One of the most common questions I get from students: wait, so you quit your first job as a lawyer? My one-liner response: Yes, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
My story isn’t all that different from many young lawyers. Since the age of 16, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. The goal was clear and the path was certain. It wasn’t easy by any stretch, but there I was - in my robes getting called to the Bar.
With law school behind me, I got settled in and began taking carriage of my own files. My clients were largely low-income immigrants, and I took pride in the fact that I was doing work that felt impactful. However, after several months of working into the late evening 6-7 days a week, I began questioning my life choices.
I became short tempered with the people I loved, found myself taking medication to manage recurring stomach ulcers, and barely holding onto any sort of social life. Classic signs of burnout.
So I did the thing that I’ve never done before - I quit. I quit because I knew there was only one person responsible for my health and happiness: me.
And you’d think things would get better, but it only got worse. For the first time in my life - I didn’t have a plan. And everyone else around me seemed to have it all figured out. Layer on the ever-present guilt that I was letting down my parents, who sacrificed everything for my education, and of course, the nagging feeling that I was making a massive mistake. Who’s going to hire a lawyer fresh out of law school, with barely a year of experience?
And yet, it was the best decision I ever made.
Here’s why: There’s opportunity in not having a plan. It’s simple - if you have tunnel vision about what you think your career is supposed to look like, you’re going to miss the possibilities of what it could be.
There are people who view their careers as “ladders”, where their career path is based on moving up in the organization. They can clearly see the path ahead of them and understand what it takes to get to the next level. However, I fall into the category often referred to as “mapping”. Like a map, my career is non-linear and I seek interesting roles, companies, and skills. Like traveling to foreign places, I enjoy the challenge and discomfort because I believe this is how I grow personally and professionally.
By not having a plan, my career has been wide-ranging, and most importantly – fun. I have also met some of the best people, who I consider close friends. Just a quick overview of my what I managed to do without a plan: I worked in capital markets for one of the biggest banks in Canada - without a lick of experience in finance. I was a consultant for a Big 4 consulting firm - without a MBA or accounting degree (don’t get me started on how much I despise excel and Powerpoint!). Funny enough, in the last two years, I ventured back into law and work in-house despite years spent out of practice.
I say all of this to provide an alternative to the constant pressure many young students (and lawyers) feel during the early stages of their career. There are some folks who know exactly what they want for their career - nothing wrong with that. However, for those who don’t know what their next move is: celebrate the freedom in that. Maybe do the thing you’re not expected to do - or the thing you’re most curious about. If my career is an example of anything – it’s the fact that there’s a world of possibility out there.
Taslenna Shairulla is an in-house lawyer for Capital One Canada, where she practices corporate/commercial and privacy law. She is also a blogger, who uses storytelling to highlight BIPOC owned brands and businesses. Find her on Instagram: @whattassyknows.