from you. If there is advice that you have heard about making a change, if you're thinking about making a change but you have some ideas of why you shouldn't, why you should wait, or whatever, I would love to hear from you what those things are, because I would love to talk more on the podcast about some of these things that you might be hearing that may or may not actually be helpful for you. Thanks so much for listening. I will talk to you next week.
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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