You have found your path.  Few people have the courage to do so.  They prefer to follow a path that is not their own,” said Paulo CoelhoAmber S. Hoffman shares her story about escaping from her law firm here – you can read more here and here.

I practiced law for ten years.  I did the job well and received great reviews.  But I always knew I was an outsider.  I often wondered what would become of me if I were too good at my job.

The partners around me seemed happy enough with their big houses, nice cars, and fancy suits.

They had money to burn.  From where I was sitting, though, they were stretched too thin and overworked, many of them divorced, and aging much too quickly.

I was forced to decide whether this is what I wanted for my life, for my family.  The thought of sitting in that office for another 25 or 30 years was overwhelming.

A Dream Life?

Some people dream of this life.  The money and the title are enough for them.

But I never dreamed of being a lawyer, let alone a lawyer that helped large corporations pay less tax.

And although the money and the title were nice, they never defined me as a person.  I wanted more from life.

How to Enjoy Life?

So I tried to figure out what I actually enjoy doing – I enjoy spending time with my husband, eating great food, and experiencing new things.

Working at a big law firm just didn’t fit the bill.

I needed an out and, with a bit of courage, I found one.

Within My Reach?

I had reached the apex of my career.  I was waiting to hear whether I would make partner at the largest law firm in the world.

On some days, I thought that was what I wanted.  Isn’t that what every big law attorney wants?

And then it happened.  I heard through the grapevine that I would make partner on July 1, in just over 30 days. 

This was a big deal, a huge accomplishment.  The trouble is, I had already decided that I didn’t want this life.  I was a short timer, and I knew that I would not stay long after making partner.  This news threw me into a frenzy of worry.  The knot in my stomach just kept growing.  I felt sick.

I knew that my boss had vouched for me in the partnership process, that he respected and trusted me.  I worried endlessly about what he would think if I quit shortly after I made partner.  What would the other partners think?  What would my colleagues think?  Don’t get me wrong. I wanted to escape, but I didn’t want to destroy relationships that I valued.

Burning Bridges?

I arrived at my apartment that evening and shared my thoughts and feelings with Eric, my husband.  We talked about my “great” news, and he helped me to be certain that our life was on a different path, a better path for us.  As I said before, I was a short timer.

I suppose I just hadn’t fully appreciated how quickly the time to move on would come.

It was then that I decided I would quit the next day.

I waltzed in the next morning and told my boss that I was leaving the firm.  After a brief moment of silence, he said, “What will you do?  What are your plans?”  I told him that I planned to travel and ultimately settle somewhere in Asia, where I would teach yoga or maybe English or sell beers on a beach.

Truth is, I didn’t really know exactly what I would do.  For once in life, it felt surprisingly great not to have a plan.  In the end, he appreciated that I told him when I did.  He admired that I had the courage to go in search of a fulfilling life that makes me truly happy.  I thanked him for not yelling at me.

Saying Goodbye?  Or a Hello to a New Life?

Six weeks later, it was over.  On my last Friday afternoon at the firm, I stood at the threshold of my office, where I had spent so many years, so many hours endlessly working, and smiled.  I knew the next steps would be tough.

I knew that not having a plan would be tough.  But I felt lighter.  One week later, Eric and I were on a plane embarking on a new adventure

What’s in a Title?

You may be wondering why it took me ten years to figure out that I was unhappy.  It didn’t.  I was waiting for partnership – I wanted to “retire” from my career as a partner.  I wanted to know that I could accomplish it.

But in the end, none of this mattered. 

I knew I had made it.  The position was mine for the taking.  I wanted more out of life than just a title.  I escaped.

Do’s and Dont’s

  1. Do save, save, save.  Think about how you spend your money. Is it making you truly happy?  If not, don’t buy it.
  2. Do be true to yourself.  It may sound corny, but be honest about how you feel, about what you want from life.
  3. Do put you and your family first.  You do not owe your boss or your colleagues anything.  Hard but true.
  4. Don’t ignore the feeling in the pit of your stomach – listen to what your gut tells you.
  5. Don’t make excuses.  Your dreams are within your reach – they are not just for the “other guy”.