A third year call’s secrets to finding a job he loves

love-job A law student, JD, is scribbling furiously on a piece of paper. Every so often he raises his gaze, sips haphazardly at his now lukewarm coffee, and looks out into the distance deep in thought. He nods, turns back to the paper, and scratches out the line he’s just written. The scribbling begins again.

The work he was doing was incredibly important. It was time to apply for articles.

Now if you’ve been through the process of finding articles, you’re probably thinking that JD was working on his job applications. And in a sense he was, but not one word he scribbled was to be put in a resume or cover letter. Nor was he writing out a list of firms to apply to.

So what was he doing that could be so important?

He was completing a crucial, and often overlooked, part of applying for any job: he was thinking about what was important to HIM. And not only was he writing down what was important to him in a career, but in life as well. He was writing two carefully thought out lists; two lists that, with slight revisions, would serve him well for years to come.

Know what’s important to you.

When I spoke with JD a few years later, in his third year of being called, he had recently started working at a new firm. He told me that he loves the work, has a great working environment, is inspired by the people he works with, has great mentorship, and that his job integrates with the rest of his life in a positive way. It sounded like he actually loved his life; that he had found what we are all searching for; that he was one of those lucky few.

But was he really just lucky? Or was there some secret formula to his success? I had to find out.

As it turned out, his path started out in a pretty typical way. He articled at a big firm. He worked the long hours and he worked hard. He didn’t love it but he didn’t hate it. He told me that he actually liked the craziness of it part of the time, and that he would have accepted a position as an associate if they offered. But at the same time he also knew it wasn’t the job he wanted for life. It wasn’t really in line with those lists he had created about what was important to him. So he decided he would put in his time for a few years, learn a lot, and then get out and do something he really loved that allowed him to have a more balanced life. Sound familiar?

Although he knew he would accept an associate position, he also knew that there were no guarantees and that there was a possibility that there would be no job after articling.  So he worked hard, but he didn’t just focus his efforts on the work that came across his desk. He also worked hard in other areas. And those efforts turned out to make a huge difference in finding the job he loves.

Network like crazy.

JD networked like crazy. And not in the bad schmoozy sense of the word. He developed meaningful relationships with real people – people at his firm, friends and colleagues outside of his firm, and through involvement in organizations such as the CBA. When the time came after articling to find another job, those contacts turned out to be an invaluable resource.

Cultivate an open mind.

When I asked JD what the most challenging obstacle was in finding an associate position as a freshly called lawyer, it surprised me somewhat to hear that the cut-throat Vancouver job scene wasn’t top of the list, although it was clear that he had been affected by that reality just like the rest of us.

“The biggest challenge was getting over the fact that I held myself back a lot”, he said. When I asked him what he meant by that he explained that he had had to learn to be more open and to consider trying things that were outside of his current view of what would be the perfect job. He had to learn to stop looking at every job as permanent, to stop putting too much pressure on it, and to stop stressing about whether it was the perfect choice.

Ultimately, he went back to his lists. He compared the available options with what was important to him, and, as long as he could check off enough of the boxes, he would consider it a good choice. By approaching the job market with an open mind and the view that it didn’t have to be forever, and by reaching out to the connections he had made, he was able to land himself a job that was aligned with many of the things that were important to him.

Reassess and realign.

It wasn’t a job in the area of law he was most interested in, but he took the position with the attitude that “you never know if its going to be the thing that you love”. He was also able to take comfort in the fact that it satisfied many of the things that were important to him. So he gave it a chance; but just that, a chance.

Although the job was great in many ways, he didn’t just settle in with the view that this was “it” and that he had to make it work no matter what. He frequently reassessed his situation to see whether it was still in line with what was important to him. “I kept those lists in my back pocket,” he told me.  And because of this self-reflection, after a year he was able to see that the position wasn’t leading him towards a future where all of the boxes could be checked off.

Take Action.

So what did he do? He could have taken the route of self-pity, or simply have accepted the less than ideal circumstances and told himself those self-defeating words, “It could always be worse”. But he didn’t. He gathered his courage and the knowledge that he deserved something more, and instead of feeling trapped and frustrated, or getting down about his situation, he took action.

He pulled out his lists and reworked them with the help of a personal development coach, he reached out to the invaluable contacts he had fostered over the years, and he considered all options with an open mind. And through this approach, he ultimately became aware of and accepted an opportunity that would enable him to check off more of the boxes in his lists than ever before.

So is JD just lucky?

Despite his modestly, and that he told me that timing and luck were factors that contributed to his success, it was clear to me by the end of the interview that the “luck” and the “timing” he had referred to were things he had largely created for himself.

Work hard, not just at work, but at creating your own life.

JD had not just stumbled upon his current job by accident. It didn’t just magically drop into his lap straight out of law school. And he wasn’t born with all of the right connections. JD was just a regular guy. But he was a regular guy who worked hard, not just at work, but at creating his own life. He worked hard at figuring out what was important to him. He worked hard at keeping an open mind and trying new things. He worked hard at making connections and cultivating relationships, and not just for the purpose of immediately getting something from them. He worked hard at being aware of whether he was straying from what was important to him by frequently assessing whether his current life circumstances were in line with what was important to him. And most importantly, he worked hard at having the courage to pursue other avenues and to make changes when that alignment was no longer there.

What we can all learn from JD’s experiences is that happiness is not something reserved for the “lucky”.  Its something that we can all achieve with a healthy dose of self-reflection and some old fashioned hard work.

So let’s stop blaming our misfortunes on being “unlucky”. Let’s start taking responsibility for our current situation, and start creating our own paths. Let’s develop a good sense of what’s important to us. Let’s keep an open mind. Let’s cultivate the courage to make changes.

Let’s get out there and create our own luck. We all deserve it.