Return to BigLaw? A Reality Check

I have received several skeptical comments from someone calling himself Mr. Reality, who seems to take pleasure in belittling my search for fulfillment after BigLaw. You can see the comments.

These comments contain numerous mistaken assumptions about my personal situation, some of which I’ve corrected. But his most recent comment on my post on “Schadenfreude Among Friends” gives me a chance to do a reality check on my “journey of self-discovery” after nine months.

The comment asserts that I resent my former BigLaw colleagues as I see them climbing higher in their course. To the contrary, I am happy for them. I have had brief moments of wistfulness as I think about the path I’ve left behind, but these moments have never led me to second guess my decision to leave law (as I noted here).

The comment also implies that the schadenfreude I described was due to resentment at my friend’s success in my former field. That’s not the case. My friend’s promotion was not even law-related. There was resentment, but it was due to her ungratefulness, not her success.

But Mr. Reality, by challenging me to give up the search and go back to law, unwittingly gets one thing right: when embarking on the unknown, it is tempting to go back to what you know.

Leaving behind something I found to be unfulfilling was just the first step. Finding fulfillment takes work, a lot of hard work.

I didn’t fully appreciate how hard it could be when I left BigLaw. I dealt with the more immediate hurdles (or “niggles” as I called them): the loss of income and professional prestige. Overcoming these hurdles was only the start of the journey.

The core of the journey has been self-discovery. I find that the most important ingredient to finding passion is to honestly know myself. I constantly ask myself clarifying questions: What do I enjoy? Why do I enjoy it? Are there any unproductive emotional hooks that could mislead me into pursuing something? Am I any good at it? Will I have the perseverance to improve and master the skills? What expectations do I have in pursuing it as a career? Are these expectations realistic? Will my passion subside over time? Can I make a living doing what I want to do?

Over the past nine months, I have actively explored many options. I dismissed some, put others on the back burner, and am now pursuing one. I am actively looking to own and run a local business in an industry I love, whether through acquisition or by starting something from scratch. I am eager to be a businesswoman in this field and make it my career. The need for confidentiality prevents me from sharing more about the experience now, but I will in the future when I can.

People may not be impressed by what I intend to do, and that is okay. Thanks to what Mr. Reality calls my “self-satisfying navel gazing,” I have been able to identify and work through my insecurities. These “navel gazing” sessions have empowered me to resolutely move ahead. I say more power to my navel!

As I stand at the cusp of forging my new career, I am scared – just like when I took my first step in my high rope course in Montana. The solid ground – the familiar rung of the StairMaster that is BigLaw – can seem safe. But like the whisper – the siren song – I know that returning to BigLaw bears the alluring promise of safety.

Yes, I do have fears.

I fear the unknown. I know I will face challenges that I will not be prepared for. When I face these challenges, will I have a rude awakening that the path I am on is just an illusion, a case of grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side?

I fear failure. I may fail spectacularly, and in a public way before loyal supporters and taunting spectators alike. Above all, I fear returning to the enticingly convenient and seemingly safe rungs of the StairMaster. I would have failed to push beyond my comfort zone. I would have wasted this rare opportunity to take charge of my own happiness.

And if I didn’t make good on this opportunity now, then when?

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