What Would Former Lawyer Collab Members Tell Themselves Five Years Ago [TFLP195]

On today’s podcast episode, Sarah is sharing answers from Collab members for another question as part of the summer series. Each episode in the series asks the same question to multiple members so listeners can learn more about their experiences. Today’s question is: what’s something you’ve learned that you wish you could go back and tell the you of five years ago?

Sarah is sharing these responses and talking about how common it is to feel this way. You are not alone if you are struggling in your law career, and it’s possible that you wish you could give the you of five years ago some information as well.

Skills are Transferable

The first Collab member talks about worrying that all the years they spent as a lawyer would be wasted, but instead, it turned out that all those skills are incredibly transferable. The years spent preparing for the LSAT, going through law school, and working as a lawyer were informative and helped them develop plenty of skills that work in other industries and jobs. 

The other piece they mentioned wishing they could go back in time and say to themselves is that jobs are not supposed to make you cry. Every job will have bad days that are stressful or overwhelming, but it should not feel like a daily battle. 

Your First Job Doesn’t Need to be Your Last

The next respondent wants to tell their old self that their first job doesn’t need to be their last. In fact, it’s probably best if it isn’t. People aren’t going to view you as a flake if you switch career paths. You’ll gain more experience and end up in a better place where you’ll fit in better.

They had a tendency to stay in a job too long because they didn’t want to seem flighty or disloyal, but it caused them to feel locked in. Instead, thinking about the possibilities and being open to change is important. 

Go to Therapy

The third response made a quick joke about not becoming a lawyer in the first place, but that sentiment really applies wherever you are in your career. Therapy is one of the most helpful tools, regardless of where you are in your career and how you feel. Everyone has dealt with trauma or events in life that impact our decisions and how we understand ourselves. Many lawyers are prideful people, but the advice is not to be too proud to seek out help and see a therapist. 

Falling in Line Won’t Bring Happiness

This Collab member remembers being extremely stubborn right out of law school. Instead of paying attention to the warning signs, they continued forward with their law career. It took going through the exercises in the Guided Track and the Collab to see how clear the warnings were in the past. You don’t need to be smothered by the hierarchical and prestige-driven culture of law school and legal practices. Trust yourself when you make choices based on your values.

It’s OK to Say No to Others’ Expectations of You

People typically mean well, but it’s important to understand that they don’t live your life and walk in your shoes. The fifth Collab member talks about many different things they wish they could go back and say, but also understand that those pieces of advice have more meaning because of the experiences that you’ve had. 

Other people can share their opinions and advice with you, but just because they are cheering you on, they aren’t seeing everything from your point of view. Be kind to yourself. Life doesn’t always follow a linear path, and you will encounter challenges. Trust your own instincts and be OK with making mistakes because it will help you learn. 

Final Thoughts on Advice for Your Previous Self

Hopefully, hearing this advice is helpful, regardless of where you are in your journey. Lawyers are trained to be self-sufficient, and it can be hard to see the value of being part of a community. Having support when reconsidering your career path can be incredibly beneficial because you’ll quickly realize that many people have similar stories.
If you need help deciding about your career path and leaving the law, consider joining the Former Lawyer Collab. You’ll get access to the Former Lawyer Framework discussed in this episode and replays of the workshops and panels. Plus, you’ll join a community of people who can support you.

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.

What's something that you've learned that you wish you would go back and tell the you of five years ago? That is the question that you will hear my clients answering in today's episode in our summer series where you're getting to hear directly from some of my clients about their experiences in the Collab and the Guided Track and in figuring out what it is that they want to do that is not practicing law.

Before we get to those responses, I want to remind you that my entry-level program for lawyers is The Former Lawyer Collaborative. That is a self-paced group program that can support you in figuring out what it is that you want to do that is not practicing law as my clients are sharing about in this episode.

If you're interested in joining the Collab, here are some brief details: It is self-paced, you get access to the Framework, which is the curriculum that I've created to help you go through a methodical process of figuring out what it is that you want to do that is not practicing law.

You also get access to our community on Circle where you can ask questions of me and the other lawyers in the community. Also, you can share frustrations, wins, questions, get connections, and all the things that you need as you're going through this process.

In addition, you also get access to the replay library of workshops and panels that we've had for members of the Collab in the past, which include all sorts of panels with former lawyers who've gone on to do all sorts of other things, as well as workshops about how to optimize your LinkedIn profile, resume, informational interviews, all the things.

If you are someone who is trying to go through this process of figuring out what it is that you want to do that is not practicing law, the Collab is definitely the place to start. It's the most accessible way to work with me. If you're interested, you can go to formerlawyer.com/collab. Now, let's get to my clients answering the question: what's something that you've learned that you wish you could go back and tell the you of five years ago?

Client 1: I think the main thing that I would want to tell my younger self, one, is that just because you've put in, at that time, it was 8, 9, 10 years of practice doesn't mean that those years were for naught or a waste, that those skills that you've developed are incredibly transferable, and just because you've spent those years in the three years of law school when all the time preparing for LSATs and law school, time and effort, that you need to stay in the profession.

I think the second thing that I would tell myself from five years ago is that your job is not supposed to make you cry. It's not supposed to be a constant source of stress. Sure, there are going to be bad days, tough days in any profession, any job. Sometimes you may not want to do the work, but it should not be a daily thing. It should not be a daily adversarial constant battle, uphill battle. That's what I would tell myself of five years ago.

Client 2: I’d tell the me of five years ago that it's okay if your first job isn't your last job. In a lot of cases, it's probably better that way. You'll amass plenty of experience. People won't see you as a flake and you're all the more likely to end up where you want to be and where you fit in terms of a job and a career.

My tendency is always to stay somewhere too long for fear of being seen as flighty, not loyal, or not committed. I think that's what happened with the litigation job that I took right out of law school. I’d tell myself, at that point, taking that job, this doesn't have to be forever, because I went into it thinking that it would be. I think I felt locked into it because of that for maybe a little longer than I should have been. I'd tell myself, “Allow yourself to think about other possibilities if and when you feel you want to and need to.”

Client 3: Don’t be a lawyer. Just kidding. Kind of. If I could go back to five years ago, that was when I graduated law school, so this advice would be to my freshly graduated self. But I think the sentiment applies regardless of where you are in your career.

Go to therapy. We've all got trauma and other things that have happened in our lives that are affecting our lives and our decisions way more than we could ever understand ourselves. If you think you don't need therapy, you're probably wrong. Everyone who has the personality type to become a lawyer probably can benefit from therapy.

Generally, we're pretty prideful people who become attorneys. We think we're the smartest ones in the room, or we at least pretend to be and I would just say don't be too prideful to build your village of support, and make sure that a therapist is part of that village. So go to therapy.

Client 4: The me of five years ago was fresh out of law school. I am a very stubborn person. I really think I needed the experiences which led me to the Guided Track and the Collab just like how I didn't heed the warnings not to go to law school in the first place.

I would tell myself that there are plenty of people out there who also feel smothered by the hierarchical and prestige-driven culture of law school and legal practice. That does not make me weird, and to trust myself because falling in line with what you think is expected of you won't ensure happiness. You're still going to face systems of oppression so you might as well go ahead and figure out what it is that you need to thrive.

That's exactly what the Guided Track gave me. I'm deeply thankful that I've managed to learn this lesson relatively early in my career. Being able to trust myself that I'm making choices with a true understanding of what my values are has been freeing.

Client 5: Oh, there are a lot of things. There are so many things that I wish I could go back and tell myself. I'm not really sure if the me of five years ago would really understand what any of this means because sometimes I think that the things that you learn five years later only have meaning or they have more meaning because of the experiences that you've had over the five years.

So to the me of five years ago, it's just going to look like a bunch of highway signs for the next exit, you're not really sure why you should pay attention to them. But I think the first one is life is not necessarily going to be a linear path so it's okay to be under, to not know what you want to do, to get lost a little bit, and in some way, embrace not knowing yourself, because only in embracing that can you start to truly find yourself.

I think the second thing would be it's okay to say no to other people's expectations of you. Other people mean well, but they don't live your life. They don't exist in your body 24/7, 365. They're not you. They can tell you all of their opinions. They can give you all of their thoughts and all of their commentary on what they think you should be doing. They can be very well-intentioned, they can be very well-meaning, but they're not you, they don't live your life.

Just because they're cheering you on and saying you're doing the right thing, you're walking the right path, don't take that necessarily as validation of an objective truth, take that for what it is, which is just other people's opinions.

The third thing would be to just be kind to yourself. Not everything will always work out. You're going to have regrets and encounter challenges. Going back to the first one, life was not necessarily going to be this linear path that someone else rolled out for you and plotted on a map and you can just execute to go from point A to B, B to C, C to D, and eventually after a while, you'll achieve and “finish” life. It's a process so be kind to yourself for making mistakes, for not knowing, for not being sure, for needing time to figure things out, for needing space to figure things out.

Sarah Cottrell: One of the themes that I think you can see in these responses to this question about what people wish they could go back and tell their former selves is the role that not feeling alone, not feeling like you're the only one has in this process.

As lawyers, we have been trained so often to be very self-sufficient. It can be hard honestly to even see the ways in which having support and being part of a community can really make a difference in achieving the goals that we want to achieve, particularly if that goal is leaving the law and doing something else other than being a lawyer.

I really appreciate my clients sharing their responses with you today. I think this is such an important question and a great reminder of why support is so important. If you are looking for support in your process of figuring out what it is that you want to do that is not being a lawyer, the entry-level place to start is my program The Former Lawyer Collab, which you can get all the information about and enroll at formerlawyer.com/collab.

Whether you join the Collab or you don't, I strongly, strongly encourage you to find a community that can support you in going through this process because it really can make all the difference. Thanks so much for joining me today. I will talk to you next week.

Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law at formerlawyer.com/first. Until next time, have a great week.