Ed. note: Please welcome Wendi Weiner to our pages. She will be writing about how attorneys can achieve successful careers, both inside and outside of the law.
At my law school graduation, my mom handed me a copy of Dr Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” Inside the book cover, she wrote, “You have just started to reach your shining star. Hold on to it tightly. The adventure has just begun.”
I held those words close to my heart over the next 12 years. My legal career would be filled with winding roads, unknown detours, and new paths. It would also be met with failures, do-overs, and new beginnings. It was all part of the adventure, after all.
I believed that career happiness in law was contingent on becoming partner at a prestigious law firm, only I had no desire to make partner. The pattern of thought was ingrained in me since OCIs (on-campus interviews) in my 2L year. As a result, for much of my legal career, I felt lost, unfulfilled, and scared.
In 2011, I entered the lottery for the New York City Marathon on a whim after having dinner with a friend from college. I expected it to be a several-year process of entering, only to soon realize I would be picked on the first application. At the time, I had reached the highest peak of frustration in my legal career. The 2008 recession ravaged the legal industry. It also caused my physical health to deteriorate on a downward spiral.
I took the challenge of running a marathon as an opportunity to rechannel my attention and direction, thinking that running would give me time to think, process, and reflect on my career while also giving me a new lease on a healthier life. I expected to find the answers on the long, lonely roads and trails as a back-of-the-pack runner. So, I did what any newbie runner would do after getting into the lottery for the New York City Marathon: I joined an advanced running group. Most people would have quit knowing they needed to begin training at 4:30 a.m. on a Saturday, but I was ready for the challenge.
On one Saturday morning, my running coach ran up beside me. I remember mumbling to her, “This is really hard.” She turned to me and said, “Of course it’s hard. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had been living life and my career within my comfort zone for a long time — fearing risk, failure, and anything that didn’t seem linear. Why was I so afraid of doing something different?
I kept her voice and that statement in my mind at mile 20 of the marathon, and continuing through miles 22, and 24 when the race really began. My body was on empty, but my mind was stronger than I ever felt before — stronger than any job rejection, stronger than any difficult opposing counsel, and stronger than any frustration about my legal career. The day I crossed that finish line, my mindset about my legal career changed forever — in fact, it gave me the confidence to leave law several years later and pursue my own career happiness as a writer and coach.
We often question our skills, our abilities, and even our career if things aren’t linear. Yet, finding your own unique path to success in law (or in an alternative legal career) can be the best thing that ever happened to you. You can regain a sense of self-confidence that was hidden or buried. You can find joy in the freedom of new opportunity, new goals, and new roads.
It takes years of rising and falling to keep spinning the wheel with ideas. It takes the ultimate amount of self-confidence and perseverance when you are in the toughest miles of the marathon. It takes an infinite strength to close your ears to the negative noise of others who doubt you or who say it can’t be done.
Crossing a marathon finish line and finding your inner courage is a powerful thing. It gives you faith, hope, and determination. It opens your eyes to the possibilities that exist within you and the potential that still lingers.
The other day, I opened the book and turned to the last page.
“And, will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.) KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!”
In my new column, I will be discussing how to develop your unique personal brand, how to leverage LinkedIn, and how to find career happiness and fulfillment even if you decide on an alternative career outside of law. I hope that my column will help you to see new opportunities and new ways of positioning yourself in and outside of your legal career. Feel free to send me career-related questions as I embark on my new column at Above the Law.
Remember, we are all running a marathon, and our careers are not a sprint.
Wendi Weiner is an attorney, career expert, and founder of The Writing Guru, an award-winning executive resume writing services company. Wendi creates powerful career and personal brands for attorneys, executives, and C-suite/Board leaders for their job search and digital footprint. She also writes for major publications about alternative careers for lawyers, personal branding, LinkedIn storytelling, career strategy, and the job search process. You can reach her by email at email@example.com, connect with her on LinkedIn, and follow her on Twitter @thewritingguru.