Attorney’s Career Transition: Fight or Flight?

There are very specific highs and lows that come with any new situation which follow the learning curve of adjusting to a new culture. The truth is, it doesn’t apply only to living overseas but is also very applicable to starting a new job. And yep, here I am again. Here’s the picture: For the first few months in a new career,

I’m reminded of a client, a lawyer, who was changing careers. He decided to become a freelance writer, what her considered his “dream job.” At first, he found it challenging, and had no concept that it might actually be beyond him. By the end of 3 months, he’d been in it long enough to know exactly how hard it is, how grossly unprepared he was, and how exhausting it is to change everything in his life. However, he hadn’t been in it long enough to have leapt the hurdle and gained the real experience it takes.

His first response: Bolt. It’s a basic fight or flight reaction to stress, but for some reason culture-shock stress creates only one of those responses – flight. You just want to get out of there. And the truth is, changing careers is a form of culture shock. During this attorney’s career transition, his old job suddenly sounded nice again. His old skills felt familiar and valuable. He still didn’t really speak the language of the new place. And since his new skills were still in their infant stages, his old ones also seem to be the core of his self-esteem. Suddenly, it all just seems too hard. He talked about being too old for this. What ever gave him the idea that this would be a step forward? Suddenly it became painfully clear to him that this was an obvious step backwards. Why didn’t his family warn him? Why didn’t his friends? Why did this company think he’d be able to do this? He fooled them all, and he was  paying the price.

Ok, so I suggested he step back, breathe and relax. As he was going through his attorney’s career transition, this is what I told him:

The first thing to do is to remember that this is the hardest thing anyone ever does. And the fact is, most people don’t have the guts to do it for precisely that reason. Just as people take pets and favorite belongings to new country, you need to take something with you to your new job that reminds you that you were great before. Take time to put up those photos of family. Hang your awards on the wall where you can see them. But mostly, take time for yourself. Do something each day that’s tangible to improve your new skills (the equivalent of learning a new word each day in a new language), and to remind yourself of your old skills. Go to the gym. If you’ve been riding your bike since you were 6, ride your bike. If you’ve been baking cookies since you were in high school, bake cookies. If playing with a chemistry set was something that you’ve always loved, go buy one. Do things that are EASY and TANGIBLE, with real results. It sounds silly, but it works. Pretty soon, you’ll realize that you’re at your 6-month high, your confidence has returned, and you’ve made it through the hardest point in your culture shock.