Lawyers can easily find themselves, very early in their careers, in a predicament of epic proportions. It happens when you don’t know what to do next, and end up in a rut — a long, deep track made by the repeated passage of the lawyers (um, vehicles) who went before.
For our purposes a rut has a number of relevant characteristics:
- It begins at the start of the road. As a result, you have a tendency to find yourself in it very quickly.
- Once you’re in it, it can be hard to get out without a lot of frustration.
- Unless you get out of it, you’re going to end up at the same destination as everyone else.
Watch Out! Some Legal Career Ruts
What do ruts look like in our career? Here are a few areas to get you started, but just look around — they’re everywhere!
- Legal specialization. Are you in a specialist area? Why? Is that what you’re passionate about, or did you land there by accident and just stay?
- Career development. Looking for the next promotion? Do you know what that involves and why you want it — or is it just what’s next?
- Character change. Are you becoming the person you intended to be? Are your characteristics and habits being gradually molded in ways you planned for, or is it happening inadvertently?
So What’s the Problem?
Although the rut was suitable for the first few travelers who went down it, by and by things change. Many find themselves in the rut not because they chose to be there, but rather because they can’t get out. And they have resigned themselves to traveling via the rut. They know it isn’t the way they wanted to go, and they might not end up at the destination they hoped for, but at least it’s a safe, well-trodden path they can easily follow.
Did you notice the key word there? “Resigned.” They are not inspired, energetic, enamored, enthusiastic or passionate. They are resigned to both the journey and the destination.
That’s Not Good Enough
Maybe the rut isn’t a good route for you. Perhaps there’s a fantastic destination just outside the rut, and all you have to do is turn left to get there. That will involve risk, passion, and hard work — but the destination may be worth it.
If you want passion, energy and enthusiasm in your career, those things won’t typically come from mindlessly following a pre-existing path. You need to actively turn your mind to it. You need to consider where you’re going, and how you’re getting there. Maybe you need to look around or read stories of others who traveled the same rut – what did they get, what was their reward and what were their sacrifices?
In the end, you may end up choosing to follow the rut, but make sure it’s a choice and not a resignation.
Otherwise, grab a compass and start planning your own path.
Chris Hargreaves is a senior lawyer in Queensland, Australia. He writes about careers, communication, productivity and practice issues for younger and developing lawyers at his site, Tips for Lawyers. Follow Chris on Twitter @JoyousLawyer.