I spent the majority of my career in corporate law. Accordingly, most of my experience (both professionally and personally) is with lawyers. Interestingly, the majority of “big firm” lawyers that I know are desperately unhappy in their careers.
Like the US, the legal profession in Australia is highly respected and coveted, bearing a strong barrier to entry. So why, once we’ve finally breached the walls of the bar and practiced for some time, are we often so miserable? Note: this question relates to anyone in any career.
I was also guilty of said unhappiness… in fact, after having started a career in mediation and conflict resolution consulting, I often refer to myself as a “reformed lawyer.”
This led me to ponder the reasons why I, countless other professionals (and perhaps, even you in your own career) persist with vocations that bring us little joy, and what we might do about it. After all, we change the channel when we don’t like a TV show, we leave a partner when the relationship is no longer good for us and we move house when we feel that a neighborhood is no longer safe or desirable. So why then don’t we leave a job (or career) from which we gain little enjoyment or fulfillment?
Of course, it is likely to be connected with financial concerns and issues including family, sense of self, stability, fear of the unknown, fear of failure. However, given that we spend more time in the office than we do at home, often seeing our colleagues more than we see our own family and friends, surely, the incentive to change jobs must weigh against that.
Instead, many of us remain disengaged. We choose to “punch in” at work, day after day, making it a pastime to complain about our jobs, colleagues and how we are not living up to our potential (or perhaps how others, or the powers-that-be, prevent us from doing so).
If you feel like this in your career, look for the “little conversations” or “small changes” that could bring a ray of light into what feels like an otherwise dark tunnel.
A former colleague experienced just that. She shared that she had become increasingly disengaged in her role at work but continued to stay largely because of the pay and her hard-won reputation with colleagues and clients. She acknowledged that her despondent attitude towards work had bled into her personal relationships as well as her energy for life. She was starting to experience bouts of depression, weight gain and other difficulties – all stemming from her unhappiness at work. Even with this awareness, she chose not to do anything about it.
We talked about her decision to stay, and I asked her what, in an ideal world, she would love to do for work. Her eyes sparkled as she started to rapidly bounce around different ideas and thoughts on project management and changing the way in which things were done at her current organization. It seems she had never entertained the idea of finding her passion within her current job.
This conversation became the necessary catalyst for change. Soon after, my colleague reached out to share that she had found multiple opportunities to contribute and showcase her ideas, one of which was within her own organization! She was brimming with renewed energy.
The key takeout is, even if we feel we can’t leave our job, we may be able to find a small (but significant) ray of light that makes our current role more palatable.
Spend ten minutes considering what you enjoy and what makes you happy. Examine how and where this joy could intersect with your role at work. See if there is a “little conversation” that you could have with a work colleague, superior or HR that would allow you to incorporate a little of this happiness in your day-to-day life. Whether it is joining a new committee, attending a conference or learning a new language… any positive change (no matter how small) is movement in the right direction.
Remember, to emphasize that this seemingly “small change” is likely to have a big impact on your professional life and outlook… potentially, making you more productive, dedicated and energized in your role.