Once upon a time, you dreamed about having this career.
Like any love affair, though, that first flare of passion is temporary. Reality sets in. The glamor and excitement eventually give way to routine and work. Maybe the love is still there, but you have to work to keep it alive.
Are you feeling like you’re well past the honeymoon period in your career?
Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between a boring daily slog or a difficult career move. It’s possible to fall in love with your legal career again.
In this guide, we’ll go through the three phases of rekindling your passion with your work.
Let’s get started.
Part 1: dig deeper
Love is a deeply personal thing. Before you start trying any of the actions we list in this article, you must understand what’s going on in your unique situation.
Begin by answering this question: what made you want to pursue this career in the first place?
Most people don’t end up in law by accident. It takes a lot of work and, if you’re an attorney, years of study. What made you want to do that?
It’s okay if that original idea no longer motivates you, or if your needs and desires have changed. You can still love your job, even if the original reasons you wanted it are no longer relevant. Just look at Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. She started her law career to impress a man, but that wasn’t what motivated her to stick around.
Okay, maybe the Hollywood example isn’t the best, but the point still stands. Your relationship with your career is deep and complex.
Do some soul searching
Are you ready to love your work again, or do you have some mental and emotional blocks that you need to work through before you can do that? It’s possible that your job isn’t even the problem.
Everyone goes through periods when it’s difficult to maintain a healthy mindset. Try journaling or meditation to work through the mental clutter and identify your deeper needs.
If you struggle to do this alone, counseling is a good option. There are lots of counseling options available for legal professionals.
Self reflection is important because it helps you identify exactly what you are feeling towards your career right now. When you understand the feeling, you can get to the root of the thing you need to find love again. For example:
- I feel bored — I need new challenges
- I feel lonely — I need better relationships with people
- I feel frustrated — I need to remove blockers
- I feel like I’m unfulfilled — I need better alignment between work and my values
Most likely, you have a lot of positive feelings towards your career, too. Get in touch with those so that you can build on that foundation.
When you’re ready, turn your attention outwards and look closely at your work environment.
Take an honest look at your work life
You probably already have a mental list of complaints about your job. Sort through those things to find the real problems that need to be fixed.
- What problems do you constantly need to work around to do your job?
- How does the culture at your company make you feel?
- Do you have all of the skills and tools you need to do your job?
- How often do you feel bored with the work you do?
- How often are you recognized for doing a great job?
- How often do you feel like recognizing others for their excellent work?
- Would you be happier if you changed your…
- team or supervisor?
Working conditions make a big difference. For example, if one of your managing partners drives you nuts, that can drain all the joy from your work.
Fortunately, both internal and external factors can be fixed.
Part 2: take action
Changes don’t have to be big to create a meaningful difference.
The answers you found in part 1 are your personal guide. As you read through this list of ideas, focus on your own needs. Treat this list as inspiration, not strict instructions.
Find what energizes you
When you stop loving your job, burnout is often the culprit. Get back your enthusiasm by finding the things that make you feel alive, both at work and at home.
Take the time to do more of those things.
If that means that you need to start a passion project at work in addition to your current workload, that’s fine. Talk to your peers and free up some space to do that.
Often, the things that make you feel most enthusiastic are not work-related. That’s awesome. You should set healthy boundaries so that your work life doesn’t take over your private time. Go ahead and cheat on your job. In this case, “cheating” will make it easier to love the time you spend at work.
Create a motivating morning routine
The way you start your day sets the tone. Do you hit snooze four times and barely make it to your desk on time, or do you linger over your coffee and appreciate the morning?
When you focus on your personal priorities as soon as you wake up, you shift your mindset in an important way. Instead of your work being the reason you got out of bed, your job becomes just one of the things you’re going to do in your day.
Create time for yourself first thing in the morning.
Some people like to set aside 15 minutes to read a positive book. You might prefer to make a healthy breakfast for your family, go for a walk, or catch up on the news. Choose a morning activity that you love and start every day with that great feeling.
Seek new challenges
One of the most exciting things about starting a new career is the challenge of learning, achieving, and growing. That doesn’t have to stop just because you’ve been doing this for years.
There are lots of ways to grow within your current position.
Try taking on new responsibilities, even if they’re not strictly related to your job. For example, you could partner with a charitable organization and find ways to promote their cause through your firm.
If you simply don’t have the time to tackle something new, perhaps your challenge should be workflow optimization. After all, nobody is more qualified to figure out how to do your job more efficiently than you are. Bring the excitement back by looking at your job with a fresh perspective.
Stop doing things that you hate
There will always be parts of your job that aren’t very fun, but odds are good that you can cut out at least some of the most irritating tasks.
Make a list of the things you hate to do. Include everything — chores you don’t want to handle (like ordering office supplies), aspects of your job (like billing difficult clients), and things that come with office life (like listening to your coworker complain about their spouse).
Decide whether those things need to be done at all. Yes, clients need to get bills, but nobody needs to listen to gossip and complaining. Drop anything that isn’t necessary.
For the things that must happen, determine whether they need to be done by you.
Work with your peers to trade tasks. They probably have chores that they hate, too, and those might not be so annoying for you.
Consider hiring a virtual assistant or bringing in an intern to handle less specialized items.
Build relationships with your coworkers
Even if the work itself is uninspiring, you can find satisfaction and fulfillment by forging close relationships with others at your company.
The old-school attitude of “I’m here to get the job done, not make friends,” is both outdated and unhealthy. You should make friends with your coworkers, and that includes people at different seniority levels.
Yes, there will probably be conflicts that arise from personal disputes. However, those conflicts are generally minor, especially when you compare them to the benefits of strong interpersonal relationships:
- You’re more creative
- You’re happier and healthier
- There’s better teamwork and collaboration
- Your firm will have higher retention rates and better morale
- Everyone is more productive
Customize your workspace
Your work environment has a profound impact on your mood and satisfaction.
Whether you work from home or in the office, you can make your workday more pleasant by upgrading your work station. This might even be an expense that your firm is willing to cover.
Make your work area comfortable in whatever way works best for you. Decorate with pictures of family and reminders of the things you love, or take time each morning to clear off your desk so that there’s nothing to distract you. Play music if you like the background noise — just use headphones if you’re in a shared space.
Invest in ergonomic furniture and equipment. A comfortable chair, a nice keyboard, and an appropriate monitor setup go a long way.
Give yourself a quiet place to focus when you need it. In an office, that might mean that you shut your door or work from a private meeting room when you need uninterrupted time. At home, try to have a work area away from distractions. If that’s not possible, set boundaries with family members and come up with creative strategies to make things work.
When it’s time to change, do it
Once you recognize a piece of your career that isn’t working for you, take action right away to change it.
Sometimes that’s hard. When you’re not at the right firm, it’s a tough decision to make a move, but it’s even harder to stay in the wrong place.
Change is scary. However, it’s worth the risk. Start with a little bit of courage and you’re well on your way to falling in love with your legal career again.
Part 3: manage your relationship with your work
Once you bring the passion back to your career, there’s a real risk that all of the energy you put into your work can lead to burnout.
All healthy relationships have boundaries. The suggestions in this section will help you set those limits so that your love affair can continue for years to come.
Stay open and get inspired
When you have an open attitude, you embrace curiosity and welcome new ideas and experiences. Openness is vital because this is how you’ll spot exciting opportunities and stay out of those boring ruts.
Don’t just wait for things to come to you. Seek inspiration by taking online courses, joining professional groups, finding a mentor, and intentionally learning new things.
Bring your passion with you
Passion is a fickle thing. If you look for excitement and motivation in your job, you’ll always feel drained when the work gets boring or difficult. Trying to follow that emotion in your work is counterproductive.
Instead, approach your work with passion from within yourself. You can be passionate about doing the best possible job. You can get excited about solving problems, about serving people, or about growing your firm. When you’re fully committed, the passion will follow.
Pay attention to your passions outside of work, too. Those are even more important.
Ask yourself this question: If you had a whole week with no responsibilities, no financial stress, and nothing on the schedule, what would you do with that time?
Maybe that’s something you should do now.
Take your time
You get a lunch break every day. Take it.
If you get paid vacation time each year, take it.
You’re also entitled to breaks during the work day. Take those, too.
No matter how much you love your work, it should never be the only thing on which you spend time. Step away and think about something else.
From now on, train yourself to seek reasons to celebrate at work. Call out big accomplishments and small wins, both from yourself and others. Praise others for their contributions. Recognize the difference that your work makes.
Your work has an impact. Pay attention to all the ways you help your firm and your clients.
Most of all, remember that there are a lot of reasons to fall in love with your career again. Train yourself to look for those.
Bringing the love back to your legal career isn’t a one-time thing. Just like a marriage or a close friendship, you can expect to nurture the relationship pretty much forever.
That’s a beautiful thing.
Over time, the effort you put into building your career will feel less like work and more like an act of love…which it is.