True Story: When You Take a Wrong Turn in Your Career

by | Apr 2, 2013 | Career Design | 31 comments

T he scenario you fear most is finally summoning the courage to make a change, only to find your new career is far, far worse than what you had before.

As you’ll see below, this is a very valid fear.

This post is a true story of how one of my clients, Emma (not her real name), left a career in music for the money and stability of law, a decision that seemed grounded, rational, and one her family supported.  Unfortunately, the change proved a nightmare: she hated the work, and the money and stability she was chasing never materialized.

Emma has graciously agreed to share her story in the hopes you can learn some lessons and avoid her mistake.

The real question is: how do you know when the risk of career change makes sense?  At the end of the post, I’ll show you how you can get a “free map,” and hopefully prevent any wrong turns of your own.

In her words…

I hate my job.

Some mornings I wake up thinking, “Oh joy. I’ve survived another night. How has my life come to this?”

The thought of spending yet another eight and a half hours of my life, which I will never get back, performing menial, repetitive, unfulfilling, mind-numbing clerical tasks in an environment which has more than its fair share of patronising, pompous lawyers, who think they’re cleverer than they actually are, is soul-destroying.

So how did my life come to this?

Once upon a time, I was happy, hopeful, ambitious, optimistic and energetic. I didn’t know what boredom was.

I spent every moment I could pursuing music, which was my passion. I studied music at university and achieved what I set out to do, namely getting a first class honours degree. When I graduated, I made sure that my high school teachers heard the news because they had been incredibly inspirational. They told me I’d struggle because I wasn’t good enough, and I’d face too much competition from other students who would be better than me.

My mum and dad left school aged 16 with no qualifications and regarded academics with suspicion because “what they’re doing isn’t real work.” Each to their own. I eventually completed a Masters and then won a scholarship to pursue a PhD in music, which was wonderful, and not just because it irritated my parents to no end.

These days they seem to be highly delighted that I have a ‘proper job’ which I hate. Every cloud has a silver lining.

Five years later, I took leave of my senses, quit my PhD and went to law school. This seemed like a good idea at the time but, with hindsight, it was the biggest, fattest, hairiest mistake I’ve ever made in my life. I was under the impression that law was a stable, secure profession and that it was high time for me to get into the real world. At the time, I was sick of academia for reasons which I won’t go into here, suffice to say that I reacted very badly to a series of unfortunate events.

Switching from music to law wasn’t as dramatic as it might appear. Working as a researcher gave me transferable skills such as the ability to research, write well, analyse different viewpoints, and to stand up in front of an audience to present my work.

I talked to lawyers in various fields, did some work experience, and was confident that I was making the right decision. I spent the next eighteen months completing a law conversion course, followed by the Legal Practice Course, with the intention of becoming a solicitor.

When I graduated in 2007, the recession was taking hold and the decline in the property market hit law firms hard. Many firms couldn’t afford to take on trainees. (In England, to qualify as a solicitor, students have to complete their academic training, followed by a two-year training contract in a law firm.)

Very few of my colleagues from law school managed to secure training contracts and, like me, took secretarial or administrative posts whilst applying for training contracts. Things are so bad now that anyone with legal qualifications who has any sort of job in a law firm is considered lucky. Oh, I am so blessed.

I made the best of a bad job and focused on going that extra mile in the hope I would get a training contract. Being a secretary was tolerable, because I thought it would give me a lot of practical experience which might lead to better things, but this didn’t happen.

Over the past six years I have experienced and witnessed so much frustration, bitter disappointment, and shabby treatment that I no longer have any interest in law. I have come to realise that it’s not my passion, and it definitely doesn’t suit my personality.

My prayers to the Redundancy Fairy have fallen on deaf ears, as did my honest, forthright rant during my last appraisal which led to my team leader asking me if I’d be interested in doing paralegal work, which would mean longer hours, more hassle, and no extra pay until I had proved myself.

You can probably guess what I said to that. His response was, “Please let us know if you change your mind.” Give me strength! Honestly, I feel like putting a “Do not resuscitate!” sign above my desk.

I’m grateful that I didn’t qualify as a lawyer, because my predicament could have been far worse. I recoil with horror from the kind of nonsense which solicitors, paralegals, and trainees have to put up with each day.

I’m certainly not the only miserable idiot in the village. Some of my colleagues have told me that they’re unhappy, but are resigned to their fate because, “It pays the bills” and “Everybody hates their job, don’t they?” When I tell them of the golden days when I had a job that I loved, they either get defensive, cross, or look at me in total and utter disbelief.

I know several lawyers who would love to escape from the law, but they think they’re trapped. I suspect that many of them are slaves to the bank. Their salaries pay for expensive mortgages, flash cars, school fees and suchlike. One solicitor told me she had applied for a weekend job stacking shelves at the grocery store to make ends meet. The term “fur coat, no knickers” springs to mind.

Anyway, I’ve learnt the following lessons from taking a wrong turn down Career Avenue:

  • Don’t believe a word your schoolteachers tell you, especially when it comes to your abilities, or lack thereof.
  • Talk is cheap. “If you work hard you will get a training contract / promotion / pay rise / bonus ….” is amongst the cheapest talk of all. If someone continually dangles a carrot on a stick, tell them where to stick the carrot, and offer to do it for them. What they do with the stick is up to them.
  • If you find yourself praying to the Redundancy Fairy and telling the Powers That Be exactly what you think of your job in the hope that you’ll be shown the door, chances are you will still be chained to your desk, fighting sleep and boredom months, if not years later.
  • When you have been ground down by the endless tedium of a dead-end job it’s not easy to find the energy to plan your escape with a clear head. Find some supportive, positive friends who will encourage you along the way, and avoid those sad individuals whose vocation in life is to pay the bills.

So, there you are. Had I the slightest inkling that I would spend over £30,000 in loans on courses to become (*drumroll ………..) a secretary, I simply wouldn’t have entertained the idea of pursuing a career in law.

I wish that I’d had access to the No Regrets Career Academy back then, because I certainly wouldn’t have made such awful mistakes, which have taken their toll. My self-confidence has suffered and I lack energy, focus, and motivation.

This has got to stop, and I vow to get out of the mire! Since I discovered the No Regrets Career Academy, things are improving.  I think the old me is making a comeback (God help us all).