From lawyer to Can-Do-Ologist: a more logical switch than what you might think.
I used to be a lawyer. Then I became a Can-Do-Ologist (a blend of business consultant + strategic partner + ideal day consultant + tech finesse specialist). And somewhere in between there, I made a shift that made a lot of people say, “What the… ?”
Because “lawyer” is kind of an end-game term. You don’t get to Lawyer on the way to being a a Can-Do-Ologist. It’s not like waiting tables until you get your big acting break. You don’t typically decide you’re going to handle legal issues at one of the nation’s big law firms until you set up shop online and start doing some consulting & admin tasks.
But that’s how it worked out. Or, rather, that’s the short version of what happened–the “how” is a little more complicated. And I get the same 5 questions about this a lot, so this is my attempt to answer them.
Q1. Didn’t you like being a lawyer? Did you hate the law firm you worked at?
Answer: I loved it, and no.
I loved the work I did as an attorney. Loved the research, the analysis, the problem solving, the taking all of the different pieces of fact and precedent and human nature and putting it all together in a memo or a pleading or a conversation with another attorney.
I didn’t hate the law firm I worked for at all; in fact, the firm was pretty great. The people were awesome, my secretary was divine, the salary was huge, the work was challenging.
Q2. So why did you leave?
Answer: Because I wasn’t happy there.
I know–sounds like a contradiction given all the glowing things I said above, right?
I loved the work, loved the people, loved the challenges… but I hated the office politics. I hated the hierarchy and the rules of the game of what to say to whom and who to have lunch with and whose name I should never mention online even if it was in a glowing fashion and who thought women should really wear high heels even if it killed their feet and who would judge me based on my suits and … oy.
I hated having to constantly try so hard to be a certain version of Marissa, rather than being able to just be me. I hated having to wake up every morning and put on my I’m-a-lawyer suit (and I mean that literally and metaphorically) because it didn’t freaking fit.
I wasn’t good at office politics and the hierarchy game. And my colleagues kept reassuring me that I’d get better at it. Before I knew it, it would be second nature to me. But what I realized very quickly is that I didn’t want to learn that game. I didn’t want to get good at office politics. I didn’t want it to become second nature to be this partial-version-Marissa everyday.
But that’s the tradeoff that comes with all that other good stuff–the awesome work, the high salary, the big clients, the challenging cases. In exchange for that, you’ve gotta play the game. (And it’s not just the firm I worked at–it’s all big firms and corporations. All of ’em. To different extents and in different ways… but still. All of ’em.)
The tradeoff wasn’t worth it to me. So I left.
Q3. Was it worth it?
Answer: God(dess) YES.
I wake up every day and “go to work” (my 22-second commute from bed to office!) without having the pressure of dressing “right.” Without the pressure of saying the right thing to the right person, and avoiding saying the seemingly-innocuous-but-really-wrong-thing to the wrong person. Without the stress of “this is strictly need to know and you don’t need to know” policies and closed-door conversations. Ugh. Makes my stomach flip just thinking about it.
I have so much more vibrancy and energy each day, because I’m not expending so much of it trying: trying to be who I’m expected to be, trying to network in the way I’m supposed to network, trying to fit in with my colleagues in the way I’m supposed to fit in. I don’t have that anymore.
Instead, I have the ability to work with people who get me, and I get them. People who think, “Hey, I want to work with her!” when they hear my talk about my dogs being my Vice Presidents, rather than people who think, “Gosh, I hope she never talks like that in front of potential clients; how embarrassing.” People who couldn’t care less whether I’m wearing high heels, tennis shoes, or no shoes at all, so long as I’m rockin’ the work I do for them. People who I meet on Twitter, or a forum, or over a random email exchange, and become friends, clients, and referral sources… all without ever using the word “networking” (or even any “networking strategies”… ugh. Stomach flip-flopping again).
In other words, I went from trying to be someone else’s “right person” to surrounding myself with my “right people.” What. A. Difference.
Q4. If you loved being a lawyer so much, why are you now a Can-Do-Ologist?
Answer: I think you’d be surprised at how much cross-over exists between what I loved about lawyering and what I do now as a Can-Do-Ologist.
As an attorney, you’re presented with an issue (or, more likely, a whole series of issues). You have to sort through to find the pertinent facts, the most pressing concerns, the biggest threats or weaknesses, and how to leverage potential strengths. You’ve got to research your options, analyze how you might implement them, and collaborate with others who can help you along the way. Your goal is a positive solution for your client, a satisfactory conclusion to their issue or concern–sometimes that means they want to make some money, sometimes it means they want things done differently at their place of business.
As a Can-Do-Ologist, you’re presented with an issue or a series of issues or concerns or goals. You have to sort through those issues and goals, identifying the priorities, feeling out the potential weak spots or pitfalls, researching possible strengths or ways to strengthen the weak spots, coming up with creative and unique ways of leveraging the strengths, and analyzing all of the information in front of you to determine the best, most efficient way to help the client reach the resolution he or she wants. Sometimes it’s to make more money. Sometimes it’s to have things run differently in their business.
Q5. Give me the summary. Why did you go from lawyer to Can-Do-Ologist?
Answer: Because I got to have my cake and eat it too, baby.
I got to keep all of the really wonderful stuff I loved about practicing law: the challenging work, the research and analysis, the collaborative conversations with colleagues that knock my socks off, meeting new people, learning new things on a daily–often hourly–basis.
And I got to shed the stuff that was weighing me down and sapping my energy: the office politics, the hierarchy games, the endless trying to be the right version of myself, the ick-tastic “networking opportunities” (shudder).
Also? I get to work in blue jeans or yoga pants every single day. And I get to take fetch breaks with my dogs, lunch breaks with my grandparents, and Twitter breaks whenever I want.
I got to keep all the good stuff, shed the not-so-good stuff, and create a whole world of new good stuff.
And when I look at like that, the question isn’t “Why did I leave being a lawyer to become a Can-Do-Ologist”… the question is, “How did I not see this sooner?” (Which may be, by the way, a topic for another post on another day.)