By Kelly Wilson
On my first day as a practicing attorney, my then-boss suggested I read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, a very on trend book at the moment. What’s funny is that I actually already had the book and had decided it wasn’t for me after Chapter 1. If you aren’t already familiar, The Wall Street Journal succinctly and accurately states that the book “offers good insights into how people don personal armor to shield themselves from vulnerability.” In other words, the book focuses on how being vulnerable, stepping outside of our own comfort zone, and letting go of fear will lead to opportunities and increased personal satisfaction and happiness rather than all of the consequences we spend so much time fretting over. For some reason, professionals all over the nation have hailed the book as being revolutionary but because I consider myself to actually be an open book, I couldn’t see how I could benefit from reading any further. At that point, I put it away.
During my first few weeks at the law firm, I was excited to finally be practicing after taking nearly 3 years post-graduation to take the bar and actually start working as an attorney. I was doing exactly what I was supposed to: I worked hard and received good reviews as I progressed in my skill level and ability to work on my own. Nagging at the back of my mind however, was a feeling of discontent. I was a native Oklahoman, working from my own office in a fancy, high-rise in Southern California. I couldn’t understand why I would be feeling anything besides thankful for the opportunity, so I ignored any feeling of doubt.
I continued to ignore the feeling as I missed activities at my son’s school and as I begged neighbors to watch my son because he was ill and I couldn’t miss work. I also ignored it as I decided to give up my volunteer ombudsman position because I couldn’t afford to lose any time and was barely making my billable requirement.
I stopped ignoring it however when I noticed that I wasn’t passionate about the cases I was working on or the clients I was assigned to. I know we can’t be equally passionate about every case that comes across our desk but it was more than that. It was the feeling that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be and when I finally allowed myself to think that, I realized my most overpowering emotion and concern was fear of how my peers, friends, family, and even future employers would judge me if I jumped ship. So again, I ignored any thought of leaving the law firm. I was dedicated to sticking out at least a year.
After three months at the firm, a friend in the community in which I volunteer reached out to me about a position with a national nonprofit. She thought I would be a good fit and didn’t realize I was working as an attorney. She provided me with the job description but I put it aside and didn’t even look at it until a particularly low day a couple of weeks later. That night I decided to review the position description and what I found was a position that seemed to have been written for me. My first thought however, was that I can’t possibly quit such a great position that I was lucky to have found in the first place. My next thought was along the lines of how embarrassing it would be to quit, and finally I came to the realization that although I am extremely vulnerable and open with very personal details about myself, I am not quite so eager to leave the comfort I felt from from following the traditional legal career path.
That same evening, I also decided to read a bit more of the book I had so quickly dismissed. As I read I was able to recognize I was on the path that was expected of a newly licensed attorney but not necessarily the path that made me happy. As a mother, I am much more protective of my time now and want to make sure that the time I do spend away from my son is meaningful, otherwise it’s not worth it. I also tried to think about the cliché question of what would I do for free and at this point in my life it is all the things I do as an ombudsman. That’s what I would do for free and that is one use of my time there is no question as to value.
Let’s just say it was a long night because I also decided to take a chance and submit my cover letter and resume. I heard back the next day and to make the story of a long interview process short, I am happily now the Senior Advisor of Community Development with Blue Star Families. I love what I do because I get to focus on serving military families… I would literally do it for free!
Hopefully I’m not done practicing law forever. In my case, it simply wasn’t the right position and it wasn’t the right time. What I do hope I’m done with is making decisions based on expectations I think other people have for me and instead being able to dare greatly and to practice vulnerability in hopes of being authentic and open in every aspect of my life.