Martin Underwood left the world of law to join On Purpose (a one-year program training leaders for social enterprise).

Now, having done the program, he explores where to go next. 

An accidental lawyer

A year into practise as a criminal law barrister, I knew that this wasn’t for me.

I should have realised that I hadn’t thought about my career choice at university hard enough when someone read through a job application that could have been anyone’s.

My job application had all the standard waffle about the importance of upholding the rights of the individual against the state and being a mouthpiece for those who might not be able to speak so well for themselves, but I didn’t get the reality of the job at the time.

I didn’t get that I would be representing guilty people the majority of the time and that I would be part of a system that did not serve offenders, victims or witnesses well.

In short, I didn’t value the outcomes of the job enough.

Escaping law

After several months of aimless abstract thinking and hypotheticals, I came across On Purpose on Escape.

WOW! It offered a place to gain management experience at purpose driven organisations; learn from talented, committed trainers, mentors and coaches deeply committed to my development, and have the ability to explore my interests around like-minded people.

It didn’t disappoint and I had the best professional year of my life developing some passions in the process.

Combining passions

Christoph Warrack is a huge believer that you find your element when you combine two or more of your passions. In his case, this was cinema and homeless people – he created Open Cinema (a national network of film clubs programmed by and for homeless and vulnerable people). I really believe in this line of thinking.

When the perfect job wasn’t there after On Purpose, I stopped looking so hard and I tried to create one for myself by starting projects.

I have a huge interest in the application of games thinking and design to learning, in particular to video-delivered secondary school education and online mentoring.

The reality of escaping

I’ve tried to find organisations that would benefit from these and help them integrate these offerings. It hasn’t come off for various reasons but I’ve learnt a lot, developed myself, met great people and opened more doors.

Starting little projects that take up a manageable time has been a great way of testing my interests and enjoyment. But reality bites when I’m earning so much less than my peers and don’t feel like I’m contributing in a meaningful way to something bigger than myself, whether that be a great team, a great cause or something else.

So I’m back to looking and the projects will keep simmering on the side.

My biggest job-hunting mistake

I’ve tried to draw up a comprehensive framework of what I want in a job: 

  • The social impact of the organisation;
  • The impact of the role, my interest in the subject matter;
  • Whether I’m any good at and enjoy the activities, the team, the environment and, of course, the money.

I scored them from 0-10, counted them up and performed a sensitivity analysis. This is painstaking and in my experience can be inaccurate where I will never know enough to make these choices.

This is one of several mistakes that I’ve made. I’ve learnt to trust my gut feeling a lot more now.

What I’ve learned from it

I’ve learnt not to be too picky at times by insisting on a job that combines technology and the secondary education sector.

I’ve learnt not to be too broad, getting for offers for jobs that upon reflection just aren’t right wasting my time and, more importantly, the time of small organisations with precious resources.

I’ve learnt not to run so far away from what I was doing before in law and reject it out of hand. The provision of legal advice comes in many different forums that I’m now exploring.

My current approach

As a result, I’ve become more relaxed about this and let the journey unfold and take opportunities that come up.

I will continue to find role models I admire and want to emulate.

I will continue to take Steve Jobs’ advice and look in the mirror and ask whether I want to do this today as the best way to test things out.

I will continue to think about Howard Gardner’s quote from the Good Work Project:

“All of us need to take stock of our own situations, weigh the various alternatives in light of our own values and goals, and make decisions that are optimal under the circumstances and that we can live with in the long run. Personal alignment is a necessary precursor to finding one’s purpose(s), to doing good work in all aspects of life, and to determining what will be a good life based on one’s values, beliefs, needs, desires and gifts.”

Any questions or advice for Martin? Post in the comments section below… 

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