In my penultimate year of law school, all of my friends and classmates were applying for summer clerkships with commercial law firms. I wasn’t sure if I should do it too (partly because I wasn’t sure I would be offered one).
Eventually, my friend Mitch convinced me to apply. It’s a great professional opportunity, he said, and the worst that can happen is you do it and hate it for 12 weeks.
I applied. I got a clerkship. And, lo and behold, I hated it for 12 weeks.
In hindsight, I should have known that I never really wanted to be a commercial lawyer. I was sucked in by what my mates were all wanting to do, thinking it was what was also required of me if ever I wanted to succeed as a legal professional. But, ultimately I just wasn’t interested in the same way that others were, which meant of course that I was never going to be any good at it.
What I realised, as a result of that experience, was that I should do something I actually liked, which I thus could be good at.
I’m not slagging off commercial law. It’s an excellent and necessary area of law, that brings both meaning and motivation to scores of lawyers. It just wasn’t for me.
I often get asked by law students for recommendations about career choices. My answer is always the same one I would give to high school students who are trying to figure out what to do once they finish year 12: do whatever you want.
This is easier said than done, of course. And what we want will often be clouded by our social and educational environments. But even a cursory dive into and reflection on our innermost gifts, values and passions can give rise to a preferred course of action moving forward.
Ask yourself: do you love what you’re doing? Or do you love the idea of it?
I love the work I’m currently doing. I pick and choose my own research and writing projects, I liaise with different people every day, I get to wear whatever I want to work, I dictate my own hours, and people pay for my opinion. It’s super cool.
It does its downsides; I sometimes will work a full day without talking to anyone, which can be lonely. And I have to do all of my own finances and administration, which is terrible news for someone who can barely count and tolerate triviality respectively.
More to the point, I am motivated to get out of bed each day and do my work, because I feel inspired by it and see the potential for me to make a tangible difference and contribution with whatever project I might be working on that day. I don’t just love the idea of my work…I love it too.
Overwhelmingly, the good outweighs the bad. And, let’s be honest – EVERY job has its bad parts. You just have to weigh up if that badness is a necessary evil to allow you to do what you want, or if it’s the job itself.
If you have the same attitude regarding your own work, then good for you! 10 points to Gryffindor. But if you’re doing your work because you think you should be, or you’re applying for a job because you like the idea of it, then you need to re-evaluate where you’re headed.
Bear in mind the following when thinking about your vocational direction:
* Nobody knows you better than the person who stares back at you in the mirror. You, and you alone, are best placed to know what you like and would feel inspired by. Trust your own judgment.
* Where necessary, talk to people. Ask as many friends, family members, mentors and colleagues about their career choices, what works and doesn’t work, and learn from their experiences. Soak up as much information as you can and try to picture yourself in different workplaces, before deciding on what fits best.
* You’ll never be good at it if you don’t like it. You’re much more likely to succeed at something if you’re passionate about and motivated by it. Doing something for the sake of It makes you more likely to coast through.
* Nothing is irrevocable. If you’re not sure about the path you’ve chosen, it doesn’t have to set the tone for the rest of your career. Do what you need to in order to feel secure and stable, but remember that you can always change direction.
* Don’t discount any options that even remotely spark your interest. Keep an open mind about different avenues you can take while narrowing down your shortlist of potential paths.
* AND…not having a clue is not a problem. I’m 29, and still don’t necessarily know if I’m going in the right direction. But I love what I’m doing today…and, for me, that’s a good enough start.