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Is Your Professional Identity Getting in the Way of Your Dreams

You don't like practicing law, and you've decided you want to explore alternative careers. At first, you're excited. You're thinking about the possibilities and dreaming about your exciting new life.

Then all of a sudden the whole thing seems overwhelming. What's going on? Your professional identity has you in its kung fu grip. "What professional identity?" you ask. "It's not like I've been practicing law my whole life.

" It doesn't matter. Your professional identity was formed in law school. There were four major influences: 1. The substance of your classes. You do not spend three years studying the disastrous consequences of people's actions without developing a healthy dose of risk aversion. 2.

The requirement to be omniscient. "I don't know" is an unacceptable answer in law school classes. It's also an unacceptable answer regarding what you want to do with your law degree too.

An unwillingness to appear uncertain propels you through interview season and right through the doors of a law firm. 3. Everyone else's expectations. While you were in law school being trained to think like a lawyer, everyone--your family, your friends, the guy who cuts your parents' lawn—was programming their minds about you. To them you're a lawyer and you wanting to do anything else does not compute.

4. Narrowing interests. All of your opportunities—classes, extracurricular activities (even the law school musical!) revolve around the law. There are a variety of opportunities, for sure, but you are encouraged to take your personality and your interests and use them in the pursuit of law.

Once you get out of law school, the shaping of your professional identity continues. You spend your days at the firm, make friends at the firm, sometimes marry other lawyers. While this makes sense (it's where you spend all of your time), it's problematic because it further cements your professional identity as a lawyer.and nothing else. Does that mean you're stuck for life? Of course not. Here are some quick tips to help you deal with the resistance caused by your professional identity: - Take it slow.

You don't have to leave the firm tomorrow (as much as you'd like to do so). Explore what interests you—read about it, talk to others who are doing it, imagine yourself doing it. You've got to build up muscle to take that leap.

- Don't spend too much time in analysis-land. I know, I know, that's why they pay you the big bucks but too much analysis kills dreams. Rather than thinking about whether you'd like to do something, try it. Take a class, shadow someone who's doing it, volunteer.

Spend more time taking action than thinking about taking action. - Meet people who are doing what you might be interested in doing. Remember, being surrounded by lawyers is part of what helped you create your professional identity. Start hanging out with people who are doing what you want to do. These people will encourage you that there is a whole world out there beyond the law.

and a brand new professional identity made just for you. © 2008 Monica R. Parker Copyright (c) 2008 Monica Parker.

The career coach for lawyers, Monica R. Parker, J.D., helps unhappy lawyers find and pursue fulfilling work outside of the law. She is the author of the soon-to-be-published book Unhappy Lawyer: A Roadmap to Finding Meaningful Work Outside of the Law (Sourcebooks, July 2008). Get a copy of her FREE Report, "7 Reasons to Leave the Practice of Law…And What You Will Find On the Other Side!" at LeavingTheLaw.com

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