Feeling Your Feelings: How Self-Compassion Lead Raha Francis Away From Biglaw [TFLP183]
In today’s podcast, Sarah is chatting with Raha Francis. Raha graduated from Harvard Law and worked as a corporate intellectual property attorney before pivoting into a management consultant role at the Boston Consulting Group. During those years, she figured out how she wanted to spend her days and helps people today figure out how to create a career and life that resonates with them. The conversation centers around self-compassion and using curiosity to help determine the best path. Let’s dive in.
A Mix of Fear-Based and Curiosity-Based Mindsets
Raha didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do when she decided on law school. There was this image of a career and the idea of everything being linear —you know what to do, and you do it. But she didn’t know what she wanted to do. At the same time, she was good at studying, getting good grades, and doing well on tests. Law felt like a prestigious path that would reward all of those skills.
That path is like so many other lawyers. People are good at school and are used to defining themselves by external measures, like grades and high scores. It can be hard to actually know yourself when you’re gifted in that way because you’re trying to meet an external measure.
Raha’s parents are of South Asian descent, and she was raised with the immigrant mentality, “Do what we tell you and do good by us.” Her upbringing was a mix of a fear-based mindset and a love and curiosity-based mindset. Her parents explained that there are jobs (lawyer, doctor, or engineer) that will provide stability, which is what they came to this country to provide. On the other hand, her parents never compared her to anyone, not even her older sibling. They encouraged her to get good grades and try things, but they listened and supported her if she failed or didn’t want to do something. It taught her to pay attention to what is unique in each person.
Raha grew up with a blend of doing what she needed to be accepted but was also encouraged to think about what made her come alive. She was taught to see herself as a whole person, not just one thing. When she arrived at law school, she was surprised. All of these people who were used to being the smartest person in the room are now surrounded by smart people, and suddenly, they aren’t happy.
Before getting to Harvard, Raha assumed that her classmates would be so resilient with everything they needed to do to get themselves into law school. She anticipated people to have such emotional resilience. She also assumed people would be so interesting and worldly with such high IQs. Quickly, she learned that she was wrong in those assumptions. The fear-based mindset was what got people there, and they were miserable.
When we talk about fear-based mindsets, it refers to people making life choices based on external factors and how it will look to others. This mindset creates an unstable and fragile sense of self. To become resilient, you need to have self-awareness and self-compassion.
Failures Gave Raha a Lightbulb Moment
For Raha, it wasn’t until she started running into failure that she realized how important it was to have that curiosity for herself. When things didn’t work out, like visa issues for working in the US, it turned into a lightbulb moment for her. Having certain doors close enabled her to become more curious about herself and reflect. She was able to remove the “shoulds” and allow herself to open up to new possibilities.
Many people have a small set of ideas that are the “right things,” but it forces you into a specific mindset that can lead to a ton of anxiety and stress. Instead of being a security blanket, it turns into a trap. Nothing is guaranteed, so you don’t want to operate in an if-then mode.
In Raha’s career, she got the security, prestige, and resume, but she wasn’t excited to go to work. The work wasn’t making her come alive, so it didn’t feel like it would be sustainable. She started to have other ideas about what she wanted to do. She wanted to learn new things, chat with more people, and develop skills that could help her in other roles in the future.
Deciding to Move Away From Biglaw
Raha used her interest in dance to help her leave law. She has a playful approach to exploring things she was interested in, like dance, and in college, a friend had recommended a Bollywood dance troupe from his business school to her. Through that, she met business students and followed their careers for a while. It was a good reminder that the world was bigger than her law school bubble.
In some of her first cases, she recognized how much she enjoyed working with business leaders, but they asked many questions that fell outside of the typical legal space. Raha remembers thinking back then that she would like to be a thought partner for people. She reached out to a few of her business school friends, asked about management consulting, and determined that it would be a good pivot for her.
During Raha’s time doing management consulting, she was able to work on her curiosity. She also knew it wouldn’t be a lifelong role, but she learned about different industries and gained much beneficial experience. She got better and better at listening to her intuition. Many lawyers struggle to tap into intuition. Seeking out a therapist can really help with that skill. Exploring questions and ideas about your identity is important, and a therapist can help guide you through that.
Raha admits that when she started therapy, she approached her self-improvement in a way that she thought was very logical. But being kind to yourself means approaching your feelings by just allowing yourself to feel them and not analyze them. It’s hard when you’ve been logical about everything in life so far and rewarded for that way of thinking. So much of the important work is unlearning.
The idea of deviating from the path can be scary, but once you take those first steps, things get easier. It’s almost like exposure therapy. Look back after you’ve taken the steps, and you’ll realize that it was less scary than you anticipated, and that helps you take a few more steps. Raha has learned, as she makes little tweaks in her life and tries new things, that how she feels in the moment is important. She’s able to work more doing things that bring her joy. When you fill your head with shoulds, you’re not thinking about what makes you uncomfortable versus what makes you feel alive, so switch your mindset. It’s all about feeling feelings.
Raha’s Current Role and Advice for Others
Raha has been doing a version of consulting for the last decade. She enjoys the coaching, writing, and having conversations (like this podcast) that can help folks like her or the younger versions of her going through struggles to figure things out. She started a newsletter, Raha’s Thinges, where she shares doodles and thoughts with readers. The content centers around being kinder to ourselves and exploring how we feel in the moment.
If you are feeling stuck or nervous about where to go from here, remember that no one has it all figured out. Most people could never have predicted their path correctly. Little steps are great, so start stepping in the direction you want a little bit at a time. Seek out others that share your interests and talk to them. Expand your circle and keep searching further for more connections. Be curious.
Get more from Raha by subscribing to her newsletter. And if you haven’t downloaded our free guide, First Steps to Leaving Law, start there.
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.
Today I'm sharing my conversation with Raha Francis. Raha reached out to me and I wanted to bring her on the podcast because her experience of deciding to leave law for other things has a lot of themes that we talk about in the podcast and there are themes that she talks about as well, so you'll hear us talk about all sorts of things including therapy, self-compassion, how it is really easy for us as lawyers to make decisions out of fear, and lots of other things. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Raha. Let's get to it.
Hey, Raha, welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast.
Raha Francis: Hi, Sarah. So excited to be here.
Sarah Cottrell: I am so excited to have you on. Let's start with you introducing yourself to the listeners and we'll go from there.
Raha Francis: Yeah, let's do it. If I take a step back, over the past decade, I've been on a journey in my career to lean into my why, and it sounds really vague but my gosh, there's so much to it, and craft a career that makes me come alive. A bit about me, I'm Raha Francis. I graduated from Harvard Law and then worked as a corporate intellectual property attorney in New York before quickly pivoting into advising businesses as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group and then in strategy roles with businesses of all sizes from large retail companies to startups to directly advising entrepreneurs.
Through that decade-long process, I've learned a lot of things through trial and error about the skills that I wanted to develop, about how I wanted to spend my day-to-day, things as specific as that, and at a large level learned a lot about the impact that I want to have.
What that looks like for me now is talking to folks about how to create a career and a life for them that resonates with them, whether that's, in my capacity, coaching, writing, and having conversations like this with awesome people like you to help folks find their why and that same passion that I now feel.
Sarah Cottrell: I think that it's so important and it's such an important thing for lawyers to hear that there is more than one way to think about what your career should look like because I think that for many of us who went to law school, the idea of finding a why or something like that might sound like a little amorphous. Also, I find that with many of my clients, they feel almost like they should be grateful for what they have, they shouldn't want more even if it's making them miserable. I love this conversation. I can't wait to talk about it more.
I would love to know, in the context of that, what made you decide to go to law school?
Raha Francis: Yeah. Oh, the funny questions, these are the funny questions because you look back and you're like, “Ah, really, Raha.”
Sarah Cottrell: You're like, “What did make me go to law school?”
Raha Francis: Yeah, exactly, what was my reasoning and then you remember it. I think as probably countless folks that you've interviewed on the podcast have mentioned, I didn't really know what I wanted to do when I decided to go to law school. I think it's a combination of a few things, Sarah. One was, “Okay, I don't really know what I wanted to be.” I had this image of a career, as you mentioned as this linear thing, where you just know what you do and you do it. That's also what had been told to me and so I was like, “Okay, what is that thing that I figure out how to do and just do?” I didn't know what I wanted to do.
Secondly, I think I'd been used to being rewarded for what I was good at so what that was for me was studying, getting good grades, and doing well on the tests. I think thinking back on my younger self, I was just like, “Well, I don't know where to start with what I want. I've been rewarded for this and I should probably go into a field that continues to reward me and feels prestigious. Okay, law.” My gosh, that's such a cookie-cutter answer, I just know it, for all the folks that fell into it but that was how it worked for me.
Sarah Cottrell: I think there are honestly so many people who end up becoming lawyers, there's some variation of that story, especially because I think, like you said, if you're someone who's good at school, you're so used to defining yourself around those external measures of like this is how you know that you're doing a good job because you got this particular grade, achieved this particular thing, or got this particular award.
I think it is especially hard for those of us who might be more like just gifted in that way. It actually creates a barrier for actually knowing ourselves because we are so used to basically performing for some external authority or trying to meet some external measure. Yet so much of actually figuring out what we want to do has really nothing to do with it.
Raha Francis: Isn't that the funny part? Yeah. It's really interesting looking back on my childhood, I asked myself, “Okay, what made me feel that I had to constantly seek these rewards and just be the way that I was?” like you mentioned that so many of us were. It's a funny one. I look back at how I was raised. My parents are of South Asian descent so I'm a South Asian immigrant.
A lot of how I was raised was with that immigrant mentality that I know some other guests on your podcast have mentioned of like, “Do what we tell you and do good by us.” But I think what's interesting about my upbringing, Sarah, was that I feel like I was raised with both a fear-based mindset and also a love and curiosity-based mindset by my parents. What I mean by that is there was what I call the fear-based mindset that's reflected in what you were just talking about, the “Alright, these are the things you should do that will get you lots of reward.”
I think in my immigrant parents' mind, that meant “These are the jobs that will get you stability because that's what we want for you. We came to this country for you to have a stable life, for you to make money, and this is what you need to do, you need to go get the grades, you need to go do one of three jobs,” in our case, it was doctor, lawyer, engineer. I just find this so funny because in my mind, I think a lot of immigrant parents would say the same things to their kids.
Not just immigrant parents but I imagine all these parents going to like a convention and being told, “These are the three things that you tell your children. Okay, one, become one of three things, two, get the grades or we'll compare you to your cousin.” What's interesting was the other side of how my parents raised me. For one, they didn’t actually compare with anyone. I don't really recall my parents going around and being like, “You need to be more like this person,” which for me now is startling.
I grew up with an older sibling. They didn't really even compare me and my brother to each other unless I was being a total brat and they were like, “You need to be more like your brother who's the sweetheart.” I think that just reflected this light that my parents had. They just had this really great ability to see what was really unique about me, my brother, and not just us like folks in the community, my parents were doing all kinds of community work. They ran like a band of young folks in their spare time who would go around and perform for folks. It was so interesting that aspect of how my parents raised me.
What that meant was they would tell me things like, “Go get the grades. Do this. You can do it, Raha,” but if I would fail or if I would say, “Hey, I don't want to do this,” I always felt that they were listening and that's really important. I feel like that idea of listening and listening to ourselves, listening to others, listening to what's unique about others is so crucial.
I think we'll get into that more but now this was interesting for me looking back because, on the one hand, I had this idea of, “Okay, you're getting the grades, that's great. What are the things I can become with this? A diplomat lawyer. Okay.” I studied economics and philosophy. Those seem like prestigious things that my parents can say are good. But also, my whole childhood, I was encouraged to explore all kinds of things that made me come alive. I've been dancing my whole life. My parents actually ran a dance troupe that I was part of and got to meet all these other amazing people.
Just going back to that question of what made you go to law school or going back to that thought of, “Yeah, you just do what you're rewarded for,” what's interesting is that I was raised with that fear-based mindset of just do what you need to do to be accepted and at the same time was encouraged to think about what made me come alive. It's an interesting contrast.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. It's interesting because I think when you describe your experience, it is multifaceted. It sounds like there was this space to see yourself as a whole person, not just one thing necessarily. I don't mean just with career, I mean just in general, and this is something that I talk with my clients about a lot because I do think that it's so easy, first of all, because of the people who are drawn to becoming lawyers and then because of the way the profession is and because of the way our training is, it can be so easy to drop into this mindset of only seeing yourself as this one thing. But it sounds like you had a more expansive experience growing up.
Raha Francis: Yeah. It's interesting having that expansive experience and being encouraged in certain ways and at the same time thinking, “Okay, no, but I gotta check these boxes,” and you let me know if I'm jumping ahead but I think this really came to a head when I actually got into law school and was witnessing the world I was in, oh my gosh.
Sarah Cottrell: Not multifaceted?
Raha Francis: I felt like I was in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory and I was surrounded by a bunch of Oompa Loompas, me being one of the Oompa Loompas. This is imagery that would come to my mind several times during my career and help inform my intuition.
But what I mean is when I got into Harvard Law, I was ecstatic, I'm Canadian and so I didn't really know of many folks who had gotten into Ivy League law schools. I got in, was super excited, and I thought to myself, “My gosh, these people are going to be really smart and so maybe that means that they'll be really interesting too.”
Folks were really interesting but I think I had made these two wrong assumptions: first, I thought people had to do all kinds of really hard things to get to law school so they must have so much resilience and I bet they have tons of emotional resilience. No, I realized that wasn't the case. Secondly, I thought these folks are so interested in the world. They've done such interesting things, myself included. Surely, we're all really interested about ourselves, like high IQ, high EQ, right? Wrong.
What I realized when I walked into those classrooms was that just as you'd said, Sarah, most of the folks there, myself included, had been rewarded for just this narrow set of things, like what we were good at, getting the grades, getting the test scores. I think that a lot of us, again myself included, use that as a shield to say, “This is who I am,” and so I don't need to look any deeper. What gets me the applause, what gets me the validation, that's my identity.
Then you take a lot of those folks whose identity was being like the smartest kid in the room and then you throw them all together in a room where they're not the smartest kid in the room and you realize, “Okay, folks aren't that happy.” I think I began to realize, I guess that mindset hadn't really made me very happy and a lot of people in the room weren't really happy to begin with. A lot of them had been putting these huge expectations on themselves for decades coming up to that point.
It's interesting, I made some really lovely friends during law school but I think a lot of that was despite the pressures that we had on ourselves to get the grades, get the job, it just came from chatting with people, opening up, doing fun things together and I remember going into law school and seeing that and having all my assumptions proven wrong. It was my first realization that, “Man, this fear-based mindset is really what gets a lot of us into these elite worlds and leaves us feeling miserable.”
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think some people might hear us say fear-based mindset and think, “Well, I'm not making decisions out of fear. What does that mean?” or “That sounds extreme,” but the reality is that I think if you're a person who has been making life choices primarily on external factors, how it's going to look, and what other people think, it's almost like by definition, those choices are, on some level, driven by fear and also create a very unstable and fragile sense of self because it's so dependent on external factors that you actually don't have control over as opposed to this internal sense of self internal knowing.
I also think related to that, if you are someone who has been a high achiever and that has become part of your identity, which again, 100% this was me, this is not me being like, “Oh, those people who had high achievement as part of their identity, that was wild.”
Raha Francis: Yeah, totally me too. Preaching to the choir.
Sarah Cottrell: But I think part of what creates things like resilience, self-awareness, and all of these things, one of the most important ingredients I think is self-compassion, being able to be kind to yourself.
I know this is something that you care about a lot too and speaking again from my own experience but also from the many people who I have interviewed for the podcast and who I've worked with now over the years, so many of us who decided to become lawyers really did not have a category for self-compassion because the way that we learned to drive ourselves to achieve was essentially by not being kind to ourselves.
Raha Francis: So true, so true. It's interesting, Sarah, you talk about folks thinking about the things that bring them success in a traditional sense and saying, “Hey, that's not a fear-based mindset, that's just me doing what I think makes sense.” I contrast some of the decisions, the thinking that I used to make decisions around my career initially with the thinking that I would use when doing things like dancing, things that just intrinsically like it was very self-evident to me, this makes sense, this is fun and they were very different thought processes. There's curiosity.
Let's just try this out, have some fun with it. That comes with the stuff that I did in the dancing world, whereas in school when my younger self that was deciding to go to law school would say, “Oh, I'm not thinking out of fear, I'm just like a happy person who happens to do well in school,” but then I really realize that I had for so long operated with this mindset of “This is what I should be doing. This is what I should do.” I didn't know what else to do.
The younger me might say, “Yeah, I don't know what else to do. I thought I'd do this. Why not?” but that younger me I think, and it happens to me now too, had a lot of shoulds going on in her head about her career. I don't know what else to do, what else to try, I should do this because it feels prestigious. I think some folks who might say, “Hey, I'm not operating out of a fear-based mindset” might also say, “Hey, okay, yeah, I love to play and do things in my spare time too. That's fun.”
But when it comes to my career or things that need to bring me stability, I need to think seriously about this and that's how I probably reacted too, early on, to your point, Sarah, about how folks might react. What's interesting there was that I succeeded in my space in many ways, with that mindset on a superficial level, like “Okay, I should get the grades. I should go do the job. I should get into the top law school. I should go do corporate law and get paid a lot,” honestly, it wasn't until I started running into failure, in a big sense, where I realized how important it was to have that curiosity for myself.
That's why I think it's so important what you're mentioning about folks being kind to themselves because I'll give you an example, early on in my career when I was making certain pivots in my career, I ran into massive visa obstacles that prevented me from working in the states. I remember then certain doors were being shut to me that had been open before and I was getting really stressed out.
But I remember thinking all like when these doors would be shut and it's happened in things unrelated to my career like in relationships that didn't work out, when these doors shut, something would happen in my brain where a light would come on for the first time and it would be like the voice inside me saying, “Raha, for so long you've been operating out of fear of these doors being shut with the visa thing, sticking to jobs,” being like, “I hope this doesn't mess up,” or in relationships being like, “Okay, this should work out. This needs to work out.”
When things wouldn't feel right or they didn't work out, it was almost like a light bulb moment in myself to be like, “Raha, who are you when you're not trying to achieve those shoulds?” It's almost like having certain doors closed on me enabled me to be curious about myself and also enabled me to reflect and ask “How are you operating when you were full of those shoulds? Is that even the way you want to operate?”
One, my light had been really dimmed and two, suddenly, I'm curious about things, how do I want to build a relationship in another way? But also in my career, when we take away those shoulds, we also allow ourselves to open ourselves up to so many different possibilities. I think that requires kindness to ourselves because if we're always telling ourselves, “I need to have this career. I need to do this in order to be stable,” we don't open ourselves up to the different facets that could make up a really beautiful career.
Also, we just spend a lot of time yelling at ourselves and that's time taken away from being curious about our feelings, about how we're feeling in the moment, and going from there. I know I said a lot there. I was supposed to do a short story but I have a lot of feelings about that.
Sarah Cottrell: No, I think part of it is that I think it feels like if there's a very small number of things of “This is the right way to do this or this is the right thing to be doing,” initially, it feels like that creates safety because it can feel like, “If there's one right thing to do and I'm doing the one right thing, then I'm safe, I'm good,” I'm whatever you want to say.
The problem is that I think as soon as you get into a mindset like that where you feel like “This is the one right thing,” it actually then leads to a ton of anxiety and stress because you have to hold this entire structure of “This is how the world works and these are all of the little things that I should be doing or the thing I should not be doing,” and anything that starts to create any instability in that, which there will be because this is a very rigid way of thinking, threatens everything and then creates more anxiety.
I think a lot of us who end up in law school are very much in this like “There is one right thing to do and this is what I'm going to do and I'm going to be on the path,” and then it almost immediately turns into, instead of being like a security blanket, it's like a trap because you have to spend so much time and energy when it is, on some level, not working convincing yourself that you're doing the “right thing.”
Raha Francis: Hundred percent, yeah, totally. It's interesting, I realize now that that need for security, that need for certainty, it's a really funny one and we all have it. It makes sense. You want to survive, you want to be alive, it feels like just a very fundamental evolutionary aspect of being human. You're trying not to get killed out here.
But it's interesting what you mentioned there, that it is a very rigid way of thinking because it doesn't reflect reality like nothing is certain. You go to law school, you get the great job, and then you get the money. You do this. First of all, nothing is guaranteed so this idea of operating in an if-then mentality of like, “If I do this, then I will have certainties,” not guaranteed.
Also, it's so true, like you mentioned, that approach of “I need to do what's secure” is really limiting. For me, again, when I went into the law firm, was practicing initially, those two different mindsets, the one seeking security and the fear-based versus the love-base or we can say the one seeking security versus the mindset of just trying to explore myself, started butting heads and they started making me really confront what my definition of security was.
Because here I was in these roles and on their face, like you mentioned, you have the security because you have the prestige, then you have the resume, and you have the pay, if I dug deeper, I remember feeling, “Well, I'm okay at this, I was good enough at it, yes,” but also I feel like it wasn't making me come alive. I wasn't excited to go to work every day. It didn't feel sustainable in that way.
If I project it out a lifetime of doing this, it was like, “I don't know if that feels great,” but then I would tell myself, “It's okay, Raha, you'll do something else eventually.” But I also in the moment had ideas. One, I had ideas about what I wanted, skills I wanted to be using. I loved chatting with people. I loved thinking strategically. I love doing things that weren't just within the confines of a Biglaw corporate attorney role.
Now, I know there might be many lawyers that have crafted really great careers for themselves but it just wasn't happening in that cookie-cutter role. The third thing is that I realized that there was a lot I wanted to learn because I think what a lot of lawyers might feel when they feel stuck in this world is, “Okay, cool, maybe I'm not feeling super excited and maybe I don't want to do this for the rest of my life, but then what? What do I do? What are the skills I develop?
It just feels so scary. I remember having this feeling of, “Yes, it feels scary not knowing but it also feels scary thinking about the opportunity cost of not exploring other things and trying other things.” I remember having to confront that and thinking to myself, “Well, if I stick to this for X more years, and I'm developing lovely skills in this that could help me in hybrid roles in the future but if I just stick to this and I don't develop those other skills I'm interested in or explore those other things, then there's a massive opportunity cost to my time of not trying that out.”
Then the security that I'm looking for doesn't feel so secure anymore because it's this path that doesn't really let me explore creating a career and a life where I could really lean into different strengths and different skills. All that to say, I think I had to confront the fact that my definition of security wasn't really making sense.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I know this is something that we've talked about on the podcast before but it's almost like you have to define even security to be a very limited thing and then nothing outside of that. It's almost like, “Well, if you define it a certain way, then of course, it's only that way but that's because that's how you define it, not because that's how it actually is.” Defining the terms, it's like the lawyer way.
Talk to me a little bit about the process of deciding, “I do not want to be doing this corporate law thing anymore,” and then some of the moves that you made after that. Because I know we've talked some about, especially the struggle of feeling like your identity is tied up in the work that you do and so I'd love to hear for you what was that process like of realizing, “Oh, no, I actually don't want to be doing this thing, I want to be doing something else.”
Raha Francis: It's funny, if we go back to our talk about how I approached or how one might approach their career versus hobbies, my playful approach to just exploring things I was interested in like dance actually helped me pivot out of the law. My interest in dance helped me leave the law. What happened was that during law school, I did internships both of my summers in law school and law firms and I recall thinking, “Okay, this is great. It checks boxes but is this it? I don't know.”
At the same time, I think in order to cope with law school, I had been involved in dance performances at the business school. There was Harvard Law, and then across the Charles River in Cambridge, there was Harvard Business School. I remember just talking to a friend who was a joint degree. He was doing his JD and MBA at both schools and I told him, “You know what, I'm just trying to get dancing a bit more because it'll help me study.”
I had danced all through undergrad and it was just a way of me doing things to keep me alive so that I could have energy to focus on studies when I needed to. It was a way of preventing myself from burning out. He mentioned to me, “Well, the business schools got these Bollywood dance shows that they do.” I was part of a Bollywood dance troupe growing up so I thought, “Perfect, I'll just sneak over to the business school, say, ‘Hey, can I join your dance shows?’ and that'll just be something I do to blow off steam on the side.”
I ended up doing that starting with 1L all through law school and made a fun group of friends, met some really cool people, began seeing through them what other careers they were trying to pursue, and realize that, “Wow, the world's a lot bigger than I thought within my law school bubble.” Talking to them and some other folks in my network, I started exploring the idea of what things like management consulting could look like.
Now, I didn't really know what that meant. Fast forward to me finishing law school, I said, “You know what, let me just start at the law firm,” because I also had gone straight through from undergrad to law school and I thought, “Let me just start getting my work experience. This is something that I should be doing, again, be wary of the shoulds but it makes sense, let's do this as the default thing.”
Started as a corporate lawyer at that point and I remember I was specializing in intellectual, I started working at intellectual property law at that point and I remember I had to advise this one CEO on patent licensing implications of the CEO, like expanding their manufacturing abroad.
The CEO was asking me, “Should I do this?” and I said, “Well, according to this research and precedent, these are the flags you should be wary of,” and the CEO says, “Yeah, but should I do this?” I remember thinking, “Man, I'd really love to advise you on what you should do but that's a lot more than just a question of legal precedent. That's a question of what is your business trying to do. There's a lot of strategic business questions here.”
I remember thinking in that moment, “I'd like to be a thought partner to people and that might require me looking outside of the confines of just this Biglaw corporate law job.” I truly do think that a lot of amazing lawyers are great thought partners to their clients and are able to offer a very nuanced hybrid approach of thinking to their clients.
But for me, I was like, “Well, I need to learn that. I want to go out and learn what's the strategy of these companies.” Connecting the dots now with the dancing, I reached out to some of these MBA friends, I had actually a few law friends who had just gone straight into management consulting and pivoted into management consulting, which to be fair though is also another treadmill of sorts.
Because I recall for the business students, they would talk about interviews for management consulting at HBS the same way we would talk about interviews for corporate law firms. It's like, “I need to do this. This is good for my resume.” In my head, I was still operating under that mindset of, “Well, this will be good for my resume,” but at least it felt like a pivot of like, “Hey, I'm starting to learn things now that are a bit more varied and interesting to me.”
I was able to make that pivot and then through that, I started exploring different industries. It's funny there because I think I walked into that role thinking, “Well, now this is a prestigious business role. I'm going to treat it like an MBA. I'll learn all these really important terms.” Yes, I learned some terms but I think the fundamental thing I realized was that it was just an opportunity for me to learn about industries and ask basic questions about how they worked.
It was a way for me to keep working on that curiosity. But I would run into certain realizations that had happened at the law firm too, of what does my day-to-day look like in these roles. What am I doing in these roles that makes me come alive or makes me have the impact that I want to?
The difference I think between law and that management consulting role is that in consulting, I don't think it's meant to be, at least in North America I think with the firms that I was at, at BCG it wasn't meant to necessarily be like a lifelong role for folks.
A lot of people, myself included, would say, “I'll do this for a few years and then I'll figure out the next step.” I was able to say, “Well, okay, the hours are crazy in this role. It seems intense but I'll do this for a few years and then I'll figure out the next step.”
In a way, it was nice because now I was starting to ask myself questions about what else I wanted to do and where I wanted to go from here. But I remember confronting those same questions of how does Raha like to spend her day and what makes her come alive? That helped guide my journey post-consulting of the different jobs that I did. We can talk about it more but it just came down to me listening more and more to my intuition.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I tell people that it's both easier and harder than you think it's going to be to figure out what you really want to be doing. It's easy in the sense of it's not complicated or I would say it's simple. But when we're talking about figuring out who you are and actually being able to access that information, I think a lot of us who went to law school for all sorts of reasons just don't have a lot of practice in doing that.
Which is one of the many reasons why I will say on almost every episode that if you're not in therapy, you should get a therapist because I think that so often, we approach this idea of, “Oh, I want to do something different with my career,” as a logistics question of, “How should I rewrite my resume?”
Yeah, that's part of it obviously but so much more of it, when you're in a situation like the one that I experienced or the experience that you had, so much more of it is who are you and what do you actually want to be doing. Which goes into questions and ideas that you have around your identity, what you actually like, and being able to differentiate between the external things external to you versus things that are internal to you and doing things like being able to actually notice that you have an intuitive intelligence. One of the tools that I use in my clients is the Enneagram and it's a personality typing system.
Raha Francis: What number are you?
Sarah Cottrell: I’m one. What number are you?
Raha Francis: Oh, my gosh, I'm trying to remember now. I did it a while ago, I think I was like an eight mixed with something else and I remember I was going through the list of famous people and I'm like, “Oh, some of these people are great. Oh, some of them are a little scary.”
Sarah Cottrell: Well, so the thing that I love about the Enneagram among other things is that the whole system is structured around this idea or the fact that we have three centers of intelligence. We have the head center but then we also have the heart center or the feeling center and then there's like the gut center or the instinctual center.
I think a lot of us as lawyers just think of intelligence in one particular way and it's like the brain, the thinking. We rely on that so heavily I think that one of the things that the Enneagram can help people do is figure out how to integrate all three centers of intelligence and recognizing that all three centers have different strengths and weaknesses.
I think especially accessing the intuitive center for many of us who became lawyers, we have almost been trained out of. We have been trained to look at something that we're feeling intuitively and say, “Well, I can't trust that because it's not coming from the head.”
Raha Francis: Oh, my gosh, yes to all of that. Also, yes to therapy. I don't know if you run into this issue in therapy but one thing that I did a lot, and I still do, when I started therapy, and I think that a lot of lawyers might do is I would approach my self-improvement in a very seemingly logical way of, “I need to work on this or I need to do this and I want to become this. I'm going to analyze the heck out of it.”
Tying back what we've said about being kinder to ourselves and this and that, I think I had to realize that, “Oh, my gosh, I'm not being that kind to myself and how I even approach my own feelings by trying to be so logical.” I think one thing that I've learned to do, thanks to therapy and just thanks to going through trying to reflect on these experiences, especially hard ones, was learning to feel my feelings a bit more.
I think what's interesting there, to your point, Sarah, you say a lot of us logical folks might be like, “Well, these feelings should not factor into how I'm making this decision,” well, the truth is that they do. They've been driving us.
Sarah Cottrell: It's like, “That's nice but you're a human being.”
Raha Francis: Yeah, exactly. Also, if you happen to be someone logical who has been rewarded for being logical and has developed an identity of external validation based on your smarts or whatever, then you might actually have a lot of feelings driving your decisions that have to do with what you think your identity needs to be.
A lot of what I learned through having that guidance and going through therapy was realizing that those moments where I was saying, “Well, this is what's logical,” were moments where not only I was denying my feelings but I was actually very scared. There was a lot of fear around “If I don't do this, then I'll be perceived like this,” or “I'm actually really hurt right now,” stuff like that.
What's really interesting about having that help to feel your feelings is that I also thought initially, “Oh, logical, Raha. If I go into therapy, I'll just learn all these tips, tricks, and tools,” and then realize, “Oh, my gosh, through feeling our feelings, actually a lot of it is unlearning, a lot of it is calling to the surface these modes of operating, these fears that drove our life that kept us from trying things and realizing that we don't need to operate that way.”
I think it can give us a lot of freedom. The truth is though it's hard. It's hard to just be like, “Yeah, I'm going to drop all these things. I'm going to just go out there and try things, then they'll just open up my world and I'll develop a very multifaceted identity.”
But what I also realize, and I wonder if this is the same for you, Sarah, is that after you run into those first instances of confronting things, whether it's like, “Okay, I'm going to try and make a pivot in my career or I'm going to like try something new and go out in a limb,” I feel like that makes things easier, like my failures, when you run into those walls and you're forced to confront who you are, you start to think, “Oh, okay, this isn't so bad. Maybe I can keep trying this.”
I don't know if it gets easier but certain things can get scarier if you start pivoting in different ways but I think we learned to embrace it I think the more times we do it. I don't know.
Sarah Cottrell: Yeah. I think there is this element of if the thought of deviating from “the path” is terrifying and then you do so in some way and your nervous system is like, “Oh, I thought this was going to be the end of me but it actually wasn't,” it's almost like exposure therapy. Over time, you learn that it's not as unsafe as you have been trained to think that it is.
I also think to the point about feeling feelings, I think there are many of us who became lawyers who, for whatever reason, internalized this belief, and you may be listening to this podcast right now thinking this, that essentially feelings are optional. Mind over matter, you can have the feelings or not have the feelings but that's not actually how things work.
Speaking from experience and observation, part of convincing yourself that you don't have to feel feelings or feelings are somehow optional, part of what comes along with that is number one, you actually are going to be much more affected by your feelings because they're just all getting stuffed down into your nervous system, but also, like you said, you think it's going to be more difficult but in fact, actually being able to access how do I feel about whatever and trust yourself, trust that you know that you have some internal intuitive capacity for knowing actually makes it so much easier than trying to figure out just hypothetical detached from everything like free-floating “right answer” of what should be done or what you should be doing, again with all the shoulds, that is basically being constructed out of, I don't say nothing but it's certainly not anchored to anything that is fundamentally true about who you are.
Raha Francis: Oh, my gosh. It's so arbitrary. That's the funny thing. It's almost like the conference that I was talking about with my parents. I feel like we internalize these shoulds feel like we just pulled them out of a random conference of like, “You need to be like this. You need to be more like this.” Whereas the act of feeling our feelings is so individual to us, 100%, I totally agree with that.
It's interesting, it's like with the exposure therapy that you're talking about of trying things a little bit at a time, I think what's interesting there is that it also lets us look back at moments after we try them and be like, “Well, before we tried this, we were in this bubble of I shouldn't do this or I don't know what to do,” and we look back and we can also affirm for ourselves, “Hey, now that I tried this, it's not that's scary,” I don't know if I'm explaining this properly but I think the act of trying new things can also make us look back and realize that the boxes that we keep ourselves in feel arbitrary, especially when we step outside of them.
What's interesting also is this idea that you're bringing up about paying attention to ourselves through feeling our feelings because I'm sure like a common thread that you've run across with a lot of the folks that have left the law and crafted worlds for themselves is that a lot of it ends up feeling like you're almost coming home to yourself.
I think that's a really beautiful thing. Earlier on you were saying oh, yeah, a lot of us might say, “Okay, our feelings, yeah, whatever but this is the logical thing I should be doing,” yet as we make these little tweaks in our life or try new things, I think what I've learned is learning that how I feel in the moment is really important and a lot of the ways that I've prioritized changes in my career have been in order to allow myself to do more of the things I fundamentally enjoy and those aren't things that I had to think hard to come to conclusions about, how I want to spend my day-to-day.
I had had many intuitions about this my whole life but I think it's hard when our head is filled with shoulds because if you fill your head with shoulds, then you're like, “Okay, let me reach out. Is that the job that should be the thing I do? Okay, great. What's the day today for that job? Okay, is that the way I should be operating out of anxiety? Yeah, that's fine. I don't need to really look into it because this world is not asking me to look inwards.”
Whereas if we look inwards and we ask, “Okay, what's actually making me come alive? What's making me feel uncomfortable?” we're able to not only respond to the moment with a lot more awareness but we can also really craft lives that make us come alive in really fundamental ways. I'm all for feeling your feelings.
Sarah Cottrell: All the feelings all the time.
Raha Francis: Okay, that sounds overwhelming but yes.
Sarah Cottrell: I know. I was going to say actually, not that. I really think that it can feel like that's what you're saying, and again speaking from my own experience, if you are not practiced in it. The idea of needing to practice and feeling your feelings I think for some people might sound like, “What does that even mean?”
Not necessarily because they are practiced in it but because I don't think we necessarily have this idea of the fact that it could be something that requires practice, effort, and potentially the help of someone like a therapist.
Hey, it's Sarah. I want to remind you that I am now working with a very limited number of lawyers one-on-one who are trying to figure out what it is that they want to do that isn't practicing law. What we'll do when we work together one-on-one is we will meet for 12 weeks and you and I will walk through the framework that I've created to help lawyers do exactly that. On top of personalizing that and making individualized choices about which pieces of that you need to focus on, spend more time on, spend less time on, I also have the capacity to lend my brain to your situation.
When we're working together one-on-one, I'm able to look at cover letters, resumes, and other things that you may be putting together, cold outreach emails, figuring out who you might want to reach out to, figuring out, “Okay, I have all this information about who I am, values, personality, strengths, etc., from these various assessments, but how do I put that together into a picture of what it is that I actually want to be doing? How do I figure out what I actually want my life and career to look like?” all of those things.
If that sounds like something that would be helpful to you, I would love to talk with you about whether or not working with me one-on-one is the right fit for you. Go to the website, the Work With Me drop-down, there's a link to information about working with me one-on-one. You can see more details and the price as well as the button to book a free consult with me so that we can talk through whether working with me in this capacity would be the right fit for you. I onboard one new one-on-one client per month so if this is something that you're interested in, definitely schedule that call as soon as you can because I fill the spots on a first-come-first-served basis. I look forward to talking with you about whether working together one-on-one could be a good fit.
Let’s talk briefly about what you're doing now and where things are now.
Raha Francis: Yeah, totally. I've had the thread of companies advising entrepreneurs in a strategic capacity, legal/business strategy as a constant thread in my career. But coming out of this, at the beginning of the podcast, I mentioned, I've just been on a journey to lean into my why as vague as that sounds, but really what that's been is through this decade, I've learned so much about how important it is to pay attention to my feelings, prioritize things like creating a career that lets me develop skills that I'm interested in, that let me prioritize the day-to-day impact that I want to have.
What that's looked like for me now is that the coaching, the writing, and having conversations, whether on lovely podcasts like this or in other talks to talk about what it means to pay attention to our feelings, to unlearn certain mindsets that we've operated with, and more practically, navigate the pivots that I've experienced, like helping folks like me or the younger version of me go through this.
One part of that is, and this is one thing that I do that I really love, I've been doing this for years, I write a little newsletter called Raha’s Thingses. Don't ask me why I call it Thingses but it's really simple. Again, coming back to the idea of what makes us come alive, our intuitive sense, I've always loved to doodle.
Alongside all the stuff that I do with the strategy, the coaching, and the talks, I write this little newsletter with a doodle every episode of the newsletter. It just focuses on a doodle and some writing. It just focuses on ways to just be kinder to ourselves. I love that because it's been reflected in a lot of what I do.
I really do think that, to your point about unlearning these mindsets and feeling our feelings, being kind to myself has been one of the most crucial catalysts for me to create a career, make these pivots, and try things out that looking back I'm like, “Wow, that's so cool,” but the earlier version of me could never have predicted. I really do think that a lot of that's come down to being kind to myself, really exploring how I'm feeling in the moment, what certain things I'm experiencing or telling me about myself how I feel, and where I want to go.
I share that in the little newsletter and I love to share those vibes with others because I think they can be really healing and catalyzing. That's a bit about what I've been doing.
Sarah Cottrell: I love that so much. That has been so true in my experience. Okay, Raha, as we're getting to the end of our conversation, is there anything else that you'd like to share that we haven't had a chance to talk about yet?
Raha Francis: This has been an awesome conversation, Sarah. I think the one thing I would share with folks who might be in the law practicing right now and thinking, “Yeah, this all sounds great but where do I go from here?” is that I would probably get wager that a lot of folks who have gone on and created these interesting careers and pivoted and done a million things don't necessarily have it all figured out either.
I don't think there's a point in our life where anyone's really figured it out. I think that it's okay if you don't know exactly where you want to go or the path you want to go on because my path, which I love, I couldn't have predicted for myself. What I would encourage everyone who's feeling that way to do is just one, just feel your feelings, ask yourself how am I feeling in the moment? How am I actually feeling? And get in touch with our reactions to the worlds we're in because that can really help us build in the direction we want to.
Two, little steps are great. Take little steps in the direction you want. Three, maybe talk to people. I think you've mentioned this before but it's really hard for us to think about what opportunities are out there when we're in worlds that make us feel like our light is dimmed. It's hard if you're working all the hours and you're like, “I'm not coming alive but I'm surrounded by other lawyers doing the same thing.”
I would say just think about things that you're interested in, whether they're things that you love doing when you were younger or careers that you're interested in exploring, and go grab coffee with people. Just talk to people. I think the act of just getting out of those worlds that might dim our light can feel really energizing. All this is to say you don't need to have it figured out, just be curious about yourself, and things will be fun.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, and getting out of the lawyer bubble is so, so helpful. Raha, if people want to connect with you, where can they find you online?
Raha Francis: Yeah, totally. I would say the one place to go find me is at my sub stack, go to raha.substack.com and you can come across my doodles, my thoughts, and if they resonate with you, give it a subscribe or feel free to send me a message through there. But really looking forward to connecting with the community and I'm just so glad that we were able to put this conversation out there.
Sarah Cottrell: Yes, I really appreciate it. I'm really glad that you are able to share your story with me today. Thank you so much.
Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law at formerlawyer.com/first. Until next time, have a great week.
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