A true story highlighting the potential risks of staying in a career that doesn’t suit for too long.
The words are those of the individual but I have anonymised for their privacy.
The Beginning and an End
From the age of 12 I’d always wanted to be a lawyer, so I never thought to look at any other careers.
My father had a small regional legal firm where I did my training contract. Whilst it might sound easy working in a family firm, it was far from it. I found myself thrown in at the deep end. At the age of 22, on the very first day of my training contract, I found myself in court bringing a case against a fully-fledged barrister. It was a far cry from being molly-coddled. After I qualified, I moved to a Top30 regional firm which was a big jump and rather daunting.
While I was doing my training contract I became very ill. Doctors initially thought it was just a bad virus but it continued for so long, I was tested for everything. I was ultimately diagnosed with ME(CFS) - for which there was (and is still) no cure. Over a two-year period when I was very ill at one stage in bed for a whole month, I was placed on lots of new drug trials.
Somehow, I lurched to the end of my training contract and qualified as a lawyer and moved to a much bigger firm. In hindsight, it was probably too much of a leap and it really took it out of me.
I’ve always been ambitious and hard-working, and I loved the subject matter but as my legal career progressed, there was an increasing a focus on maximising time and billings. Every minute was billable and it went against the grain.
At the age of 29, after falling seriously again and under-going endless brain, heart and lung function tests, I received a second diagnosis of ME – Chronic fatigue syndrome. I was devastated! My body had been running on adrenalin and my GP told me in no uncertain terms that if I didn’t stop working immediately I would be in hospital before the week was out.
I decided that was the end of my career as a solicitor.
In Tricky In-Between
I arranged a 6-month sabbatical during which time, I became even more seriously ill and ended up resigning. I didn’t work again for 4 years.
I’d burned out doing work that didn’t suit me but my drive and hard-working personality had kept me going. I pushed myself to achieve way too much, too soon in my first career. I used to work to live but that way of working meant that putting myself under pressure was the norm.
I was in my early 30s and all my friends were getting promotions, getting engaged, getting married, having kids and none of that was possible for me. At that time, getting out of bed in the morning was all I could aim for some days.
I’d never considered any other career other than being a solicitor, ever. But I made the decision that when I would go back to work, if I could go back to work, I would definitely not be a solicitor.
I met with a coach and she asked me questions to help shift my brain from searching for something I could do to pay the bills to what I might really like to do. That was a big mental shift. She helped me return to an idea from years ago about helping people through divorce without being a lawyer.
Divorce is a topic that most people don’t want to think about. As I was creating a service that didn’t exist when I started, I needed to get my message out there.
So, I got some Visaprint business cards printed and headed off to my first local networking meeting. The first person I met when I nervously introduced myself wouldn’t accept my business card and scoffed at my title. That knocked my confidence, but I battled on and met some fabulous people who have since helped me in my business so much. It paid to persevere.
My parents divorced when I was a solicitor. My mum was a smart women but needed some extra support through the divorce process. I realised I was explaining things in a way she could understand easily. I bridged the gap that her solicitor couldn’t fill. Mum told me afterwards that she wouldn’t have been able to cope if I hadn’t been by her side. I did that very naturally and it didn’t drain me.
Solicitors can only help with legal advice and that frustrated me in my other career. People in divorce need help on finances, emotions, house, children, practical considerations and just an unbiased ear to listen. I knew based on my experience with my mum that I could offer that.
The New Beginning
I’d never seen myself as self-employed and couldn’t identify with being an entrepreneur. Stability and security were a big part of my personality.
The coach actually found me my first client and told me that I would receive a call tomorrow – a lady who needed help with her divorce.
With no business card, no website, absolutely nothing, we spoke on the phone and agreed to meet for coffee. She needed help with the financial disclosure information needed for her divorce but didn’t really know where to start. When I offered to come to her house and help her through it, she burst into tears and gladly accepted my offer. I felt a sense of sheer relief that there was a way I could help people without spending years re-training.
I felt that I still had skills that others would find helpful and felt reassurance that I still could be useful.
I learned that I had no office skills as I’d always had a secretary. I had to learn a great deal about myself and learn new skills that would help me to be able to do something different.
I started courses on how to start a new business and began slowly to learn new skills like networking. I also did some training in coaching. I’m not a business person…I wasn’t a business person but I started very slowly. I loved that I didn’t need capital to set up this business. There were no barriers.
I know I’ve done the right thing every morning. It’s lovely! I get lots of really lovely pieces of feedback from my clients that prove to me that I’m making a positive difference to people going through a difficult time. That might sound nambie pambie but I’m confident that I will keep doing this for a very long time.
I received the most wonderful email from one of my clients years ago that said ‘Not all superheros wear capes!’ which I have kept in a special place.
I’m surprised by how much I love being a business owner. I just love the autonomy. The freedom to decide when and how I work.
I love that I built my own model in an industry that didn’t even exist when I started. And that I can do business however I feel.
Self-care wasn’t part of my journey but believe me it is now! I’m not perfect at it but I totally understand its importance for every aspect of life. We just don’t prioritise it enough and it has knock-on impacts. My mantra is ‘Be kind to yourself - emotionally, physically and mentally’. If we don’t put on our own oxygen masks first we can’t help others.
I regret that there was no real career coaching available when I was in my teens. Although I was fixed on being a solicitor I should have looked at other areas. Areas that might have worked with my personality and talents.
If I had to go through it again, I’d ask for help earlier.