"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
1. Where were you in your profession and life before our coaching work together?
After graduating from law school at 24, I joined a large and well-respected law firm in Washington, DC and worked on criminal defense cases and corporate internal investigations. The job paid very well, was challenging, and I, for the most part, enjoyed my coworkers. I was promoted every year and was named a partner at the age of 32. I paid off my student loans, bought a house in a great neighborhood, had a close-knit group of friends, and had money to travel and pursue other interests. Everything was going great, except I wasn't happy. At all.
My unhappiness progressed from a vague feeling of boredom all the time to an all-encompassing lack of satisfaction. Everything I did seemed pointless -- nothing mattered. I spent a lot of time beating myself up over that, telling myself I should feel fortunate for what I had and that maybe something was wrong with me for not appreciating my life. But the feelings of dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and boredom wouldn't go away.
I started to feel separated from myself. I would meet new people and they would ask me questions about myself, and I found myself not wanting to answer them because I was so bored with the answers. I felt like my life did not fit who I was. And that's when I realized I had to make a change because I couldn't imagine spending the rest of my feeling like that.
2. Where are you now? What's different? How do you feel about it?
My life is completely different now. I'm the director of a nonprofit legal aid program for refugees in Cairo, Egypt. The organization is staffed by lawyers and volunteers from around the world. I live in a basic apartment, get paid barely enough to pay my bills, and work in an office the same size as my law firm office, which I share with between 6 and 8 other people at any given time. Culturally it's so different.
Status, money, and all of the things that made me crazy about my old life are irrelevant. We're all living and working here because we care about the work and our clients. There is nothing glamorous about the work or our working environment. Every day our office is approached by more than triple the number of people we could possibly serve. The internet and printer don't work half the time and we do client interviews in a cramped basement. And I absolutely love it.
Every dayI work directly with clients, many of whom have been through terrible experiences in their lives. Every day, I talk to people about genuine human issues, things that actually matter. The work is incredibly satisfying. And more than that, life is satisfying. I feel like I'm living a life that's consistent with who I am. In retrospect, it seems so obvious, and sometimes can't even envision how I lived my old life for so long. Even in my worst moments in my current job and life, I have never once regretted the change, not even for a moment.
3. What internal barriers did you face in making these tremendous changes?
For me, it was mostly fear of the unknown.
In my legal career, particularly at the law firm, there was always a defined path. Each year I was promoted and had a new set of goals to work toward. Although they were not my personal goals, I felt like I was on a rational and practical path.
Jumping off of that path, particularly without a clear view of where I wanted to go, was extremely difficult. I knew that I would not be able to make real change without leaving the law firm and taking some time to myself to really consider what I wanted to do, but it required a real leap of faith in that I had to accept that I wouldn’t be able to control what happened over the next several months and that maybe I wouldn’t find “the answer” in terms of what would make me more fulfilled personally and professionally.
4. In making these changes, what did you find most supportive about the Coaching work with Prashant?
Prashant was excellent at helping me to listen to my inner voice and to have faith in myself. I knew I wanted to leave the law firm world, but I knew that my family, friends, and colleagues would think I was crazy.
My work with Prashant taught me to put faith in myself and to trust myself to know what was best for me. It was very important to have someone I respected so much tell me that it was OK to do the opposite of what it seemed like everyone else would have told me to do. Working with Prashant allowed me to really define the reasons I felt how I felt and what I would need to do to start to make the changes to pursue a happier life.
5. What about your story do you feel might be most meaningful for others?
When I quit my law firm job, I had no idea where I would end up. I had no plan, and that was terrifying. I moved into my childhood bedroom and didn’t know how I would spend my days. I took some time to invest in myself and do things that made me feel content. I tried not to think about what was next.
And from there, slowly things started to make more sense and started to happen. I started volunteering a few days a week and that ultimately led to where I am now. It’s easy to look at people who made major changes and think, “well they must have had a better plan than I did.” I had no plan whatsoever, and I’m not a person who ever doesn’t have a plan. Don’t think everyone who’s made real change is different from you. They’re not.
6. What encouragement do you offer to people who are currently living "successfully" without satisfaction?
For a long time, I felt like the boredom and dissatisfaction I felt was just normal. I struggled with whether having a “successful” career was supposed to be enough for me and whether I was expecting too much out of life. I often asked myself, “is this all there is?” The answer is it’s not normal to feel like your lifestyle and work is not making you happy. It’s OK to not know how to change it or to feel like you’re having a midlife crisis, but if you wonder all the time how things could be different, there’s no need or excuse to ignore those feelings.
To really know how to change things, you have to get out of the cycle of living the same life every day. You have to really shake things up. In my case, it was by just quitting, by taking that leap of faith and feeling like things would work out. It’s scary, but nothing is irreversible. My boss in my current job gave me one piece of advice that I really value: nothing is ever perfect and everything is fixable. I think that can be applied in a lot of contexts. Don’t let your perfectionism or need to control things hold you back from making real change.
7. Anything else?
It’s also OK to take small steps at first. I wasn’t ready to just up and quit my law firm. So instead I took a six-month leave of absence, traveled internationally, and then returned to the firm afterwards. This trip and the time away ultimately led me to decide to quit altogether, but I don’t know that I would ever have had the courage to do that if I hadn’t first taken a temporary leave of absence knowing I could return afterwards.
My commentary on Kristine's case
Symptoms of yearning for change may include:
- Outwardly successful and inwardly dissatisfied
- Hiding your authentic voice because of fear of rejection
- Feeling out of place
- Your values don't match your environment's
- Dreading Monday and anticipating Friday
- Not living your own definition of success
- Fear of leaving a secure position behind
- Tired of your own Type A behavior
- “Corporate/ Executive Emptiness"
- There's an unlived life you somehow feel in your bones
- Feeling of a longing you can't really put in words.