This episode features Marquel Stuedemann, who joined the Former Lawyer Collaborative in the Fall 2021 cohort of Guided Track in hopes of transitining from lawyer to trust officer.
Marquel discusses her experiences before and after joining The Collaborative. In this episode, you will see what being in The Collaborative looks like and how the support can help you leave the law by identifying an alternative career that is a great fit for you.
If you would love to have the same experience as Marquel Stuedemann, you can join the next Guided Track cohort that starts in February. The Guided Track is a ten-week support program that gives you access to all the resources in The Collaborative, including weekly support calls with five other lawyers that get into the program. You also get a 30-minute one-on-one call with Sarah Cottrell, which you can use during the ten weeks.
Now, let’s get into the conversation with Marquel.
Choosing Her Career in Law
When Marquel first applied for law school, her mom came across a note she wrote in high school where she wrote that she wanted to be a lawyer. When she first applied, she didn’t even remember wanting to be a lawyer but guessed it was because she enjoyed the excitement of arguing and defending people.
By the time she was leaving high school, she was tending towards being a teacher. However, she was scared of pursuing that because her best teachers made it feel like it wasn’t worth it. Although they loved teaching and their students, they didn’t want her in that tough environment, leaving her wanting to feel helpful to people without knowing how to project that feeling.
Marquel’s fear of being pigeonholed made her major in healthcare administration for her undergrad. She decided after talking to an advisor who was convinced that following that track could help people and find her a leadership role with many options.
During the fall of her junior year, she found out that her school was closing in a year, which put going to law school on the fast track for her. She now had to decide her next steps quickly and started thinking about how to use healthcare and expand her education.
Marquel thought about going into healthcare leadership but was scared she wouldn’t love it. At that point, she returned to law and found a great post-law program at another school.
Using the Legal Profession Anywhere
During her law school application process, Marquel thought studying law was a great idea because she felt she could do anything she wanted with the degree.
She thought she could still get jobs in healthcare leadership with her degree, but by the time she left law school, she realized that it wasn’t true in the way most people thought.
At that point, it felt like she was a hamster on a wheel that was pushed into a dark room as the mean lawyer that big healthcare companies need but don’t want to listen to. It was different from the leadership role she envisioned, and after law school, she realized that she would need a master’s in healthcare administration.
Realizing that the Law Wasn’t For Her
Marquel finished law school in 2018 and knew that her roles as a lawyer were very centralized and corporate. She hated that and immediately knew that the law wasn’t for her.
During her last year of law school, she had a chance to intern at a big healthcare corporation to get a sense of what that felt like, and that was when the flags started going off. She just didn’t enjoy the job like she thought she would.
Besides, she knew she wanted to move away from where she did her law school, and her next location didn’t have healthcare jobs. But, like many lawyers, Marquel chose to put her nose to the grindstone and ensure that she passed her tests and got into the next phase of her life.
She didn’t have enough time to panic and relied on her husband’s work to help them get through things financially. She decided to wait and see what happens.
Staying with The Legal Profession
After her internship at the healthcare company, Marquel no longer wanted to work in healthcare. For her, that felt like her whole educational journey had been thrown out the window. Still, she held on to the hope that the law would open up the doors she wanted.
At this point, her family had to move to North Dakota because her husband was working there. After moving, she took the bar exams and started working for a mineral asset management company. It had nothing to do with the law because the company did some engineering and startup work.
Living in North Dakota was miserable because they didn’t have a close community, and digging roots with the transient population was hard. So, they started sending applications outside North Dakota while keeping in mind their 10-year plan to move back to Iowa, where their family, culture, and familiar people were.
Marquel found that Colorado and Texas were the only options with highly competitive and expensive markets, so she sent applications there. Soon enough, she got a job opportunity in the Des Moines area of Iowa and worked at a boutique firm specializing in probate and estate planning.
Things started coming together, and she had found the perfect fit for what she was looking for. The firm was very hands-on, and her work was to help people through a hard time, especially after losing a loved one. This introduced her to a new area where all of her skills and interests could be combined.
Now, she could finally practice law and help people. The prospect of enjoying what she did was enticing.
Struggling to Keep Up
Two years into the practice, Marquel started to feel heavy. She rationalized her feelings by claiming she hadn’t developed a rhythm and simply needed to build up her stamina so it wouldn’t be difficult.
Marquel loved communities and getting to know more about her clients. Soon, she felt like she was rushing the clients out the door and needed to get more credit for her work as a junior associate. Her biggest struggle was the clock cycle and how it didn’t leave a chance to spend time with people.
That pressure started to build, and she understood she was expected to get more efficient and increase her work volume. Going into the firm, she thought she had finally found somewhere that valued her time and gave her balance, but that wasn’t the case.
Like most lawyers, Marquel learned that the legal profession didn’t give room for balance and expected lawyers to improve and build their hours. So, although she loved the work, she couldn’t escape the clock and felt that the only way out was to leave.
Even if it meant not cashing in as much, Marquel wanted to have time for family and find more balance. Working in legal practice meant she had little to no say about her time because she was expected to fit into the system on the ground and not create her own.
Deciding to Leave the Law Behind
The turning point was when Marquel felt viscerally stressed and couldn’t recover from that feeling. She wasn’t leaving work at work anymore because she was constantly either guessing things that had happened through the day, hyper analyzing a conversation, or just feeling worse because she wasn’t in a healthy environment that facilitates a better stress response. She had to be on high alert every day.
She began complaining to her husband about the stress of her job and the lack of a break. At one point, they talked about what would happen if she decided to leave the law. That was the point at which she realized that something had to change. She also didn’t feel empowered to deal with the fear of her next steps.
Marquel realized she didn’t like who she had become because she was no longer pleasant to be around. She needed to escape the situation that made her feel like a lion was chasing her.
Getting into The Former Lawyer Collaborative
On top of the stress that Marquel was experiencing, she and her husband were starting to deal with fertility issues. She saw that the pressure was probably contributing to that struggle, so she couldn’t keep up with the stress. Still, she knew she wanted to be a mom and find balance. Her health and the overwhelming pressure she was feeling made it important to start taking steps to leave.
However, she couldn’t quit without any tools or support. So she started looking for resources. The collaborative was a great option because she had been following the Former Lawyer podcast for a while, and had heard people like her talk about some of the feelings she was experiencing.
Marquel thought that if she was going to quit, she should at least have a support structure to help her develop a plan. She decided to join the collab so she could at least get through the first couple of weeks.
Her biggest sell was Sarah, who had done an awesome job building a company. Although Marquel just wanted someone to tell her what to do, she realized that Sarah’s coaching method required an internal process. Their initial email communications showed that Sarah had a soft and gentle approach that allowed people to unpack their thoughts without putting pressure on them. She simply teased the answer out of people.
Plus, she got access to so many people who have either been on that path or have learned to understand the same feelings she had. That gave her a safe place to land if she had a bad day because she knew she could come and vent without negative pushback.
All of that helped her realize that it wasn’t about getting to the finish line of a new job; it was about taking the next steps toward figuring out what an ideal situation looked like.
Working with The Former Lawyer Framework
Marquel was already on the journey to being emotionally whole by learning that boundaries were important. The Former Lawyer Framework helped her refresh that and get back on course by setting aside time to think about those boundaries and apply them to situations.
That meant she applied these principles to every aspect of her life, including family and work. Setting boundaries at work was important because it helped her to intentionally set aside time to reflect on her career growth, skills, and what she liked and disliked about her job.
Just doing that helped facilitate the next steps.
Transitioning From Lawyer to Trust Officer
After starting the guided track in September, Marquel got an email on November 29th, and that started the process of working as a trust officer.
As a trust worker at a bank, she gets to do what she was doing at the estate and probate firm from a different angle. Instead of teaching and coaching executors, Marquel acts as an executor when the bank is named in that role. She got the job by putting herself out there for opportunities.
She got the job while working through the collab and remembers telling her group about her first trust officer application, so she was prepared for the opportunity. It was simply a matter of finding the right place and fit because some trust positions are sales-oriented, and she didn’t want anything that needed her to be available a lot.
On November 29, her former colleague, who moved to the bank, sent her an email out of the blue to ask if she was interested in filling a trust officer role. She was overjoyed to receive the mail because the bank was on her list of potential employers. She had worked with them while at the law firm and knew they had great people and a great team she would fit into.
Marquel was excited to know that things were looking up and coming together while she was working through things and getting ready to leave.
How The Collaborative Helped Marquel
Marquel thinks the most fun part of being in The Collaborative is that everyone is the same. She especially loved the Enneagram and how she could relate to it. Anyone in the collab could be any different number on the Enneagram, but everyone still had a shared experience of being a high achiever and pursuing big goals.
Going through the self-realization process was a watershed moment for her when she realized that perhaps achievement was no longer sufficient or that she didn’t have to have a plan. Working in the collab was a way to get her worries out there and get someone to listen, understand, and help unpack them.
The Collaborative helped to put more work boundaries in place, and there is no set end game for anyone that joins. It enabled her to unpack and take little steps forward, so she wasn’t just sitting and complaining.
So, even if she wasn’t going to quit immediately, she was taking a step towards not being stuck in a miserable job forever. Marquel had already analyzed her situation a dozen times and thought of different ways to leave her career, but none of that got her any further.
When she reframed her thoughts within the framework, it provided a different way of thinking about her skills and experience.
Taking your First Steps
When transitioning out of the law, finding a supportive community that will get you through this process and make you a better, more emotionally healthy person is important. That is important because you have things, or you should have something more important than work.
Usually, those things inspire you to want a change and find a better place to focus on things that matter.
This is why you should join the next cohort of the Guided Track which starts February 20th.
In the course, you’ll get full access to resources in The Collaborative, including the Former Lawyer Framework and the community of lawyers transitioning out of the law. The lawyers will follow an action plan Sarah created to move through the framework in 10 weeks.
This cohort is capped at six lawyers, and these lawyers will join Sarah Cottrell on a weekly call for ten weeks after the orientation call. Apart from the group calls, where this small group of lawyers will meet and talk about what they’re working on and ask their questions, you also get a 30-minute one-on-one call with Sarah that you can use whenever you want during the Guided Track.
The course also includes some free personality assessments recommended in the framework. These include a free CliftonStrengths 34 Report and a virtual half-day workshop with a certified CliftonStrengths coach. This workshop is a favorite of past participants of the Guided Tracks because it is incredibly helpful in helping you recognize your skills and talents while providing the language to talk about yourself and your work to a non-legal employer.Enrollment ends on February 17th, so get it now.
Sarah Cottrell: 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.
Hello, everyone. I am super excited to share my conversation with Marquel Stuedemann with you today. Marquel is a member of the Former Lawyer Collaborative. You will hear her talk about that in this episode and also about some of her experience in the Fall 2021 Guided Track. I think today's episode is a great window into what the experience of being a lawyer in the Collab is like and how it can support you in making a change leaving the law and identifying an alternative career that is a good fit for you. If you are interested in joining us in the Collab before or after listening to this episode, you can always go to formerlawyer.com/collab. I'm so glad you're here listening today. Let's get to my conversation with Marquel.
I am super excited to let you know that a new round of the Guided Track is going to be kicking off in February. So if you've been thinking about working with me to figure out what it is that you want to do that isn't practicing law, now is a great time. First of all, what is the Guided Track? The Guided Track basically takes the Collab and everything that you have in the Collab, the community on Circle, the curriculum The Former Lawyer Framework, all of the replays of the various events, panels, workshops that we have had in the Collab, etc., so it takes all of that. In addition to that, what you are doing is you are going to be working with a small group of lawyers.
This round is capped at six lawyers. What we're going to be doing is we will meet weekly for 10 weeks. We’ll first have an orientation call, then we'll meet weekly for 10 weeks, and you will be following an action plan that I've created to help you move through the Former Lawyer Framework in those 10 weeks. We'll have weekly calls where we will meet and talk through what you've worked on that week, what questions have come up. As a member of the Guided Track, you also get a 30-minute one-on-one call with me to use it whenever you want during the Guided Track.
You also get some free personality assessments that I recommend in the framework. You also get a free CliftonStrengths 34 Report and a half-day virtual workshop with a certified CliftonStrengths coach. This workshop is a favorite of past participants of the Guided Tracks. It is incredibly helpful in terms of understanding what you bring to the table, in terms of both soft skills and talents. It also provides you with a lot of language and ways to talk about who you are, the way that you work, and why a non-legal employer should think about hiring you for their role.
If you're someone who wants that weekly accountability, that small group support, the ability to get on live calls with me and a small group of other lawyers to talk through all of these things as you're working through them, what you are looking for is the Guided Track. Go to formerlawyer.com/guidedtrack and you can sign up there. Enrollment closes on Friday, February 17th, and we get started on Monday, February 20th. The calls will be at 8:00 PM Eastern on Mondays starting February 20th and will run through Monday, May 8th. If you want one of these six spots, go to formerlawyer.com/guidedtrack.
Hey, Marquel. Welcome to the Former Lawyer Podcast.
Marquel Stuedemann: Hi, Sarah. Thanks for having me.
Sarah Cottrell: I am so excited to talk to you today. Can you introduce yourself to the listeners?
Marquel Stuedemann: Sure. My name is Marquel Stuedemann. I live in Ankeny, Iowa. I was born and raised in Eastern Iowa and I've been a little bit of everywhere since leaving home for college. That's a whole other story but now we're back in Iowa, my husband and I, and really enjoying the community that we live in. We've been here three years now and have been trying to get plugged in. I started my law career here and now transitioned, which you'll hear about. It's a wrap.
Sarah Cottrell: Okay. Let's start where we normally start on this podcast and eventually we'll get to the portion of your story where we cross paths. Can you tell me what made you decide to go to law school?
Marquel Stuedemann: I really trace it back, this is funny, when I first applied, my mom came across something. I was probably a freshman in high school where I said I wanted to be a lawyer. At the time, once I applied to law school, I didn't even really remember that I wanted to be a lawyer, believe it or not. I don't really know what the motivation was when I was younger, maybe just the excitement that the arguing, all the typical lawyer things, and defending the people, the defenseless, if you will, but by the time later in high school, I was pushed more towards wanting to be a teacher.
I think a lot of people in education would attest that that's a really tough environment to be in right now and really my best teachers were shaking their heads and saying, “Don't do it. It's not worth it.” They loved teaching, they loved their students, obviously, and so I trusted them enough to be scared away from it. It left me with this skill set of wanting to be helpful and do something really fruitful in people's lives but not really knowing where to project that into.
I also was really afraid of being pigeonholed. So for undergrad, I actually ended up in a healthcare administration major, and that was out of really just some good advising as an undergrad. I had the same conversation where I explained who I was as a person, my motivations, my original goals of being a teacher, and I had an advisor that said, “How about this healthcare track? I think you could really help people and find a leadership role and there are so many different options.”
Of course, healthcare has just been ever-changing and evolving so I could be a problem solver, which I think my advisor at the time had identified as well, and crazy story, my undergrad ended up closing. Going into my junior year, the fall of my junior year, I found out that my school was going to close in a year and that actually is a big part of my law school story because that put everything on the fast track. Everything that I thought was going to happen two years from then turned into the next year and I just put my head down and got everything done as I needed to.
That fall I really had to decide what my plan was, and again, not really wanting to be pigeonholed, I thought, “Well, how can I use healthcare and also expand my education and do something that maybe I could go into healthcare leadership like I intended but maybe what if I don't like that? I could do something else.” I really came back to law at that point and turns out I found this really great school that had a post-law program so it just felt like a mess of the two worlds collide and a really good fit.
Sarah Cottrell: It sounds like maybe part of that was the idea that I think a lot of us had when we chose to go to law school which is you can do all sorts of things with a law degree. Do you think that was part of it for you?
Marquel Stuedemann: 100%. Even though that wasn't originally when I was younger, that was where my thought process when I was actually in the application process.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It’s so interesting because, in many ways, that's true but I feel like it's not true in the ways that most of us think it is true when we decide to go to law school. Does that make sense?
Marquel Stuedemann: Yes. I would totally agree because the whole reason was that I thought I could get these jobs in healthcare leadership. By the time I was leaving law school, my option was basically, the way I thought of it was being that the hamster in the wheel, what pushed back into a dark room just being the mean lawyer that all these big healthcare companies need but don't really want to listen to.
It was not the same, it was not like a leadership role like I envisioned. I envisioned using the law to be an administrative running the hospital type of role. That's where I was at the time, not in an “Oh, necessary evil type of role,” but once I was leaving law school, that option wasn't even there. It was like, “Oh, we're looking for masters in healthcare administration for that, not you guys,” which is so backwards.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It sounds like coming out of undergrad it wasn't necessarily that you were like the common story that people will tell, that they didn't really know what they wanted to do and they had some liberal arts degree. It sounds like for you, it was very focused in terms of like “This is the thing that I'm like heading towards.” But then ultimately, when you were graduating from law school it was like, “Oh, actually, maybe this isn't really a path that's opening the doors that I expected it to open.”
Marquel Stuedemann: Definitely. I was in law school from 2016 to 2018 so I think even from that time, healthcare totally changed. I've started toying with the roles that were expected of me through the law track and just with how centralized and corporate it had become. I just hated it honestly and I knew that that wasn't going to be for me but I also knew all these things on the typical law track that I didn't want to do. I never did any trial advocacy or anything like that. I never followed the typical arguing court path. So I knew that there were a lot of things that were eliminated.
Sarah Cottrell: I was going to ask how far into law school you were when you realized, “Oh, maybe this path that I thought I was on is not really going to be the path that I want”?
Marquel Stuedemann: That's a good question. It was probably the last year just because my internships my first and second year were just out of necessity where, location-wise, my husband and I were on totally different geographical paths. He was in petroleum engineering school, so that brought him to North Dakota so that's how my first couple internships worked out, just what worked out geographically. But by my third year, I had the chance to get into that big healthcare corporation and get a sense of the environment. That's where the flags really started going off.
Not only was I planning to move out of the state that I went to law school, which meant that I was going to have to shift a little bit and I knew that the healthcare jobs just didn't exist where we were moving, but also, I didn't enjoy what I thought I was going to enjoy, so probably that last fall semester of my third year.
Sarah Cottrell: It's interesting, it's such a common story for people to, in some way, essentially get into the role, or at least, the type of organization that they think “This is the thing that I'm going towards,” and to realize, “Oh, wait, this is not.” Can you tell me what did you do at that point? Was it pure panic? How did you respond?
Marquel Stuedemann: I feel like I just was still at the point of law school where I just had my nose to the grindstone and I was too worried about passing the tests, moving, and getting to the next phase that there wasn't really time to panic. I thought I had my heart set on this firm where we were moving and that didn't work out so I guess I don't know, there probably was a panic at some point but we were in a good enough situation that my husband was working while I was taking the bar. It was like, “We'll get through it. We survived law school with both of us in school, we'll survive financially so let's just see what comes up after that.”
Sarah Cottrell: Okay. Tell me what happened next.
Marquel Stuedemann: Basically, I want to go talk a little bit more about that experience and the externship. I'm in the corporate world. It was a pharmacy benefits manager and I just remember being in this huge organization where my boss was like a mile away on the same floor and you have to do laps just to find people. We're all spread out doing our own thing and it was pretty intimidating. You're very pigeonholed into we were researching Medicaid issues and doing one little task at a time. It was really hard to see where that followed through to actually helping somebody.
That story has come full circle because the externship organizer that I worked under at that organization has recently done a career change and she's on a path, I would say, parallel to what you've done is creating this space of opening the door for more people to talk about their experience in the corporate world or in the law and healing through that, which I think is awesome. I never expected that when I was working for her and it's been so fun to watch her go through this journey too that I think so much of us are on in a lot of ways.
Sarah Cottrell: It's so interesting, obviously, when I created Former Lawyer, I thought there are people out there who have feelings similar to the feelings that I had about their job and specifically for me focusing on lawyers, but obviously others as well. Just in the last three years of doing this work, just seeing how many people have that experience is really mind-blowing.
Marquel Stuedemann: It is really mind-blowing. If there's anything I've learned, especially from an emotional health perspective is that so many people are experiencing this but they don't even know it themselves. That's really the first turning point is to acknowledge for yourself like, “Okay, this is actually pretty bad. I need a change.”
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. “This is bad, and the fact that it's bad means something.”
Marquel Stuedemann: Absolutely.
Sarah Cottrell: What happened next?
Marquel Stuedemann: The next big phase was I've eliminated healthcare, which at that time felt like my entire educational journey at that point thrown out the window, but I was like, “You know what, we'll figure it out and it'll come into play.” That whole the law opens up many doors thing, I was just hanging by that. We moved to North Dakota. My husband was already there working and basically just hunkered down, took the bar, wasn't sure what was going to come next. But we were getting to know that community. I started to work for a company that did some mineral asset management. It was a little bit engineering, a little bit startup, so totally not the law at all.
But the summer before, I had worked for a small firm up there that did a lot of oil and gas land research, that kind of thing, and I did really enjoy that but just didn't work out into any job opportunities based on the economics up there at the time. Took what was available. It's not so specific to my story of leaving the law, but I think it's a crucial turning point to informing our next path and how we got to where we're at in Iowa now.
Long story short, we were pretty miserable living in North Dakota, just didn't have a close community. There are really good people up there. It's really hard to dig roots with a very transient population. We were just ready to get out of there and anywhere was the goal. From there, we're just throwing out applications trying to figure out what the next phase of our journey was. Our long year, 10-year plan was to get back to Iowa closer to our families, just the culture and people we knew.
But at that point, I was applying in Colorado, Texas. We were trying to keep full of my husband in his career field but really, Colorado and Texas were the only options and they were very highly competitive and expensive markets at the time so that was part of that decision. A job opportunity came up in Iowa in the Des Moines area for me to go into a small boutique firm who specialized in probate and estate planning.
I went back to Iowa, interviewed there a couple of times, and it just ended up coming together. It seemed like the perfect fit for the things I was looking for. It was very hands-on. I wasn't like representing big corporations, it's very people-centric, helping people through a hard time, especially after they've lost a loved one.
It did seem like an area I'd never considered before but where all these different pieces of interests and skills that I had were coming together. I thought, “Well, this would be great. I could actually practice law,” which that was really never on my radar. I thought I was going to be more in the corporate world. I can practice law. Maybe I'll really like it and get to help people. That's where the probate practice came in and I did really start to enjoy it from that perspective.
Sarah Cottrell: Okay. Talk to me a little bit about working at that firm doing that type of work and then when and how you came across Former Lawyer.
Marquel Stuedemann: I was about two years into practice I think when I got to the point where it started to feel a little heavy. I had in my mind that it was going to eventually start to get easier like, “Oh, I just am still learning. I haven't gotten a rhythm or a pace down yet. It's like starting to run after you, you haven't run for a long time. Maybe I just need to get some more stamina in this won't be so hard.” But just the pressure points that I think I was struggling the most with really came down to that clock cycle. It just doesn't incentivize you to spend time with people.
I loved being in the community and getting to know my clients and just know what they do for a living and who their families are. You just start to feel like you're rushing them out the door and I only have this amount of time, especially as a young associate, this is going to be written off and I'm not going to get credit for it. I think the pressure of that started to build a little bit more and more and then I started to realize that the expectation was to get more efficient but it was also to increase in volume. That wasn't what I thought going in.
I thought, “Oh, this is great. This place values my time and I could have balance.” I just don't think the profession as a whole is in a place where that's a thing, the expectation is you get better and you start to build more hours. I was not looking for that in my life so I started to really realize that this is hard. I love this work but you can't escape the clock. I didn't feel like there was an out besides leaving.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It really is so interesting because so many people have this experience of feeling like “This doesn't really feel like it's fitting but maybe it's just because I don't have enough experience.” Because of course, when you start out as a lawyer, despite having gone through law school—and I know this is always so surprising to non-lawyers—but despite having gone through law school, you know not that much about actually practicing law and so it makes sense that people would tell themselves like, “Oh, well, this is feeling really off or this is really difficult. But maybe as I get more experience, it will feel better.”
That's just a logical conclusion I think to come to and there are just so many people who eventually have that realization of, like you said, “Actually that's not really what is making this feel the way that it feels,” and to your point, in theory, it should be like, “Oh, well, you become more efficient so now you can work less and live more once you've paid your dues.” But actually, it's like, “You've become more efficient so now you can work more so that you can make more. But you need to work more to make more.” It is an endless cycle. I don't think a lot of people go into legal practice thinking, “Yes, that is what I would like. I would like for my career to get exponentially more soul-crushing over time.”
Marquel Stuedemann: Right. I think in my head I had this idea of, like you said, getting more efficient, that I can reel back a little bit, I don't care that I'm not cashing in huge. I want to have time to have a family and be a little bit more balanced. Then you realize that most people working for other people have little to no say in how that works because there's already this system in place that you're expected to fill the role, not create your own role unless you go off on your own.
There is a little bit of that disagreement with how I would run a practice versus someone else. But I realized also that's so beyond us. It wasn't just a dynamic or indifference of opinion between me and my boss, it was that we're stuck in the system that the expectation is we're billing by the hour and you can't really escape the pressure of that no matter what you do.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. There are lots of incentives that I think are in place in the profession just overall that contribute to that. Tell me what you thought and how you felt when you realized, “Oh, it's not just that I need more experience. This is just how it is and this really doesn't feel like a fit,” what were your thoughts and feelings?
Marquel Stuedemann: I can still remember viscerally just a feeling in my whole body of when I knew I was stressed to the point that I couldn't come back from it anymore, like I said, North Dakota was really stressful on us and we had come down off of that a little bit, but I was getting back to the point where I was just on high alert all day every day and when I came home, I wasn't leaving work at work anymore because I was constantly either guessing things that have happened through the day, hyper analyzing a conversation, or just all these things that your body does when you're under a state of stress that you can't always pull yourself out of when you're not in good habits and routines and in healthy environments that facilitate better stress response.
When it got to the point my husband and I were having conversations and he's like, “We can't come home every night and there's no reprieve from work,” so there was a level of stress that I reached that we even started to have conversations about what would it look like if I just quit because this isn't sustainable. I think that turning point was realizing that I had gotten too far again in my stress that something had to change and I didn't know what it was. I don't think I had the tools to overcome the fear of what the next step would look like.
Sarah Cottrell: I think that's such an important point for people to hear. Actually, the week that we're recording, the episode that I released this week is about the impact that working in a work environment that's not good for you has on your nervous system and I really appreciated the way you described some of the things like being hyper vigilant and obsessively thinking about certain things. Often people think of them as, “Oh, this is a character flaw that I can't just chill out,” when in reality it's like, in many cases, absent if you have some experience of an anxiety disorder like I do.
But your body is like, “Oh, something isn't good here. Let's amp everything up because something's unsafe, and you need to make sure that you're safe,” and you're doing all these things because your nervous system and body are like, “It's not safe. You need to make things safe,” and then people feel like they're failures because they're engaging in, ruminating or not, being able to turn things off or not being able to put up boundaries in a way that is healthy when in fact, it's not some personal moral failing, it's a product of the type of environment.
Marquel Stuedemann: Yes, and it's really easy to beat yourself up over “Oh, I reacted to this wrong or I did this wrong.” I love studying psychology and stuff on the side of my own terms. I'm not a professional by any means but I always think of the different pathways in your brain. If you're constantly just call one negative, call one positive in terms of stress response, if you're constantly going down the negative that says “I'm being chased by a lion,” sometimes the situations get less and less stressful but to the point where your body's still acting like it's being chased by a lion, if that makes sense. It’s not actually that bad until you start retraining it. It's a physiological thing that you're just going to that space.
I was also getting to the point where I was like, “I don't like who I am as a person because I'm reacting to people and I'm not pleasant to be around. Yes, I have a responsibility in that but also my responsibility in that is to get myself out of these situations that keep making me feel like I'm being chased down by a lion.”
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, for sure. So you said you were at a loss in terms of what to do. Can you tell me what you did next?
Marquel Stuedemann: Yeah. This is not super related but I think another big piece of our story is that my husband and I were starting to deal with some fertility struggles. We don't have kids currently so we're still in that battle. But I think another huge piece of that was I had this vision in my mind of being a mom and having this balance. I started to realize that this stress was probably contributing to that struggle. If that was what I had in mind for my life, I couldn't keep on this anymore so it was also a matter of my actual health that something has to change. Whether it was just up and quitting, I knew that wasn't going to be a good solution without any tools or support.
I just remember looking out there and I think I might have looked across a couple of recruiting pages. I had been following your podcast for a while and just started to pick up on all these people who are having these same feelings that I'm having even though they're entirely different areas of the law. Maybe this is something I could look into and at least, if I was going to up and quit, I'd have a support structure that would help me come up with a plan. I'll sign up for the Collab and at least, if I get through a couple of weeks, I can plan these next couple weeks before I pull the trigger on quitting if that's all it is, if that's all I can survive, at least I'll have something in place to know what could come next and all these people to throw ideas around.
Sarah Cottrell: Okay. Tell people who are listening and who are curious about what it is like to be in the Collab, can you talk a little bit about your experience when you came into the Collab and what happened next?
Marquel Stuedemann: Yeah, absolutely. I think the biggest sell was honestly you, Sarah, of course, because this is your company and it's an awesome thing that you've built. But I could just tell by the way you spoke on the podcast and the way that even the first couple of email communications we had where I was asking questions about what the program would be like, you just have this very soft, gentle approach where you allow people to unpack their thoughts in their own time without putting any, at the time, I was wanting someone to tell me, “Yes, you need to be a trust officer or yes you need to go form your own practice,” and I was waiting for that answer but I didn't realize at the time that it's really such an internal process to finding that.
I feel like you do a really good job of teasing that out of people. That's just really what the Collab, I felt like, offered was you plus so many people that have either been on that path and they've learned to facilitate that same good feeling that you have of like, “Well, where are you at with us?” and just asking the right questions to make me think about it rather than just giving me a simple answer because it's not a simple answer, it is a process and it can take some time sometimes, just the right opportunities coming up and the right people for sure.
But just knowing that I had a safe place to land that if I had a bad day, I could just come and vent and not worry about there being any negative repercussions to my immediate real-world life, if you will, it's nice to have that in a group online and know that the people that were in the Collab were healthy enough to not allow me to keep in the spiral. If I came in there and I was just not in the right frame of mind, I knew somebody could talk me down and say, “Well, okay, here, ask me the right questions,” and see how much of this do I need to just come down from versus “This is the bad situation. Let's take the next step,” it doesn't have to be at the finish line of the new job but take the next step towards that and figuring out what that looks like.
Sarah Cottrell: I love that so much. It's so interesting because I think sometimes, not generally, once someone has decided to join the Collab or work with me in some other way, but sometimes when I'm talking to people, I think we do have this natural desire of “Just tell me the answer. Can't you just tell me the answer? There must be an answer that someone external to me, can give me that would be the right answer.” It makes sense because so often we're in these really terrible work situations that are, like you talked about for yourself, just really having a super negative effect on our health, physical health, mental health, emotional health.
It makes sense that people are like, “I want to get out. Can you just give me the answer?” I think what you said illustrates this point that having the tools and the support to actually come to the answer yourself means that you are actually being set up to have a much more successful transition versus what I think a lot of us default to in the beginning, which is “Let me look at a list of my hard skills and figure out what other type of job someone would be willing to give me.” I think flipping it to “But what do I actually want to do?” is helpful but it's not necessarily intuitive, especially when we're in an environment that is a really bad fit for us.
Marquel Stuedemann: Yeah. I think there was a piece of me at the time that knew I wasn't in a headspace to make the best decision. I didn't want to just jump for the sake of jumping, I wanted to be intentional where the next step was either going to get me to the next step or it was going to be somewhere that I actually could stay and it felt irresponsible to just up and quit without, I mean sometimes that happens and sometimes that's the only choice and I totally support that, but I didn't feel like the right move to just do that. The Collab felt like the next thing. It's just a step in the right direction to making a plan.
Sarah Cottrell: Okay, so tell me about your process as you move through the framework and what happened. Anything you want to share from that portion of your experience would be super helpful.
Marquel Stuedemann: Yeah, absolutely. I think for me, I had already been on the journey of emotional health, I guess I'd call it, in boundaries, learning about boundaries has been actually just a huge pivotal piece of my life that came a couple of years before but refreshing on all of those things through the framework and getting back to setting aside the time to actually think about it and apply it to the situation in front of me instead of push it aside, “Oh, I learned about boundaries to deal with my family, not to deal with work,” which in reality is obviously not true.
We need boundaries at work too, just to set aside the intentional time to work through that and reflect on where I'd been so far in my career, I just remember itemizing out all these different skills and all these different likes and dislikes and just realizing, “Okay, actually putting it on paper, that's huge to help to facilitate the next step.” I think just really working through the process is huge for a lot of people.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. Especially the putting it on paper thing. I'm not a big journaler, to be honest, I'm one of those people who wishes they were a big journaler but then I'm not actually really, but there is something incredibly helpful about actually writing the things down and going through it in some methodical way that allows you to then go back and see patterns and all of the stuff that you're talking about. Okay. Let's talk a little bit about what you're doing now.
Marquel Stuedemann: Now I am a trust officer at a bank and the way I describe it to people is basically I'm doing the same thing I was at the estate planning in probate firm but from a different angle. Instead of coaching and teaching executors how to be an executor, I act as that when the bank is named in that role. It's crazy, it just was a total collision of I was out there and starting to put myself out there and the way that this job popped up was just honestly a total grace of God thing. I'm a big believer in this big part of my story and I couldn't tell it without attributing that to it.
I was in the middle of working through the Collab and I remember going in into our group messaging and posting system and just talking about I had been working through my first trust officer application so I had already geared towards that area but it was a matter of finding the right place and finding the right fit because there are some trust positions that are very sales-oriented, some are very boots on the ground. There's just a huge variety just within this particular role. But I got an out-of-the-blue email from one of my former colleagues now at the bank. He's no longer with us, to my own work email, which is funny because we worked with the bank with some mutual clients and the bank gets a lot of referrals from attorneys.
It was really even funnier that he emailed me and he said, “Hey, I know this is your work email but we're looking for a trust officer. Any chance you'd be interested?” I just about fell through the floor with just shock and excitement because this place was totally on my shortlist. I had worked with them enough to know that they had really great people, a really great team, their longevity is just crazy. I just had a co-worker who retired after 32 years of being there and so just having that track record, I had always said I would have watched them, if they had an opening, I would absolutely jump on it no matter what point in my career it was. It was just crazy and awesome that it just happened to collide at the same time I was working through and getting ready to make a move.
Sarah Cottrell: Can you remind me of the timing? I know you said that you already had identified a trust officer as a potential move that you would want to make. How long had you been in the Collab at that point?
Marquel Stuedemann: I was just trying to remember. I just pulled up our notes from when we started. It looks like we started that Guided Track in September and the email I got was probably the same time a year ago, exactly a year ago.
Sarah Cottrell: Oh, yeah. I was going to say probably sometime in November.
Marquel Stuedemann: Yeah. I started on November 29th and it was unreal how fast the process went. From the time I got the email from this guy to the time I started was like three weeks, something crazy.
Sarah Cottrell: Which is amazing, especially because you were in that place which I have completely been there where you were genuinely wondering, “Should I just quit? Because this is the level of unhealth that this job is creating for me.”
Marquel Stuedemann: Yeah, exactly. It was awesome the way it all came together.
Sarah Cottrell: Is there anything that you think someone who's thinking about joining the Collab should know based on your experience?
Marquel Stuedemann: I think just knowing that there is definitely a type, I think this is probably the most fun part of being in the Collab is like we're all the same type, I love the Enneagram and I love that I can relate to my type in that way, and we could be any different number of the Enneagram in the Collab, but yet we still have this shared experience of being high achievers and going after the big goals, whether it be like big grades in law school, the big job, or whatever it is, we have this shared experience of being big achievers.
But by the time you're going through the self-realization process, I think a lot of people are coming to a turning point where it's like, “Okay, maybe that achievement is not the thing anymore,” and even if somebody isn't at that point, just realizing that you don't have to have a plan, this could be that maybe you're not going to quit tomorrow. But coming into the Collab is a way to just get your worries out there, get them to somebody that can listen, understand, and help you unpack, and maybe the answer is that you stay.
Maybe we could put some more work boundaries here or there or maybe it's you form your own practice, there's no set end game for any one of us that joins but just to have the place to unpack it all and take one little step towards the next thing as a planner and as somebody who has, in my head, doing is important, not just sitting and complaining about it. That's the last thing I wanted to do. I didn't want to be stuck in a miserable job forever, so joining the Collab is one step but it doesn't mean that you're going to quit tomorrow.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think to your point, so many of us who are lawyers feel like we can think our way to the solution and so when we're thinking about it, it feels to us like we're doing things. I'm certainly not one to be like, “Just don't think about it, who cares?” obviously, part of what forms the backbone of the Collab and the curriculum is all of these different reflective processes that help you get the information that you need to make a more informed decision. But, like you said, there is that action piece, that is that I feel like many of us lawyers, we don't trust it because it feels so risky but it also really is like the way to actually move forward and get clarity because we can't actually think our way to the conclusion.
Marquel Stuedemann: No, you can't. And the way that we think about things, I thought that the problem to be solved was to think and analyze a solution to get the next job. But really what the Collab does is, “Okay, we're not always thinking about that specifically, but we can think about these other things that get us to the same goal. But they're things that we wouldn't have thought about before,” if that makes sense.
I had already analyzed in my own head probably a dozen different times in different ways that I could get out of the job but it didn't get me any further. Whereas when I reframed it within the framework that you have to “Okay, list your skill set. Okay, what was your favorite part about this job, or what was your least favorite part about this job?” that's a different way of thinking of the same thing that doesn't necessarily go from ABC the way we like to think about it.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. That makes total sense. Okay, Marquel, is there anything else that you want people to know or hear from you as we're coming to the end of our conversation about either your experience, the Collab, or anything else?
Marquel Stuedemann: I think honestly the bottom line is just find a support community that is going to get you through this whole process and make you a better, more emotionally healthy person because, at the end of the day, I think we all have things or we should have things that are more important than work. Usually, it's those things that drive us to wanting to change and taking a step like finding a community or doing a course that's going to help you get to a better place in your career where you can focus on the things that matter, you can't go wrong with that.
Sarah Cottrell: Yay! Well, I really appreciate you coming on the podcast today and sharing your story. It's been so wonderful to work with you and I'm just so glad that other people got to hear just a little bit of who you are, what you're about, and where you're going in life.
Marquel Stuedemann: Yes, thanks so much for having me and for just all the support that you've been to me and to everyone that's been in the Collab. It's been really great.
Sarah Cottrell: Thank you so much for listening today. If these stories are making you go, “I think the Collab is something that would be a good fit for me or would be helpful for me,” we would love to have you join us. You can go to formerlawyer.com/collab and see all the information and the enrollment information. You can enroll there and join us in the Collab today. I'll see you there and I hope you have a great week.
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