“You are too nice to be a lawyer.” A partner at my old law firm told me. I had given up a small advantage – which would not in any way sway the outcome of the case – in a litigation battle to provide basic kindness and decency to someone battling cancer. I hope that doesn’t sound self-congratulatory. It was really nothing. That the partner thought it was “something” illustrates his ruthlessness, not my niceness.
At the time, I thought it was an odd comment from a career counseling perspective. But when I reflected on my happy second career that followed as well as upon my career counseling clients, I realized that while the precise message wasn’t spot on, the overall advice was solid: “your values do not match with what is required by a large national law firm so you shouldn’t be here.” If the advice was more general, it would be: “don’t stay in a career that does not reflect who you are.”
Recently, Evan, a young engineer from the New London, exclaimed that “I really am an engineer.” We had explored various career paths because he was wise enough to wonder if he should stay in his path forever even though he was reasonably happy in his work. In his case, he fit being an engineer, he just needed a few adjustments to his current job for more happiness.
On the flip side, Kerry, a 33 year old teacher from New London County, came in for a career counseling session because she did not feel “like a teacher”, as she was just going through the motions. She didn’t tell anyone because she thought such a sentiment “sounded bad”. Being authentic never does. She entered teaching, she admitted, because she wanted summers off and the idea that her work day would end at 3. She felt like a fraud because even though she tried her best to serve her students – she was not lazy – she didn’t really like teaching and, more to the point, did not think it was an embodiment of who she was. We got to planning her next career. No need to keep faking it.
Design your life. Start by designing your career.