Ending a 22 Year Legal Career for a New Career in Counseling with Karen Gulde [TFLP172]

In this episode, Sarah interviews a former lawyer, Karen Gulde. Karen shares her experience ending a 22 year legal career and how she decided to transition into counseling and help drive home the importance of mental health and self-care. Let’s dive into her background, what factors led to her making the career switch, and what advice she has for others who might be considered the same.

Volunteering, Journalism, and Other Factors that Led to Law School

Karen grew up in a time when careers were very gendered. The boxes she could check in elementary school were teachers or nurses, so she wrote in her dream of being a lawyer. It might seem weird that a 5th grader was already set on being a lawyer, but Karen’s mom had a friend who was an attorney. They used to volunteer at her office, which assisted victims of domestic violence. 

Once Karen got into junior high and high school, she became more interested in journalism and earned her undergraduate degree from Texas A&M in journalism. Law school was next because she wanted to explore the options. Law school had lots of research, which she loved, and lively debates in her study groups. Her internship was in litigation, which was a perfect fit for her. You spend time gathering details and taking depositions, and then you put together the story you will share to make your case. 

After law school, she got a job at the firm she had worked for during school. Within a few years, she was recruited by an international law firm and offered a significant bump in pay. The firm was aggressively recruiting in New York and California, so over the first few years, the salary was increased a few times across the board. It was a great way to start her career.

Connecting with Clients was the Best Part of the Job

As a litigator, Karen loved some of the cases she got to work on. A few times, she found herself working on things that didn’t completely jive with what she thought, but she loved forming connections with clients. 

One of Karen’s first big cases was representing a doctor in a patent infringement case. He had created a medical device to help people, and a large corporation was trying to steal his work. She loved being able to connect with the client and tell his story. He was so grateful for the work the firm had done. 

Fair and friendly competition was something Karen enjoyed. She grew up with a few brothers and enjoyed a good debate. But, the confrontations on the job were starting to impact her physically. Your nervous system struggles to differentiate what you are facing and goes into a fight-or-flight mentality.

She started feeling like her shoulders were always up at her ears. She started trying different reduced-hour arrangements to help find balance, but everything came to a head in 2011.

A Hospital Visit Led to Ending a 22 Year Legal Career

Karen and her husband had five boys in a ten-year period, so she was no stranger to juggling schedules and trying to balance everything. She said that she often felt like she was treading water. They were dealing with marital issues and talking about separations. A car accident landed Karen and one of her sons in the ICU, and she asked all the big questions about life. It caused an existential crisis, and she seriously considered leaving the law practice. 

In 2013, Karen decided to leave her career in law. She had been researching psychology, knowing she enjoyed those courses during undergrad. Earning a Ph.D. would take seven years, but she discovered the Master in Counseling that could be done in just two years.

Her boss didn’t take her seriously when she said she was leaving, but her coworkers were supportive. Everyone acknowledged that she would be excellent in a counseling role. Her mom was just plain relieved that she wouldn’t be working crazy, long hours anymore. 

Karen had to learn how to slow down once leaving her job. The family was comfortable financially, so she took two years off to retrain her brain to slow down and decompress. Her first grandchild was born, and she could spend time helping. 

Returning to School in Your Mid-40s

After researching the difference between psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors, Karen realized that the two-year program would allow her to help and work one-on-one with people and in group therapy sessions. She wanted to take the things she loved about being a lawyer and apply them to this new path. Lawyers often put a lot of importance on academics, but she knew what she needed and could finish it on a reasonable timeline. 

In 2015, Karen started school. Her biggest priority was finding an accredited program, which wasn’t too difficult. She loved being back in classes and the mix of younger students and people her age. Law school focused so much on rankings and academics, but this coursework felt like a night and day difference. It was all about self-care and remaining in a good headspace. 

Karen wasn’t alone either. Her husband, who had been a pediatrician for 25 years, was so inspired by her enthusiasm that he joined her in the program. Now, they have a private practice where they counsel couples and others. They faced issues throughout their marriage and had difficulty finding the right people to help, so now they are filling that void for others. 

Final Thoughts and Advice

For Karen, it took some hard life events to realize that she wanted to change her path. She urges listeners to explore their values and try aligning the path with them. She thought she valued independence and achievement, but at the end of the day, she valued connections and interdependence above everything else.

Now, she and her husband can do work they are passionate about and help others while keeping boundaries to protect their time and their relationship. 

If you want to learn more about Karen and her practice, check out the website: www.take2counseling.com or email her at [email protected]. And if you are a lawyer looking for options to make a change in your career start with the First Steps To Leaving The Law or sign up for the upcoming Collab and start preparing for your future.

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 really excited for you to hear this conversation that I'm sharing today with Karen Gulde. Karen practiced law for 22 years and then she went back to school to become a therapist. Now she works in private practice with her husband who was a pediatrician and also went back to school to become a therapist. They now have a joint therapy practice so I'm excited for you to hear about Karen's experience, her story, what it was like to leave the law after two-plus decades and go back to school.

I know these are questions that many people who listen to the podcast have and have reached out to me about so this is one of the four episodes that I'll be releasing with four different former lawyers who decided to move into the realm of therapy because, again, I know that lots of you are considering this move and so without further ado, let's get to my conversation with Karen.

Hey, Karen, welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.

Karen Gulde: Thanks, Sarah. It's great to be here.

Sarah Cottrell: I am really excited for you to share your story. We originally got connected because I was organizing a panel in the Former Lawyer Collaborative of former lawyers turned therapists because, I know you and I have talked about this before and I've mentioned it on the podcast before as well, but there are many, many lawyers who contact me who, one of the careers that they are thinking about is becoming a therapist, so why don't you introduce yourself to the listeners and then we'll jump right into your story?

Karen Gulde: Sounds great. I'm Karen Gulde. I was an attorney for 22 years. I know we'll talk a little bit more about that and then I've been a therapist, a licensed professional counselor in the state of Texas for the last five years.

Sarah Cottrell: Okay, Karen, let's talk a little bit about the lawyer piece of your story. What made you decide to go to law school?

Karen Gulde: I started pretty young. I think my mom has shown me, she had one of those school years books, I'm probably dating myself, I was born in the 60s and so at the time, there were these books that she kept each year in school and it would have a photograph of me, my favorite subject, and all of that. Going back to my fifth grade one, for each year, it had a place to mark what I want to be when I grow up and on each side, there was a boy's column and a girl's column and under girl's, there was teacher and nurse.

I'm really dating myself now because the careers were very gendered at that time, but there was another column and so I had checked the other box and filled it lawyer. It went back really early and I think I tie it to a friend of my mom's who was an attorney. She worked with victims of domestic violence and she did that on a low-fee basis. Mom and I would go and volunteer at her office sometime, so that was my first exposure to someone who practiced law.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I was going to say that's so interesting to be other. This is the thing in fifth grade, there has to be some story there most likely and I think it's so common that for so many of us, the path that we started in terms of going to law school was often one of those wanting to help people or seeing someone who was helping people and saying, “Oh, I want to do that.”

Talk to me, you're in fifth grade, you're like, “I want to be a lawyer,” and for you, did it just continue high school, college, you were like, “That is the path that I want to be on”?

Karen Gulde: Well, my other love was communication, in journalism specifically. I think as it turns out, those things work pretty well together. I always did the school newspaper. I was the editor of my junior high and high school paper and I think it was about storytelling. There was some investigation involved, getting to know people, getting to know their stories, or finding out what was happening if there was something controversial going on at school or whatever and then reporting on it.

I actually went back and forth between I majored in journalism undergrad when I went to college at Texas A&M and worked on the paper there and I went back and forth a bit. But as I was getting closer to graduation from college, I took the LSAT and made the commitment to go to law school.

Sarah Cottrell: When you got to law school, were you like, “This is everything my fifth-grade self thought it would be,” or what was your experience of law school?

Karen Gulde: Oh, I don't know what I imagined in fifth grade. It's hard to know. I'm sure it was different but I liked it. I'm maybe one of those, I don't know if it makes me a little geeky or something but I'm a lifelong learner, I know that about myself, I like to learn. There was quite a bit of research and writing, I liked that with my journalism background.

Then I would engage in study groups and we'd have some pretty lively debates about things and I like that piece of it too so I think from the time I got there, I was pretty happy with my decision at that point.

Sarah Cottrell: Did you know at that point what type of law you wanted to practice or were you still just in the “I want to be a lawyer” and weren't sure beyond that?

Karen Gulde: Yeah, that one, I really didn't know initially. I think I was maybe even thinking something like real estate law or corporate law would make the best use of my writing skills, my communication skills. But gradually, I became more drawn to litigation and that's where I ended up, that's where I did my internships and that's where I ended up starting out.

Sarah Cottrell: What was it that drew you to litigation?

Karen Gulde: I think it was the storytelling. I mentioned that with the journalism but when you're getting a case ready for trial, I learned pretty quickly or even as you're gathering the facts, taking depositions beforehand, and doing things like that, you're shaping a story, you're investigating, you're finding out the facts, and then how to best present them, if it's a complicated technology, how to boil it down in a way that makes sense to most people. I liked that aspect of it.

I liked the storytelling. I liked the learning and that may be across the board in all types of law but in litigation, I found that whatever the case was that I was working on at the time, I had to get to know some particular medical device, area of telecommunications, or something very well. I liked that. I like learning about different things.

Sarah Cottrell: I'm doing the math and I'm just thinking about the legal profession and when a lot of things started shifting, especially in terms of larger law firms, and a lot of that I know happened in the 80s. It sounds like maybe you were graduating into that or just before or after that. Can you talk a little bit about that where you ended up working after you graduated law school?

Karen Gulde: Sure, yeah. I graduated in ‘91 and I had done an internship between my second and third years of law school at a local San Antonio firm where I live. I say local, it was a large firm but it wasn't an international or a national firm. I was actually six or seven months pregnant when I clerked over the summer between my second and third years of law school with my first child and it was still an amazing experience.

I liked the people there that I worked with. They treated me very well and they offered me a permanent position in the litigation department. I started there but it was fairly quick, so within less than two years, I made a lateral move over to an international law firm.

I had been on the other side of some cases with them, with the people in the San Antonio office of that firm, and they recruited me. It was a lot more money and I was flattered that they wanted me to come work for them. That's where I ended up next.

I think you're right, I don't know the exact timeline as far as the heyday of when Biglaw firm started taking off but certainly, when I moved over there, I mentioned it was an increase in compensation and then within my first few years of practicing, there were some enormous bumps in salary as these firms started really recruiting heavily in New York and in California.

Then they would across the board raise all the compensation for incoming associates and then it had this ripple effect up the chain. It was a nice time to be starting out for me from that standpoint.

Sarah Cottrell: You said one of the reasons that you chose litigation was that storytelling aspect. Can you talk a little bit about what your experience was as a litigator? Did you find that was true for you, that was a big part of what you did? Were there things that you were like, “I'm not so sure about how I feel about how satisfying that is”? Talk to me a little bit about that and your career progression.

Karen Gulde: Yeah. I think for the most part, I mean there were a few things that I was asked to work on where it was like not quite sure that this jives with what I thought I would be doing in terms of being on the side of good versus evil, whatever that means. But for the most part, I felt like the cases that I worked on, I would always form connections, I could form connections with the clients that were on a personal level.

One of my big first cases was a patent infringement case for a new medical device for a company that was founded by a doctor who really had great intentions and started from nothing to build this company around this product. Being able to help tell that story, then have this other big company come in, and try to just copy it, make a knockoff, that piqued my interest, that kept my interest. I felt like it really was a story that needed to be told so I enjoyed doing that work.

This particular client, they were incredibly gracious and appreciative of our efforts and even sent us on trips after big verdicts with our families. From that standpoint, it was a really positive experience in the early years. Not just with that particular case but I worked on another case that was a trade secret case in Dallas with more than a billion dollars at stake and there were engineers who left one big telecommunications firm to go work at another big telecommunications firm.

The company that they had left was basically saying everything that they had in their brains was intellectual property of the company they left and was claiming that as trade secrets. I had a lot of compassion for these engineers and their story of now they found themselves in the headlines of the local newspapers and being sued for all this money because they just tried to change jobs. I was passionate about it and I always felt like I found the story in some way that gave me a sense of purpose.

Sarah Cottrell: One of the things that a lot of people will talk about when they talk about litigation that they don't love, especially the people who I often end up working with are people who—and this was my experience as well in litigation—who just don't realize that the adversarial nature of litigation really wears on them.

I'm curious to know for you, did you find that to be true? Because there are some people who are just like, “I love intellectually sparring over these various things,” and then there are other people—and I am one of those people—who's like, “I'd really rather not, thanks.”

Karen Gulde: Yeah, yeah, no. It's funny because I think I definitely have a strong competitive streak. I grew up with three brothers and so I think that helped develop that in me. I don't mind good fair competition but there were points where the confrontation really bothered me and I think I tried to bury a lot of that and it took a physical toll on me.

It’s something I came to realize later. My body got worn down from the energy that required to be compartmentalizing that tension over the conflict, and all of that, and just the pressure, the time pressure that the job put on me too.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It's so interesting, and I'm sure this comes up for you as a therapist, but you can know that, “Oh, this situation is not an unsafe situation,” where someone is being difficult in some way but your nervous system, all it knows is it's feeling there's a threat and it's feeling threatened and so you can intellectualize the problem. But like you said, your body is still like, “Yeah, this is not great, this is not a good situation for me.”

Okay, so you practiced for 22 years, can you talk a little bit about what we've just been talking about of realizing there were things that you were internalizing and then where in that 22 years did you start to think, “Maybe I'm not going to do this forever?”

Karen Gulde: Yeah. You're right by the way about that being in this constant state of vigilance, hypervigilance. I used to joke that my shoulders stayed up by my ears most of the time, posture.

Sarah Cottrell: Relatable.

Karen Gulde: Yes, yeah. Part of my transition to counseling, which we'll get to, was just learning how to let my body relax because I was never relaxed. But it was a struggle from the get-go in terms of family life balance. I mentioned that I was pregnant when I was interning, when I was clerking. Before I graduated from law school, my husband and I went on to have actually 5 sons over a 10-year time frame so for me, a lot of it was trying to find the balance initially.

I felt like I spent a lot of time just barely treading water. When I was being a mom, I was worried about all the things on my cases that were going undone at the office and when I was at the office, I was feeling a lot of mom guilt about not being home with the kids. So I tried various reduced-hour arrangements over time.

The nice thing about developing a niche in the practice for the storytelling and the stuff that went around that was I did have some flexibility in terms of my employer being willing to work with me and try some different things. But in reality, it continued to take a toll. It all came to a head in 2011 and I was in a bad car accident, ended up in the ICU on a ventilator.

Two of my sons were in the car and one was also in the ICU, and that same year, I actually was going through difficulties in my marriage, and my husband and I went through a separation. These two huge life events forced me to slow down and look at things. I had what we call in the therapy world I guess a bit of an existential crisis like, “Who am I? What am I doing here? What do I really want to be doing with my life?”

I had thought before that about just leaving because of this constant struggle to find the balance that I wanted with my family but it was really at that point when those things happened that I stopped and started to really consider seriously leaving the practice of law.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It's so interesting, it's very common for people who come on the podcast that there was some sort of moment or event like that, whether it was something they experienced or a family member or just I think something like you said that can really shift the perspective and often is very clarifying I think in a lot of ways for people as well.

Can you tell me at that point, in thinking, “Okay, what am I doing? Do I actually want to be doing this?” did you already at that time have some interest or some sense that counseling might be the route you would want to take or was that something that you developed an interest in as you thought, “Okay, maybe I don't want to be doing this thing that I'm doing right now which is practicing law”?

Karen Gulde: I think it had always been in the back of my mind. I took a lot of psychology classes in college and I enjoyed them. One of my favorite aspects of my job as a litigator was working with jury psychologists. I had a chance to work with focus groups and see that aspect of that type of psychology and practice so I was pretty sure I wanted to do something like that.

I didn't actually know what the field of counseling meant. I thought initially that I should probably go back and get my PhD in psychology if that's what I wanted to do. I pretty fairly quickly realized that would be a seven-year endeavor that would involve not just a PhD but potentially even taking some leveling classes because I was a liberal arts undergraduate major.

Once I found out that there was this thing that was a master’s of counseling that would let you go out and do that, it felt right away like it could fit. But I think I had a general idea of the type of thing I wanted to be doing in terms of working with people in that capacity but I didn't know really what it was going to look like initially if that makes sense.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, 100%. There are two things that come up the most when people talk to me about wanting to make a change but they're not sure if they really do. One is the financial piece, which is obviously very understandable, and the other, which is also extremely understandable, is that people are very wary of the idea of going back to school because of course, for those of us who are lawyers, we went to law school and started practicing law and then realized, “Oh, I actually don't think I want to be doing this.”

One of the things that I think is important for everyone to know is if you want to change careers as a lawyer, you do not need to go back to school unless the thing that you want to do is something that very specifically requires that. For a lot of people, it doesn't ultimately end up being an issue, but if you want to be a therapist unless you already have a masters in social work or something like that and you want to be licensed, you're going to have to go back to school.

Can you talk a little bit about that process and making that decision, and also specifically why you decided not to get the PhD, or why you decided the PhD was not necessary I guess is the better way to ask that question.

Karen Gulde: Sure, yeah. Part of it was just my lack of knowledge of what psychologists do versus psychiatrists versus people who are counselors, social workers, marriage and family therapists, so I had to educate myself about that a little bit because initially, I thought, “Well, if you're having a mental health issue, you go to a psychologist,” and then as I read about that, I said, “Well, to be a practicing psychologist, you really need a PhD.”

Like I say, once I started going down that path, I realized that there was actually a shorter option available to me, I don't think I minded the idea of going back to school so much if it was a limited-time basis. The master’s of counseling programs that I started looking into were 60 hours graduate school full-time which meant about two years. That felt doable to me. But when I looked at the psychology option, and what I found out was that PhD psychologists certainly have an incredibly valuable role in what they do and some of them do counseling psychology so that they're in that role but others do research or academic things.

For what I wanted to be doing in terms of just meeting with people who were struggling in some way and try to be present for them in a way that might help lend insight or something, I came to realize that I didn't need that seven-year commitment or whatever it would be for the PhD in psychology for the role that I saw myself in.

As I explored that, it also turned out, I was fortunate to be in a big city in San Antonio in that we had several universities that had a graduate curriculum in clinical mental health counseling or related areas and they actually offered it primarily as night school which was interesting to me because I was thinking it would be like college was, you go to classes during the day but these were set up for adult learners, some of them were going back so your classes were in the evenings.

That actually worked out pretty well for me to have the evening classes although there was a bit of difficulty with my teenage sons when they were home trying to do homework and I had to work out those logistics. But I think it really just came down to how much time commitment do I want to make in going back to school.

Two years sounded doable to me. The course load, the courses when I started reading about them sounded really interesting. The other thing with the counseling degree program was that we were able to start meeting with clients and practicing counseling pretty quickly in that program.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I've had several clients now who have moved in the direction of becoming therapists and going back to school and I think the point that you made, just giving back a teeny bit in your response about the difference between a psychologist and someone who is doing some master’s and aiming to get an LPC or something similar is that most people, in my experience, most lawyers who are considering moving into the mental health field really want to do that one-on-one or group therapy, playing the role of a therapist.

I think our tendency as lawyers, and generally people who often value academics a lot, is to think more is better. A master’s is two years but a PhD would take seven years so clearly the PhD is “better” in some objective way. But the reality is that I think it's really important for people to know that really the question around those things apart from the amount of time is what is it that you act actually ultimately want to be doing with a degree?

Because to your point, if what you want to be doing is that one-on-one therapy work, people who are going for a degree in clinical psychology typically are not solely doing that to be doing that type of work. There are a lot of different applications, like you said, particularly academic and research, which are good, helpful, and important, but the question really is, “Well, what is it that you want to be doing?”

If that's not the direction that you are wanting to go when you're thinking about moving into the mental health field, if what you're wanting to do is to be a practicing therapist, then it's most likely not going to be a seven-year PhD program that you need to go find, it's most likely some sort of master's program.

Karen Gulde: Exactly, yeah. One thing I found out along the way, Sarah, was that I don't think—and it may vary from state to state—but at least in Texas, for the type of counseling that you and I are talking about now here just sitting working one-on-one or in groups with clients, whether it is a master’s of clinical mental health counseling, which is what I have or a master’s of marriage and family therapy or a master’s of social work, in my experience in working with other therapists in this field, it's really not critical which one of those you choose.

In my view, it was important to me to have an accredited program, find a program that had the national accreditation associated with it. But I find that there are people with those three different degrees that I describe, the marriage and family, the counseling which tends to lead to LPC, a licensed professional counselor license, and the MSW, the social work that are all doing very similar things, there are some nuances there but I just wanted to mention that I didn't realize going into it that there were these three different possibilities.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think that is really helpful for people to hear and also just to keep in mind like yes, like you said there are some distinctions but depending on what your ultimate goal is, you may be in a position where you can essentially decide which to do based more on things that work for you in terms of what programs are available to you, where you're located, the schedule, and whatnot.

Unless there are very specific things that you're wanting out of the program, I probably will have a pretty high degree of flexibility in terms of what program you ultimately choose to put you on that path to working with people.

Karen Gulde: Absolutely. Going back to school, I don't know if you wanted me to speak to that a little bit more but it was actually a lot of fun. Going back as an adult learner, I was in my mid-40s when I went back to school so I was around a bunch of a lot of younger people, although there were some folks my age as well but it just gives you a different perspective when you're there and you've had this life experience.

I found it really fun and exciting. Again, maybe those are my geek parts but I really enjoyed the whole experience very much. I think the hardest thing for me was making the decision to do it. Once I did it, it wasn't really that stressful frankly.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I was going to ask if you could just compare a little bit even in terms of the coursework or the course load as between law school and your experience in your master's program.

Karen Gulde: Yeah. I mean it's night and day really. You do have some classes in the counseling program that look more like traditional, didactic, or memorization-type things but most of it, in my program at least, was very experiential. You start from day one asking questions about your own values, the ways of functioning in the world and interacting with your classmates. There are just a lot of experiential aspects to it and not pressured the way in law school.

My recollections of law school, that was a long time ago for me, but my recollections of law school were you had so much pressure on the grades, your academic rank, and all of that. It's almost the opposite in counseling. It's like everybody wants you to be focused on self-care and these concepts that were totally foreign to me. Learning how to check in with yourself, take time to slow down, and make sure you're in a good head space before an exam or something, it was really just a very different experience for me.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think sometimes people when they think about going back to school, they just automatically think of their law school experience, which even for many of us who are super nerdy and liked the law school experience often more than the experience of practicing law may be appealing, but I think it is important for people to think too that it actually I think is often a very different experience than what we experienced as law students.

Okay, you practiced law for 22 years and just knowing what I know from the many people who I have worked with and spoken with at this point on the podcast, when people decide to do something else, especially after several decades, sometimes there are lots of different reactions that people around them might have. Can you share a little bit about that?

I know you mentioned you had these really intense life events that happened in 2011, how did you go about telling people in your life, “Hey, this big change is happening,” and what were the responses?

Karen Gulde: Yeah. That all happened in 2011. I left in 2013 so I did have some time to start thinking, figuring it out, talking to people. The biggest reaction I got from my legal colleagues was, “Wow, I wish I could do that,” or “I wish I was doing that with you.” I did get some of that.

Once I started talking about what I wanted to do, I was really surprised because my friends that knew me the best, a lot of whom were lawyers also, would say, “Oh, Karen, you'll be great at that with regard to counseling.” That surprised me. I don't know. I was really surprised by that and encouraged of course because that was such a kind thing for them to say. But I would say overall, pretty positive.

I had worked with the same partner for 20 years and had threatened to leave before when things got stressful and so I don't think he believed it for a long time. I don't think he believed that I was actually going to leave. It was hard. I had a great team that I worked with there but the interesting thing was I worked with a lot of women who had values similar to my own and so they totally got it and they were very, very supportive.

My family, my mom always thought I worked too much, way too much. It was an ongoing source of tension between us and she won't mind me saying that if she listens to this, I don't think, but it really was, so she was hugely relieved. She thought it was a great thing. I would say the reaction was very, very positive and supportive overall.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It's interesting you say there were people who basically said, “I wish I could do that,” which is very common, especially when I talk with people who are a couple of decades in or more into practice, it's very common that in many cases, almost the most common response is often something like that.

Also, there tend to sometimes be some people who don't really believe it until they see it just because they are so steeped in it. I think part of it too is this function of, this is something we talk about in my programs all the time, there is a degree to which in law, if you have been unhappy and have contemplated leaving and having been spoken with people about it, they tend to disregard when you're like, “No, really, I actually am,” and then you do and then they're like, “Oh, wait, what? Oh, that's happening.” That also I think is definitely something that a lot of people run into.

Okay, Karen, you left in 2013 and when you left, did you leave to go back to school or were you going to school in that period between 2011 and 2013?

Karen Gulde: No, I actually left without a plan. I was fortunate that my husband and I were in a position financially that I could do that at that point. I really recognized that. I know others aren't that fortunate but for me, I knew I wasn't going to figure it out until I actually stepped away.

My practice was so all-consuming. It's such a big part of my identity too. We haven't talked too much about that but that was who I was that at some point I realized until I stepped away, I wasn't going to figure out what I wanted to do next or how I wanted to be different in the world.

I actually left without knowing what I was going to do. I left in 2013, I didn't go back to school until 2015 so I had some months honestly of just sitting at home in the quiet and figuring out what that was about. I call it my learning how to slow down phase because when you're used to operating in that mode that you were talking about earlier of this just super vigilant, there are so many things going on that it's just survival all the time, then going to the space of just having time on your hands.

I mean of course, I filled it, I was always doing something, I wasn't sitting at home watching soap operas, streaming Netflix, or anything, I was finding things to do it but it was things like going to the gym a couple of times a week or going for walks. I just started experimenting with what was it that I wanted to be doing with my time.

Then it turned out that we had a grandson born in that first year right after I had left and so I was able to spend some time helping care for him while his parents both worked full time which was different for me. The timing worked out great. It probably took me about a year before I decided I wanted to go back to school and started putting those plans in place.

Sarah Cottrell: Got it, yeah. It's interesting that you mentioned just having a little bit of space to slow down because the day we're recording this, I think it was last week, I released an episode on the podcast where I talked a little bit about how it can be really hard when you're in, in particular, a very toxic work environment or just a work environment that is very activating to your nervous system, like you were saying hypervigilance because so much of the self-exploration and the thinking, the deep thinking that we need to do to really figure out what is it that I want to do next requires this level of your prefrontal cortex needs to be online.

When you're in fight or flight or some variation of that, it's very hard to get to that point where you can really be like, “Oh, let me calmly reflect on what my values are and what I want my life to look like.” Even if you are in a position where you can just step away fully, even to get into an environment that doesn't create that same type of experience for your nervous system can be so helpful in getting more clarity.

Karen, can you share a little bit about how you work now?

Karen Gulde: Sure, yeah. I'm actually in private practice in San Antonio with my husband. You and I talked about this briefly before, Sarah, but I haven't mentioned it today but he practices as a pediatrician for 25 years and got caught up in my enthusiasm about going back to get my master's of clinical mental health counseling to the point where he decided to join me.

Actually, he didn't leave first. He continued practicing pediatrics while going to night school but while going to the graduate program so that was a lot for him initially. But we went to school together with the goal specifically of opening our own practice at the end of it. We have a practice that focuses primarily on relationships.

When we were going through our marriage difficulties, we had a hard time finding resources that felt like a good fit for us so we wanted to be in that space and maybe be providing hope. I think sometimes when we get into bad places, either individually or in our relationship, it's hard to see our way out of it. That was something we really felt strongly we wanted to do.

We set up this practice and we got busy pretty quickly honestly. I attribute a lot of that to the fact that my husband is an MD and also we were unique in that we were working together as a couple so when we meet with couples, we meet with them as a couple and that's a little bit of a different model.

But we got busy pretty quickly and it had to then shift to trying to figure out how to set some boundaries around our time so that the counseling practice didn't become a new more of a stress than it was something that we enjoyed. That's an ongoing process. But having it be our own business, we can set our hours and it's a nice position to be in.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It's so interesting, work can encroach if you're in a job that you don't enjoy but it's just very stressful and has a lot of hours, but also if you love what you're doing and it's a mission-driven thing, it can encroach in a completely different way. Just balancing all of that I think, especially if you're a lawyer who's in a job where you're like, “I'm super miserable,” it can be hard to imagine like, “What would it be like to be, ‘Oh, I need to not work as much because I just love it so much and need to rein myself in,’” but it is something that can come up as people move along.

Karen Gulde: You probably know this from your own work too, Sarah, but for me, I was surprised how much energy, it's such a different kind of energy this type of work, doing the counseling work or coaching like you do in terms of just being present with people, it takes energy too so you do have to be mindful of that and of your time like you were saying.

Sarah Cottrell: Yeah, for sure, in a different way and like you said, in a way that is I think very fulfilling and positive, but nevertheless it is hard work in a different way. Okay, Karen, as we're getting to the end of our conversation, is there anything else that you would like to share that we haven't talked about yet?

Karen Gulde: I think I would just say my thought would be if people are considering leaving the legal field, it's important to explore your values like you were talking about, and that's such an important service that you provide in helping people look at that, but figure out what it is that they really value.

For me, I used to think that independence, self-sufficiency, and achievement were some of my highest values and it turns out that really for me, it's about the connection and the interdependence. That is so much more fulfilling and brings so much more joy to me personally.

If you can find a way to explore that for your listeners without it having to be some major disruptive life event, I would really suggest getting into therapy, coaching, or doing something to figure out what you really want in life and what's important to you.

Sarah Cottrell: Well, everyone who listens to this podcast knows that I definitely support the get into therapy message because yes, all lawyers, please go to therapy. It is amazing. Okay, Karen, if people want to connect with you or learn more about your practice, where can they find you online?

Karen Gulde: Sure. Our website is www.take2counseling.com and my email address is [email protected]. They are welcome to reach out to me. I'm happy to talk to anyone who's considering leaving the law on just an informal basis. That's not actually a particular area of therapy that I do but I'm happy to answer questions if anybody has any.

Sarah Cottrell: Awesome. Thank you so much, Karen. I really appreciate you joining me today and sharing your story.

Karen Gulde: Well, it was a pleasure, Sarah. I was so excited to meet you and find out about the work you're doing. I think it's a really, really amazing service so I wish you the best going forward with that.

Sarah Cottrell: Thank you.

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, and you can enroll there and join us in the Collab today. I'll see you there and I hope you have a great week.