The Danger of Doing Things Because You’re Good at Them

Pow!Let me ask you a question:

Should you aim to make a career out of doing things you’re good at?

“Why, sure,” you say, “what else would I do?”

It’s Not that Easy

This is a question I’ve struggled with for a long time (see a three year detour into architecture school so I could try something “hard”), but I don’t think it’s so straightforward.

For example, I went to law school for three main reasons:

  1. I wanted to live in NYC for a few years.
  2. I thought I’d be good at it.
  3. I wanted to be able to support myself.

As it turned out, I was quite good at law school, and at being a lawyer.

There was only one problem — I hated it!

I was very good at being a litigator, but I hated the constant fighting (and the firm “lifestyle,” but that’s a separate issue). To be honest, I even detest the pro bono case I’m still working on. Every time I have to deal with it, I get tense and wish I’d never gotten involved!

Pay Attention to Context

It’s easy to let yourself get pulled onto a seemingly lucrative and stable career path, if you’re good at many of the job requirements: You’ve always been good at writing and public speaking? Fantastic, go to law school!

But it’s not enough just to be good at these things. You have to enjoy using these skills in the context in which you’ll be working.

And I think, for a lot of lawyers, that’s where matters fall apart.

The reasons for dissatisfaction differ:

  • For some people, it’s ethical concerns (“I don’t feel good about the clients I’m representing”).
  • For others, it’s some unrelated detail of the work environment (“I hate everyone I work with”).
  • For others, it’s another aspect of the job (“I’m a good writer, but I’m not detail oriented enough to do this job”).

It’s hard to pin down why so many lawyers end up unhappy, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fallacy that you’re required to do the things you’re good at.

You don’t. Do the things you want to do instead!

You’ll be a lot happier in the end.

Read On:

How can you figure out if you’ll like being a lawyer? Check these out:

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  1. I think this is a great discussion. Also I think people take this approach when it comes to biglaw. Can you get a biglaw job? Yes? Then do it! Even if you don’t think you will like it!

    • Absolutely! It’s like if you CAN get a BigLaw job, everyone assumes you HAVE to do it. Frankly, I should have realized when I was a summer that firm life wasn’t for me (not wanting to go to work is generally a good indicator, right?) but it just didn’t even occur to me, really.

  2. Ana Paula Matsui Lopes de Araujo says

    Now I am so worried because you are always saying bad things about being a lawyer.
    I am graduated in fashion business and I have a MA in Luxury Brand Management. Honestly, the labour market in this industry is hell! Therefore, I thought that being a lawyer and working in a firm where they also work with fashion brands (fashion law is quite trending at the moment), it would be an amazing “combo”.

    I know that most students are struggling with their students loan, and I read in another article that this was the biggest reason why lawyers don’t make that much moneu, is that right?
    Since I am a foreigner and I am planning to get my degree aboard, I won’t be able to ask for a student loan, we usually need to pay the full amount at the beginning of each year or semester. In my case, do you think it would be “better” since I won’t have this expense to be worried about?

    • Elizabeth Greiner says

      We certainly aren’t dissuading anyone from being a lawyer at all. We talk about all of the considerations that students should think about before going to law school though, and being realistic about finances is an important consideration. We are only discussing the US system though, so unfortunately we can’t offer much insight into working or going to school abroad. You should definitely make sure you’ve planned for everything before you start school though. Best of luck!

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