4 Tips for Maintaining Passion in Your Legal Career
You’ve probably heard the old Confucius saying, ‘choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’. There are many problems with this quote, and when it comes down to it, ‘just do what you love’ is kind of lazy career advice. Better advice would be to find something you like and that you’re good at, join a healthy work culture and find ways to ensure that the passion for your work lasts. Legal practice is difficult, there’s no getting around that. Being a lawyer carries with it a unique set of challenges that many other professions simply don’t have. Practising law can bring with it notorious amounts of stress, long hours, a constant sense of conflict, fuel to the fire for perfectionistic types and a sense of losing oneself. There are, of course, many benefits and perks to being a lawyer, but above all else one of the keys to remaining happy as a lawyer is to not lose your passion.
Great, but how do I keep that passion?
This is an idea we at Beyond Billables fully support, and one that was emphasised by a recent podcast guest John Poulson. To quote John, ‘to sustain yourself over a long career you’ve gotta be excited about what you’re doing. Over the space of 30 years, I’d say 75% of the time I was excited to get out of bed and go to work - this is what kept me going.’ How did John do this? Well, there were many ways - he focused on what he liked most about his job (client relationships), put himself in situations where the workplace environment was healthy, he took care of himself, and he built a strong divide that integrated work into his life without destroying it.
John’s also a naturally bubbly character, so maintaining passion and excitement in his work may be slightly easier for him than for some people. If this kind of stuff doesn’t come naturally to you, or you feel that you’ve completely lost the spark that drew you to legal work in the first place, don’t despair.
Here are some exercises you can try to get back in the groove
Engage your brain and learn something new
Lawyers moan about their jobs for many reasons, but it’s often just because they’re bored. They’ve become comfortable in their role, they know the lay of the land and there isn’t anything interesting on the horizon. As soon as the learning curve flattens out, many people lose interest in what they’re doing and with it goes their passion. Don’t fall victim to this avoidable problem. Constantly be looking for ways to push your comfort zone - expand yourself and be a continual learner.
Find the deeper meaning in your work
Taking the big picture view of your work can help provide the antidote to the difficulty of daily doldrums. This requires you to know yourself and focus on your values. If you’re doing things that are in alignment with your values, the odds are you’re going to feel good about it. Studies have shown that individuals are most engaged at work when their goals and actions are personally meaningful, so look for the meaning in what you do. This is the all-important ‘why’. If you honestly can’t find one, then it may be time to change things up.
Find ways to help others
Being altruistic may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for some it can get them through the hard days and makes it all feel worthwhile. Being a mentor to someone younger in your field can boost your enthusiasm for what you do. This is essentially what John does at this point in his career - he trains the coaches and the managers of current lawyers on how to create better outcomes for the industry. He finds tremendous satisfaction in this, and if you can find a way to slice off some of the same passion pie, you’ll be all the better for it.
Ask for more
Sometimes, the climate of a law firm creates a situation where people aren’t overly comfortable asking for what they need. Don’t hesitate to vocalise reasonable needs, such as the desire to take on new and different projects. Don’t just go out and ask for a raise or more time off; instead, ask to be included in that new project that caught your eye. What’s stopping you? Address whatever hangups you have and start communicating your needs more clearly.
None of these are foolproof or guarantors of a newfound passion for your work. Some people may try variations of what’s mentioned here and feel no different about their professional life, and that’s fine. The above exercises are intended as a loose framework that may nudge some people in helpful directions and get the mental juices flowing.
The larger point remains
If you don’t feel passionate or excited about what you’re doing, you should seriously consider looking for an exit. That isn’t to say that some careers won’t have lulls or periods where you feel unenthused, it’s to say you should be in touch with how you fundamentally feel about your work. If you hate it, what’s the point?
You have one life to live and time goes by quickly. There are a million other things you can do, perhaps exploring other options is the path you should be taking.