The Pros and Cons of Changing Careers

The Pros and Cons of Changing Careers | CorporetteWhat are the pros and cons of changing careers? While the answer will be unique to every individual, this should make for an interesting discussion. Reader N is wondering specifically about the pros and cons from the perspective of hindsight:

You’ve written about women that have changed careers, including yourself. From what I recall, these features were mostly on HOW to accomplish the change. Can you include a post from others you’ve spoken to about what they find most painful about it, AFTER making the change? Like one year after, five years after, etc.

I’m making some major career changes right now, and I am always wanting to know honestly what people found bad about their changes. Maybe it could be also have a “good” section so it’s not so gloomy, but I am curious as to the negatives (salary reductions, work drying up, others?)

I have written about my own tips for changing careers and jobs — I was a journalist for 2 seconds back in the late ’90s, then a law student/lawyer for 11 years, and I’ve been a full-time blogger since 2011.  (We’ve also talked about how to change careers, how to specifically use LinkedIn to change careers, as well was the pros and cons of leaving corporate life.)  I’ll share my own tips, but for other career changers, here are the questions (maybe copy and paste ‘em into the comment section):

  • Describe your FORMER career and how long you were at it?
  •  Describe your CURRENT career and how long you’ve been at it?
  • What do you MISS about your former career?
  • What do you LOVE about your new career?
  • What was the adjustment like?
  • What advice would have been helpful for you BEFORE you changed careers?
  • Favorite resources:

Here are my own answers:

- Former career: Lawyer (Big Law for 6 years, nonprofit for 2).

- Current career: Blogger/publisher/brand manager/writer/etc etc. since 2008; full time since 2011.  (Unlike a lot of bloggers 100% of my income comes from this blog.)

- What I miss:  Honestly? The clothes.  I miss working in a conservative office and wearing sheath dresses, pumps, blazers, and other sleek outfits all the time.  I’ve considered getting an office space outside my home but at this point it seems like it would unnecessarily bloat the budget (to say nothing of my daily schedule — right now I have no commute); plus a lot of those spaces tend to be for more casual workers anyway.  I also miss the cache of saying, “I’m a lawyer,” where people automatically know a lot of things about you — that you have a higher degree, that you probably earn a decent salary, that you probably tend to be a Type A kind of person.  (I dread telling new people that I’m a blogger — I always get the saddest looks like I’m a delusional, diva-like SAHM — instead I usually just say “writer.”)

- What I love:  The learning.  This past year I’ve spent a lot of time learning about page speed, SEO, and Doubleclick for Publishers (an advertising program).  Last year I spent a lot of time learning CSS (and PHP at the shallowest level possible).  I also love the flexibility, particularly at this point in my life — I have childcare for about 30 hours a week right now (plus additional work time when he’s napping or my husband is home) but I love that I can pop in and see my son whenever I want to, and that I can really devote time to doing fun things with him on the few afternoons a week when I’m not working.  Another weird thing that I love: I feel like there are clearer metrics for what constitutes success and failure, and I work better under those conditions.  Every month I look at a million different numbers; the main ones representing traffic and money — as long as they’re going up I’m happy.

- The adjustment:  It’s hard to say for me since the blog was already churning along when I quit my job, and the first few months of the transition were spent desperately preparing for maternity leave, then followed by new baby/maternity leave and all of the problems/joys attached to that.

- Helpful advice: I wish someone had told me to take a 20- or 30-minute walk at lunchtime every day regardless of what other exercise you’ve done.  I wish I’d worried less about being my own employee.  If we’re going way back to when I started this business, I wish I’d been more-business-y, sooner — it was at least a year before I got an EIN number, did the trademark application, became an LLC, opened business checking and savings accounts, and got a business credit card.  And I think it’s vital information for every self employed person to know, early on, the breakdown for the money: for every $1.00 you earn, put $.25 away for taxes (at least) and $.20 away for savings — if you can fully fund your SEP-IRA it makes a big difference on taxes.

- Favorite resources:  Marci Alboher is an author who has written extensively on the topic of changing careers — she used to have a column at the NYT; she’s now blogging with Encore.org (a whole site devoted to second acts, primarily after “retirement”).  While I haven’t read her new book, I can recommend her older one, One Person/Multiple Careers. For lawyers, Liz Brown’s new book, Life After Law (which does feature an interview with me), sounds like it would be good.  Another book that I read when I was still in the planning stages was Working Identity, by Herminia Ibarra.  Oh, and for people considering their own business, I highly recommend Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Workweek.

All right ladies — those of you who’ve changed careers, what were your pros and cons?  Those of you considering changing careers, what more specifics would you like to know?

(Pictured above: Hindsight Being 20/20, originally uploaded to Flickr by Andrea Shwalm.)

 

Comments

  1. Statutesq :

    To piggy-back on this, I’d love if In-house ladies would comments on what, if anything, they miss about firm life and/or the negatives of working in house.

    • Carrie Preston :

      Absolutely nothing! kidding. kind of. but not really. I suppose I miss a little bit of the “fancy” that comes with a firm (view buildings, nice furniture, really well-dressed co-workers/not feeling silly dressing up for work, going to nice restaurants all the time) but really, just barely. I can still do those things on my own & they feel fun and special now. I think it does take a certain personality type to do well in house – if you’re more business-oriented/practical/comfortable with not having 100% of the answer ready before giving advice, you’ll probably enjoy the work, but if you prefer the academic/hard issues that law firms wrestle with, you might miss some of that. Personally, I find the work more rewarding and interesting, and I cannot imagine ever going back to work in a law firm.

      • Stephanie :

        That pretty much sums it up for me, as well. I think you also have to be ready to deal with a larger variety of people on a professional level. Translation– random non-lawyers who may not be super excited to be talking to the company lawyer, or who are otherwise just not what you’re used to from the firm world. Finance, HR, management, etc.

      • SV in House :

        I agree, but would add having admin support. This varies by company, of course, but at the two I have worked for it has ranged from overtaxed to non-existent.

    • If I do NOT become a JUDGE, after I have 2 kid’s I should be abel to work in house, mabye for a few year’s before I want to retire completely to a life of LEISURE! I can start working in house mabye 20 hours a week for a large salary b/c by then I will be a bona fide expert in alot more things then right now.

      Working for a boutique firm as I do is not as glamourous as peeople seem to think. I have the same issues as every other woman. Men stareing at me, ooogleing my body and makeing comments, and that does not even cover peeople outside the office. If I were in house, I would onley have to deal with the CEO, the CFO and the HR person, mabye. I could come and go as I pleased and would have the prestige of an executive bathroom rather then using the hallway where the janitor’s stare at me and walk in on me when I am useing the toilet. FOOEY!

      So for those who thought boutique law is so great, think again! YAY!!!!

    • In house from big law :

      I went to a fairly unstructured position and as a result found the hours very taxing and particularly hard to take with a nearly 50 percent cut to my base salary that came with it. I still worked nights and weekends and even some holidays. The lack of administrative support is hard too and just adds to the hours. I also found it difficult to go from having my opinion respected to being part of a “back office function” that is not well respected in my organization. I had a lot of flexibility in my firm life regarding when and where I worked. In a corporate world, you’ve got to fit into whatever policy has been put in place for the masses, which meant less flexibility for me.

    • I have ZERO regrets leaving the law firm, and going in-house. I tell people my professional life truly became awesome one I left the law firm. (And I’m saying this because it’s less hours-it’s actually been more).

  2. Wedding Advice :

    Threadjack. Need sage advice, please. I’m getting married in a few months, and the wedding is being jointly financed by my parents and my fiancé and I. We are all busy people, and I have been speeding through wedding logistics as much as possible. My mom, however, is not happy with any of my decisions and she will. not. budge. on things that I would consider insignificant. And I would be more than happy to do them her way, except I’ve already done them a different way, and I’m too busy to re-do EVERYTHING that she second guesses. She’s normally not like this, and I’m on my last nerve with her. I feel like this is about more than silly wedding details, so I’m not sure of the best way to proceed. Involve her more in the planning? Less? Have a heart to heart about what else might be prompting her to act this way? She is giving me major anxiety over what is supposed to be a happy event.

    • Anonymous :

      I got married this summer and completely understand. I delegated as much of my wedding as I possibly could (to a combination of a wedding planner and my mother). If your mom is displeased with details that you consider insignificant, I would tell her that you are happy for it to be the way she likes it, and she is more than welcome to make those changes. (Her, not you.) If she wants lilies instead of the roses you already lined up, tell her you love lilies and give her the number to the florist. You mentioned that she is normally not like this– I bet that if she’s usually reasonable, if you just explain that you are happy for it to be the way she wants it, but you simply do not have the time to make those changes, she would probably appreciate that and either a) change it herself or b) leave it alone. If she changes it, fine, since the details are insignificant to you anyway. If she leaves it alone, fine, it must not have bothered her that much.

    • Anonymous :

      It is hard to say without knowing details, but have you tried telling her exactly that? “Mom, X is a great suggestion, but I already did Y and I honestly don’t have time to change it. I am just trying to check things off at this point, but if you have extra time, you are welcome to change to X.” Repeat as necessary.
      And if her suggestions don’t sound so great, then you can try “Mom, X is a great suggestion, I wish we had thought of it earlier, but I already did all the reesearch/tasting/etc for Y, and I have to take care of A, B, C, D, E, …. so I think we just have to let things be and focus on the rest.”

      • Wedding Advice :

        Part of the problem is that my fiancé has kind of dug in his heels. So when my mom rejects one of my decisions, my fiancé feels like he has to stick up for me, and then HE won’t budge. So it has become just as much a relationship issue as a logistics issue, at this point.

        • If they are things you don’t care about, tell him. If they are things he cares about, value that and tell your mom no. Or tell them to each make a list of the 5 things they care about, strike anything they have in common and then the rest gets to be their personal project.

          • Diana Barry :

            I think it should be a joint decision coming from you and your fiance. So if you both have decided X and your mom thinks it should be Y, then tell her “sorry, mom, but we’ve decided X”. Repeat ad infinitum. Talk to your fiance first; if there is anything that you would consider changing, then you can throw your mom a bone and suggest that SHE change it. But the decisions have to come from both of you. Perhaps you could also suggest paying for X if X has already been decided and it is not one of the things you are paying for already.

    • Start with a heart-to-heart. With my wedding, my mom felt that, in the eyes of our extended family, it was a reflection of HER as much as my husband and me. Your mom may be feeling some of that, and may be concerned about making sure things run smoothly, especially for elderly guests. Also, consider the possibility that she has a genuine point that some of the detils you “sped” through may need more attention in order for things to run smoothly. Case in point, I went to a wedding a few weeks ago where the the bride & groom hired a shuttle bus to take people from the hotel to the wedding venue, but the bus was scheduled to leave before the hotel check-in time, so people traveling fram a far distance couldn’t get into their rooms and had to change into their wedding attire in the lobby bathroom. Had the B&G spoken with the hotel about getting early check-in times for their guests, this wouldn’t have been a problem. If you truly don’t mind doing some of these things her way but don’t have time to change them, tell her that and give her the opportunity to speak with your vendors to change those things herself. Good luck and congratualtions on your upcoming marriage.

      • Wedding Advice :

        I think she definitely sees it as a reflection of herself. And most of the decisions she objects to are based more on taste than practicality. So for me, I see it as her questioning my taste and judgment. Some of my choices are less traditional, but nothing black-wedding-dress-out-of-the- ballpark. What do you think, is it better to cave to her taste and keep her happy, or have the wedding I envisioned along with her hurt feelings? Is there a happy medium?

      • Stephanie :

        Totally agree. My inlaws straight up said that, in their day, weddings were “for the parents, not the bride and groom.” Meaning that my MIL was 18 when she got married to my FIL whom she barely knew, and the whole wedding (er, marriage?) was just something she did because it was expected. Needless to say, we had a slightly different take.

        • In their day, weddings were often paid for by the parents (usually the bride’s parents.)

          For the OP, regrettably, she and her fiance, and her parents are paying for it jointly. In my experience, weddings can bring out the crazy in otherwise, good, normally sane people. To limit the crazy, one method is to not accept even 1 cent of help from anyone, because the minute you open the door to accepting any financial contribution by others, those people will want a say in …oh, just about everything.

          Of course, everything in life is a tradeoff – one can avoid the hassle of having to make decisions by committee (usually a bad idea, inefficient, and annoying, with great potential for hurt feelings) by not accepting *ANY* financial help. This does mean you might not have as big or as fancy of a wedding.

          It may be too late for the OP to try to finance the wedding herself esp. without major hurt feelings, but for anybody out there who hasn’t yet started the process, I urge them to consider this option. The other posters who recommended a heart-to-heart w/the Mom, plus some boundaries drawn, make very good points.

  3. Rural Juror :

    Anyone have suggestions as to what to buy a 2 year old boy for his birthday? I am childless and therefore clueless as to what types of toys are appropriate at that age. $20 or less would be great!

    • Anonymous :

      My two year old loves his Brio train set (maybe a starter set exists in your price range) cars and trucks, and dinosaurs. Books on these subjects are also big hits. As a parent, I hate getting plastic toys that make a lot of noise and usually return them, and I know a lot of our friends with similarly aged kids feel the same way.

    • I have a 2yo boy and here are some things he loves:
      (1) trucks – amazon has a few options for fire truck, garbage truck, dump truck in the $20 range, bonus if it has moving parts i.e. a ladder that can extend or a dump truck that can tip out.
      (2) imaginative play sets – e.g. a cooking set with utensils and/or plastic fruits and foods, or a toolkit with a hammer and something to use it on; again, plenty on amazon in the under-20 range
      (3) books – past the stage of board books but likes Dr.Seuss’ Hop on Pop, Cat in the Hat comes back, and anything featuring Curious George – should have a story though not just rhyme
      (4) lego sets that are specifically marked 2+ (larger pieces for little hands!)
      (5) for really inexpensive but hugely popular options – get a balloon! and a bubble blowing set!

  4. Kim Kelly :

    Friends, I just got an offer for a new job. It is in another country, in another area of the law (so somewhat related to this post). I am thrilled. This is truly going to a great adventure. However, I am supposed to be speaking to my supervisor-to-be in a few days to ask questions and negotiate certain aspects of the offer. The salary and basic benefits (pension, relocation, vacation) are non-negotiable, and luckily, just fine with me. What else should I try to negotiate? I would love to get a subsidy for internet/data, a smart phone/computer/tablet, training . . . what else would you ask about? Car? Childcare is generally free. They are providing a 3 month temporary housing allowance and real estate advice. Also providing language lessons and tax help.

    • Other Good Stuff To Know :

      * will they handle your immigration process in the new company, if you want to try to get permanent status there (both sponsoring you and paying for the attorney)
      * healthcare (both the doctors and the payment) while you are there
      * medical evacuation coverage
      * will they pay for you to come home regularly (or for family to come to you regularly)
      * transportation costs while you are there

    • Depending on where you will be, you may want to try to negotiate for public transit pass rather than a car

  5. Related question — have any of the lawyers here switched practice areas? Or had your practice area become obsolete?

    I’m on the plaintiff’s side, and I am looking to transition from one kind of litigation speciality to another. I wish I didn’t have to switch, but the Supreme Court has made it impossible to make a career as a class action litigator, so I have to switch, or I’ll likely get laid off in a year or two.

    Any advice?

    • I’m kind of doing the same thing. I’m on the defense side of an area that is becoming more difficult for plaintiff’s to pursue due to state legislation. I don’t have hindsight advice yet, but I’m “re-branding” myself. Luckily I do about 20% of an area I can stick with, so I’m trying to highlight that work. I’ve stopped mentioning they dying area when people ask what I do, I changed my linked in profile to highlight the work I want to keep doing, I’m getting more involved with organizations targeted at the new area, etc. I think there are a lot of transferable skills in litigation, regardless of the focus area. So maybe identify what you want to do next and start your re-branding mission. Good luck!

      • Thanks for the ideas! Most of my experience in what I’d like to be doing is from when I was in law school (graduated in 07). I’ve been trying to convince my firm to pick up cases in the work I would like to do, but they aren’t biting. Instead, they are picking up a practice area that I have no interest in whatsoever entirely. So frustrating…

    • No advice, but you are not the only one trying to navigate this particular bugaboo. Dang Supreme Court.

  6. Anonanondoodoodododo :

    ■Describe your FORMER career and how long you were at it? – Law student/lawyer – just under 6 years
    ■ Describe your CURRENT career and how long you’ve been at it? – Higher ed administration (legal ed) 7+ years
    ■What do you MISS about your former career? Nothing. Nada. Not one single thing. Really.
    ■What do you LOVE about your new career? Working with students, academic environment, awesome benefits and vacation time.
    ■What was the adjustment like? Easy peasy. I didn’t have any ego attached to saying “I’m a lawyer,” – not there’s anything wrong with that! I completely understand that feeling. I hated law practice so much that I felt silly saying it, because people were always impressed and I felt like a fraud. I worked in corporate environment for about a year before going into higher ed, and it took me a while to get over the sheer joy of not billing my time.
    ■What advice would have been helpful for you BEFORE you changed careers? Do your research in the field you want to go into. Be prepared to take a paycut. Be prepared to be less fancy.
    ■Favorite resources: NALP, Higher ed jobs, The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    • I just wanted to add that, thanks to your name, Manana will be stuck in my head all day :)

    • Brooklyn, Esq. :

      I want to make exactly this transition! Care you share more about how you went about it? You can also email me at cdeplume [at] gmail [dot] com if you’d prefer to talk off-line. I would really appreciate any information you could provide?

  7. Former career: attorney (law school plus 2 years of practice in my city’s BigLaw)
    Current career: process engineer in industry. Had the engineering degree but had not worked as an engineer prior to law school. After a couple years in this job, might transition to environmental lawyer for my current company.
    Things I miss: I suspect you will get this from plenty of people – I miss the trappings of being a lawyer. I miss being dressed up and presentable all the time – I wear a hard hat and “ruinable” clothes everyday at work and I have never for one moment felt physically attractive on the job. I don’t even like to run errands in my work clothes lest I run into someone I know. I miss constant interaction with highly intelligent, highly educated people. The built-in social life of networking and young professional events – now I don’t really have any peers at work.
    Things I don’t miss: The dry cleaning bill. THE BILLABLE HOUR. Now when I leave work, I leave work. I have no work email on my phone and I very rarely take my work laptop home. I don’t carry around the constant stress of “this is an hour that could be spent billing.” My hours are much better.
    The adjustment: It took awhile to figure out how to structure my day in an environment where my time is not accounted for in 6-minute increments. After a year, I still don’t think I’m anywhere close to being as productive as I could be. I have to make a much bigger effort to see my old attorney friends – and only a couple have made any effort at all to keep in touch with me. My entire social life has changed from work friends to neighborhood friends, which is still great, just different.
    Advice: Don’t go to law school right now (although I would still say the fun I had in law school was almost worth the student loan). If you think you want to go to law school, have a good backup degree.

  8. Diana Barry :

    I would love to change careers (getting away from billable hours!!!), but am established/flexible enough now that I am loath to switch into anything less flexible. I would probably just quit instead.

  9. Silvercurls :

    - Describe your FORMER career and how long you were at it? “Librarian” by education, paraprofessional by employment; ~ 10 yrs
    - Describe your CURRENT career and how long you’ve been at it? Total of ~20 yrs in a combination of: Administrative assistant, ~20 yrs; Publishing-related work, ~11 years; Special needs activist (unpaid), 6 yrs; Nascent handcrafter, <1 year; also 2 yrs out of the workplace for family obligations
    - What do you MISS about your former career? Not a lot, although I still love walking into a library. It's is a wonderful profession populated by interesting people, but it wasn't a good fit for me. I wanted to do my own work rather than help others do theirs; I also never wanted to be obliged to relocate in order to advance, which seemed early on like the typical career path. Not necessarily so–but I was young and inexperienced.
    - What do you LOVE about your new career? Editorial: shaping language; improving text. Admin: Shaping an organization; keeping operations running smoothly. Crafting: working with the materials; learning about business management.
    - What was the adjustment like? Nothing dramatic. Lots of people end up working in field X despite having formal education in subjects Y and Z. My most important accomplishments included acquiring and projecting confidence in my own abilities despite not occupying high-status positions. However, one doesn't need to change careers to accomplish this.
    - What advice would have been helpful for you BEFORE you changed careers? Be more confident.
    - Favorite resources: The internet–it's an absolutely amazing source of both information and interpersonal connections; the public library–essential source of leisure reading materials (to relieve stress of the workplace); my own sense of curiosity and awareness of local organizations–I learn a lot simply by being aware of my surroundings. Oh, yes, and a book published in late 80s, updated in early 90s, titled "When smart people fail: Rebuilding yourself for success," authors Carole Hyatt and Linda Gottlieb. No awareness of Internet, smart phones, or the madness of the 21st century, but lots of human wisdom.

  10. This post comes at a good time. I feel stuck. I’m not totally happy in my current job, but I really don’t know what else to do (or what I would be good at). There are a few issues here. First, I don’t feel challenged. Second, there’s not much of a defined career trajectory in my current position (and no opportunity for promotion/growth). Third, I think I have an unrealistic vision of how happy I should be at work (I’m not unhappy, but I want to look forward to going to work everyday, which is probably unreasonable). Last, I’m having a hard time thinking about this from an objective perspective. I’m also having a hard time motivating myself to figure out what I want to do, even though I’m pretty sure it’s not what I’m currently doing.

    It doesn’t help that there aren’t many other people with my job: I’m an special event planner in-house in the finance industry. People always tell me they wish they could have my job, but it’s really not as glamourous as it sounds- never being able to enjoy events because I’m working them, not having actual clients (my clients are my coworkers). I feel like there’s no one that would really relate to this.

    This is a long shot, but does anyone know of someone that went from event planning to another career and loved it? Anyone have any advice on how I should proceed? I know I need to either get myself to a career counselor or just spend a bunch of time researching. I don’t know why I’m not more motivated. Maybe because I don’t dislike my job.

    I think I just really needed to vent and appreciate any comments.

    • What do you enjoy in your off time? Do you design things (marketing)? Do you make business plans for a future dream career (finance)? Do you talk friends through job issues (HR)? Do you run a website (IT)? I know I’m over-simplifying, but look at what you enjoy, try to look for a related department in your current company, and then ask around for special projects in that dept. Ask your supervisor for help – “I’d love to build my skills in finance. If you hear of any projects that need extra help, I’d love to discuss it with you.”

      Even if you take notes for a marketing campaign, it can give you a sense of those roles and whether you would enjoy them. At the very least, you’ll meet new people and have more contacts who can tell you of MORE special projects you might be interested in. Eventually, you’ll find an area you like, and you’ll have some work experience to leverage while moving into the new area.

    • I didn’t switch from event planning, but I made a career change (journalism to government policy) a number of years ago. I was at a crossroads where everything seemed to be on the table – law, policy, MBA, teaching.

      One of the key tools that helped me decide was the book “What Should I Do With My Life?” by Po Bronson. I’m not normally one to read self-help books but he essentially wrote a number of short stories about people who successfully changed careers and how they identified what they wanted and how to get there. It’s a quick read and I highly recommend it.

    • Have you thought about doing fundraising work for higher ed? At the university where I work, we have a group of three people in our alumni relations group (just for the school of business) who put on phenomenal events AND connect with alums AND help raise money for the school. We also have a separate Foundation group because we are a state university, so our fundraising is a little quirky. Those people also put on a ton of events and cultivate donors/sponsors/boosters.

      Moving to not-for-profit with your skills would be a great opportunity to shift into more of a team role (and future management). Good luck!

  11. I changed careers once for all the wrong reasons– I was running from a bad situation with my employer. It was my first professional job after college and I was miserable in it. A total career change appealed to me because, on the surface, it seemed like it would offer easier hours and less stress. After a few years I realized I should have stuck with my original career and just found a job at a different company. I was able to move back into my original career field, but it was hard.

    So make sure you’re running toward something, not away from something. That’s my advice.

    • Can you tell us a little more about what your original career was (or what industry) and the new career, and why the new one was not suited for you?

    • TO Lawyer :

      This is my concern actually. I’m having doubts about whether I want to continue practicing law but I don’t know if that’s because I don’t like law or because my firm can be awful.

      How can you determine whether you actually need a new career or just a new job?

  12. I’m a third-year junior associate litigator in big law. I enjoy the challenge of the work and some of the people I work with, but everything else I think I could do without. My senior year of college, my choice was between law school and Teach for America. I think often about whether I would enjoy being a teacher (probably high school government, science or math) more than I enjoy being a litigator. Anyone who has considered or made that kind of a switch? Obviously, it’s quite a salary difference, but I already live on about half of what I make, post-taxes, and am willing to do without some of the trappings if it means I actually care about what I do every day.

    • If you’re willing to live on less money, have you considered trying to practice law somewhere other than BigLaw first? (For instance, I know a number of clinical instructors in law schools who seriously enjoy their job.) Not that teaching isn’t also an amazing and rewarding profession – but practicing law in the right atmosphere can be too, and can be combined with teaching in other ways, and BigLaw isn’t always representative. Also, usually getting a teaching degree is going to require going back to school, so it might be worth it to try something that doesn’t first.

    • I actually made the opposite switch. I joined TFA right out of college, loved teaching, thought I would be a teacher forever and kept teaching for several years past my TFA commitment. I loved so, so much about it but in the end found that I could not find work-life balance (and didn’t find many model veteran teachers who had the kind of balance I was looking for, either) in education. That may have been mostly due to my all-in, type A personality; most of the teachers who did have balance had either been teaching forever or had lower standards for their classroom.

      . . . Of course, I ended up in law school. I’m sure the stress of BigLaw is nothing compared to law school, but I would say any of my first four years teaching were twice as hard as law school. When people complained 1L year about the workload I couldn’t believe it – it was so much easier than teaching. I spent at least 100 hours/week my first two years teaching and the stress was unreal. 1L year was like a cakewalk in comparison. Really.

      In response to your question, though, my experience has shown me that caring about what you do is incredibly important but it won’t necessarily overshadow all the downsides. TFA does a really great job of whitewashing the downsides to teaching; is there any way you could spend time in a classroom to volunteer and/or get a feel for the day in and day out of a teacher? (Perhaps look into the Marshall Brennan Project). Also, I’m sure you know this but half of what you make at BigLaw is still going to be significantly more than a teacher’s starting salary – usually around 30-35k (and you will spend plenty on your own classroom). Not to mention teaching jobs are incredibly hard to come by – one of the reasons I left was not being able to find jobs in low-achieving public schools (in this economy, fewer teachers are retiring or leaving for other reasons) so I ended up in poorly managed charter schools where teacher turnover is now ironically higher then low-achieving public schools. I have, however, met people who left law for teaching and loved it. For the most part, I think they were career lawyers who hated the billable hours culture and had amassed a large nest egg and could afford what was essentially an ‘early retirement.’

      I wish I could be more helpful. I suppose my advice can be boiled down to ‘look before you leap.’ It might be a great move for you but I hesitate recommending a teaching career to anyone who isn’t very, very aware of the downsides (especially coming from a high-earning, highly respectable position).

  13. Law to Medicine :

    If I had known that I’d work this hard as a lawyer, I’d have gone to med school. Is it to late?

    40s, children, husband

    Can I go to nursing school in my 50s?

    Girl needs to dream a little.

    I’m a really good lawyer, but feel like I’m miscast. I’d rather work with people and don’t mind hard work. I hate running a small business with no say in management.

    • Silvercurls :

      If you want to do it and aren’t going to be held back by finances, logistics (ailing parents? younger children? special needs kids? spouse who works 80 hrs/week and travels?), or your own health or energy level (not assuming you have these issues, just mentioning the possibilities that things flare up or wear out), check it out! Talk to people in these fields. Nurses can have a lot of satisfaction; also a lot of feeling trapped by administrators, MDs or the healthcare system and its unrealistic expectations. (See comments on the blogs in the NYTImes.com health section and its blog “The New Old Age.”)
      Alternatively, could you find a halfway shift? Switch into hospital or health administration or doing something on behalf of people living in longterm care facilities?

    • You can definitely go to nursing school. My mom got her Masters in nursing at 45 (to become a nurse practitioner). Granted, she was already an RN, but there were lots of other people in her program that weren’t right out of undergrad. If you really want to do it, you should!

  14. FORMER:
    I was a big 4 (big 6, big 8) management consultant. I traveled 50 weeks a year and lived in hotels for nearly a decade before I quit and became a SAHM/grad student. Then I taught part-time as an adjunct for about 5 years until my youngest went to all-day 1st grade.

    CURRENT:
    Assistant Director at top 20 public university’s business school

    MISS:
    Having clients ask for me by name. Winning a big proposal. Working with awesome colleagues. Corporate Amex (*sigh*). Platinum status on the airlines and hotels. Eating at five star restaurants on the firm. Pretty good money. Sometimes the travel was a little glam :-) like when I’d “pop” over to LA or Chicago for a day, meet a client, eat a fantastic lunch, then catch a late flight back home. That said, 10 years on the road, 50 weeks a year, 5 days a week is brutal. When I hit 2100 billables in November (and we don’t bill partial hours) and still could not get pregnant I knew it was time to leave. When I was crying every Sunday night, that did it. Even though I didn’t have a job, I quit.

    LOVE:
    I work in a field I believe in, and I’m surrounded by really intelligent and interesting people who are so much more unbelievably smarter than I am. If I leave at 5, the office is dark. If I email in because my son is sick, I get kind notes of sympathy and no expectations of availability. People think I’m odd when I email at 10p at night.

    ADJUSTMENT:
    I got pregnant 6 weeks after I left the firm, but I got off the road about 3 months before that. For most of those three months, I traveled a little (it’s hard to get out of your system), I watched massive runs of Law & Order, and I slept. A lot. I was so completely fried I would just start crying for no reason. I went into therapy. I lost weight and got healthy. And then I had my kids.

    When I transitioned from SAHM/grad student/part-time instructor to full-time at the university, it happened so quickly. My biggest concern was childcare. I dove into my first role too quickly and came off too strong. Now I’m in a new role and am more cautious, and am more careful about work-life balance. My first year I was still working weekends, nights, and 50 hr weeks (a huge improvement over consulting, but still not good). Now I try to leave at a reasonable hour and not work after the kids are in bed. I’m starting to have free time, which is weird.

    ADVICE:
    Save $$ so that you can just leave when it starts to suck. When you’re crying every week, not sleeping, and treating yourself horribly, it’s long past the time to leave. No job is worth your health, sanity, or family. I don’t have the perks I did, but I believe in what I do and who I work for, and I love being with the students when I can. It’s been hard moving from the classroom back to management but I try to still connect with students so I feel real. I didn’t know what I loved because I was so fried and I didn’t see any other way. Oh, and mommy guilt never goes away. Whether I was working 10 hours a week or 50… you just get used to it. I have a very famous friend with a high profile job, and when she told me she feels mommy guilt (and she does crazy things to get much more time with her kids than most working moms), it really hit home that I was ok and my family was ok.

    Favorite resources:
    I like this blog, and WSJ’s The Juggle, but I haven’t found many resources helpful. I read a lot of Harvard Business School cases and articles, but that’s my job. I also read a lot of trashy romances because after two masters degrees and 20 years of working, I can :-)

  15. Professor and teacher trainer for 10 years.

    Lawyer for 5 years, 2 years civil, 3 years securities.

    My last great job at a university included 4 months of paid vacation and other
    great perqs. I also miss public speaking every day, the autonomy and creativity, and how grateful students were.

    Law has challenging work, higher salaries and earnings potential, and some wonderful nerds passionate about our field.

    The adjustment has been terrible. I had no idea it would be this hard. People go straight through school and become lawyers. Many of them are insufferable. My legal education and work has opened up new experiences that never would have otherwise been available to me. However, it can be an incredibly painful transition into the law. If you are going to do what I did and ditch a successful career for law, go in with eyes wide open.

    Law is a field that women leave in their mid-20s and early 30s. The women in law school and the law tend to be hyper socialized middle class and upper middle class white women. It is kind of a Japanese tea lady situation, the women make the men feel comfortable and everyone expects the women to leave and some guy to take care of her. You will never meet so many people who act like divorce is something that happens to other people. The men are not used to being around working women in their 30s and 40s. The few women who persevere can be amazingly generous.

    The culture of the field can be oppressively middle class and upper middle class.

    Advice I wish I had gotten: Take a bar prep class before 1L. Work for judges.

    Advice for others: Go to a school in a big city and work during the day, go to classes at night. Try different fields. See if litigation or desk law is right for you before you graduate. Know that some of the most prestigious options are also the most tedious and dull. Realize that you are preparing for a job. If you do not like the work, if you cannot handle the tedium and the scut work, it does not matter how well you do on exams and in law review or moot court. You will be miserable as an attorney. Be nice to everyone. There is a difference between nice and manipulative. Join clubs, stay physically fit, learn how to work a room, host an event, and maintain relationships. Forgive yourself. Learn how to recover from failure. Develop a great sense of humor. Volunteer for things, and recognize opportunities in things that other people do not want to do. Good luck!

  16. I have recommended this book here before, but this thread is right on point. For lawyers trying to figure whether they want to stay in law or leave, or possibly switch practice areas, Michael Melcher’s book “The Creative Lawyer” is excellent. It may seem expensive for a paperback ($27 at Amazon), but I found it worth every dollar.

    The author also guest-posted on Marci Alboher’s NYT “Shifting Careers” blog a number of times while she was still there. Here is one post, which also has links to several others at the bottom:
    http://shiftingcareers.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/a-board-of-advisers-for-your-life/?_r=0

  17. Excited yet Terrified :

    I’m in the process of changing career industries right now, and I’m terrified! I’m a senior at a major top 25 university (I’m staying as anonymous here as I can!) and I’m majoring in theatre design with a minor in business. I thought I wanted to work in the entertainment industry as a designer, but I realized after 6 years of bad internships and long production hours, I’m not happy. I feel like I’m letting my life pass me by, and all the things I wanted to do have been put on the side because I’m so busy working on productions. I’ve never had a boyfriend, I see my friends once a month, I don’t make enough money to get by and I feel like I’m a burden on my parents. I feel overworked, under appreciated, and frustrated by the toxicity of the kind of people entertainment attracts.
    Taking business classes as been a blessing. It’s given me the confidence to realize that I am smart in addition to being creative, which is something I never thought of myself being. And I really do love the culture of business. The structured environments, the people are more relatable to my personality, and I love the intellectual challenge. The promise of better job security and more money than working in a entertainment is nice too.
    I don’t see this as giving up on my dreams, because I chased my dreams. I’m good at what I do (did). I think sometimes our dreams change, and to me that is scary. I’ve always known what I wanted to be, and now I don’t. But I do know what kind of life I want, and I am working with my school’s career center to figure things out. My biggest fears are what my parents/ professors will think of me, and that with my major I won’t be competitive enough to find an internship or job, or eventually apply to an MBA program. That’s my rant. It was nice to get it all out.

  18. BigLaw Refugee :

    To the poster who asked how you can tell whether it’s the job or the company: think about what you like and dislike about the job. Network with others who are in similar jobs in other companies and ask them what their jobs are like, and what they like and dislike. Your goal is to get a sense of a) what your job will be like in a few years if you stick with it (most have a higher percentage of real thinking and meaningful interactions with people who need your advice as you get more senior), and b) how your work might be different at a different company in the same field.

    Obviously, if what’s driving you crazy is that specific people are very unpleasant to deal with, criticizing you or yelling, then it’s just the company – that’s not normal. I worked at a law firm that is notoriously hard on its associates, but the people I worked with were generally pleasant. It is part of the nature of law firm work, however, that long hours, short deadlines and perfectionism permeate the culture – my bosses had high expectations per that culture, but were generally diplomatic about criticism and made some effort to show appreciation for my work. To get away from the high expectations, you want to look for smaller firms, in-house and/or government jobs (if you’re a lawyer – I’m sure there are similar variations in every profession).

    To the poster who wasn’t sure her expectations were realistic: I am excited to go to work many days and only dread it on rare occasions when I happen to have an annoying project to deal with. My work offers meaning, intellectual challenge, interactions with (mostly) bright and nice coworkers, and a lot of autonomy. I was lucky to get this government job and am also lucky to have a boss that I click with well, and even so there are days when I don’t love my job, but I think it should be possible to find a job where you are excited at least some of the time.

  19. It’s nice to have the security of a day job in the office. But I often dream of loosing the office politics.

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