By Dolan Williams, Esq.
Like the ball dropping in Times Square, few things are as predictable as making a New Year’s resolution of pursuing a new career — and giving up on it five minutes later. The resolutions themselves are not problematic; the problem is a lack of a clear plan and follow through. Anyone who has ever followed through on a resolution to upgrade their career knows that they become a happier professional. I am proud to say I have done this.
Years ago, I went through the metamorphosis of a major career change. I can attest that, despite its rewards, it was extraordinarily difficult because it took me so long to realize that I needed a plan and to follow through with it if I wanted something different in my career.
When I went from being a college administrator with limited career aspects to a civil litigator with my own private practice, the biggest lesson I learned was the importance of figuring out what I wanted and how I was getting there. Strong coffee helped a bit, too. Nonetheless, there are a few tips that you can use to smooth your journey into 2018.
1. Know yourself to set your compass
It is impossible to get started on anything unless you know yourself better. Start by seeing yourself through your own lens, instead of how those around you see you. One trick to help get started on this is to list your top career priorities. No matter how successful of a career you may have, if it does not align with your priorities, dissatisfaction is guaranteed.
For example, if a career priority is to be home by 6 o’clock, a career that requires travel may not fit. With your priorities set, the compass is set for your new career journey. My priority was always my family, but I had no career priorities. One Saturday in 2010, I sat down and made a list. I wanted a career that had security, opportunity, flexibility, and purpose, and I was going to pursue that no matter what.
2. Show yourself you can do this
Once you have your priorities straight, do not wait until you feel completely confident to act on starting your new career. Just go for it. Remember: Confidence can only come from preparation, practice, review and repetition. If you are doing anything new, actions must come first before the feelings of confidence come. Show yourself that you are made of something special.
3. Trust yourself to get it done
As an attorney, people trust me to help them out of some of the most trying situations in their lives. As a debt defense attorney, one of my first clients was a man who had been sued for over $10,000 on a past-due debt. This amount made up about 30 percent of his yearly salary; he was obviously terrified. Because this was my first time litigating a case in court, I was obviously terrified, too. However, I controlled my fear. I had to remind myself that this person trusted me and I had to turn my fear into action. As you embark on a career change, remember that you are just as smart and capable as anyone else, so trust yourself.
4. Be yourself and you will always win
My wife was pregnant with our fourth child when I decided to leave higher education and become an attorney. My wife was home with the kids, all of whom were under 5, and I was the breadwinner. Although lawyering fit with my career priorities at the time, the prospect of going to an expensive, daytime-only law school was unrealistic because it was not aligned with my family-first priority. This meant I had to do something unusual. I searched online for days, looking for a night class I could attend, when I came upon Concord Law School at Kaplan University, the nation’s first fully online law school and an affordable option.
The choice of this non-traditional legal education worked well for me, allowing me to work and take care of my family while earning my degree. I then graduated, passed the California bar exam, and went job hunting to see if I could find what I wanted in a legal career. I landed a job with a prominent, mid-sized law firm (and I had two other job offers, to boot).
After starting my own practice a couple of years later, I finally found the stability, opportunity, flexibility, and sense of purpose that eluded me for years. By being myself and finding what worked for me and no one else, I made the right choice. You can do the same.
— Dolan Williams, Esq. is a civil litigation attorney in San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.