Which of Your Selves Comes Forward as a Lawyer?

Double faced lawyerPlease welcome Kate McGuinness back to talk about how career (and life) plans might evolve to reveal different “selves,” and how to handle this situation when it occurs.

Without further ado…here’s Kate!

I have several different selves rattling around inside. No, I’m not suggesting multiple personality disorder. I’m alluding to the varied interests and aptitudes that have led to different careers over time.

My nurturing, playful self became an elementary school teacher. She was followed by the brainy, kick-ass self who became a lawyer. Then the creative, reclusive self came forward to write my legal thriller Terminal Ambition. Now the compassionate, wise self is stepping up as a coach to guide clients through growth and change.

Just as Harry Potter discovered that he had a “good self” and a “bad self,” each of us has many selves.

A lawyer may be hiding a self who longs for deeper connection with others and a helping role as a therapist as well as another self who longs to be an academic and another self who longs to be a chef.

Experience in a profession suggested by our parents or teachers may reveal the gaps between its persona and our selves. Even a career that felt tailor-made may not fit as we mature. In the twenty-first century, our lives are not linear. Many change occupations, and only a very few stay with the company where they started until they receive a gold watch.

Social scientists today analyze life paths as cycles of renewal. Throughout a person’s life, his or her sense of purpose shifts because of aging, social forces and self-development. When we sense our working identities are inconsistent with our core purpose, we start to consider a career change. Over a lifetime, we may launch ourselves into a new occupation two, three or four times.

The Starting Point for a Career Change

The conventional wisdom recommends a linear process based on the notion that each of us has only one true self who is fully formed by adulthood. Starting with that premise, a would-be career “changeling” should begin with lots of introspection and standardized assessments to identify the “right fit.”

This approach is rooted in the past. The self who is discovered in this way is often the “ought” self, the self who listens to the voices of family and teachers laying out career expectations.

Experiment to Choose

Experimentation often proves to be a more effective method to identify a new career.

Try on some of the selves that appeal before leaving your current profession.

Test your reaction to the work and those who do it by:

  1. Volunteering
  2. Taking on a side project or temporary assignment at your existing job
  3. Taking a course or enrolling in training
  4. Conducting informational interviews
  5. Shadowing someone in that profession
  6. Trying the profession during a vacation or sabbatical
  7. Moonlighting
  8. Networking with people in that profession
Making the Decision

The best compass is your own gut. What do you feel? Are you more satisfied? More comfortable in your “working skin?”

It may seem irrational to treat emotional reactions as information but neuroscientists have demonstrated that emotions are critical to enlightened decision making.

Transitions can be frightening but they are where real growth occurs.

This short video beautifully illustrates what happens when, like trapeze artists, we are willing to let go.

What are you willing to let go of? What do you long to embrace?


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More about Kate: Kate McGuinness is a lawyer who spent 17 years in BigLaw before becoming the general counsel of a Fortune 300 corporation.  She is a graduate of the Hudson Institute of Coaching and is a certified executive and life transition coach. Her practice Counselor Coaching is focused on helping women professional services providers navigate change and growth.

Kate is the author of a legal thriller Terminal Ambition, which is available on Amazon.  She is an advocate for women and tweets as @K8McGuinness. Her essays about women’s rights have appeared on sites such as  The Guardian, The Huffington Post,  Forbes Woman, and Women’s Media Center and are collected on her website.

You can find her on LinkedIn as Kate McGuinness and on Facebook as Women’s Rights Writer. She is also on Facebook and Google+ as Counselor Coaching.

Have a question for Kate? Leave it in the comments!


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  1. I am moved by your decision to become a lawyer and to pursue your ambition. I just want to share my experience as a starting lawyer, it was difficult but because of the passion and drive to learn and advance in the field I faced the storms and ups and downs. Keep up the good work!

    • Daniel, thanks for your note. I’m glad to hear that you hung in there despite challenges. You have “grit,” a quality recently recognized by the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession as one of two keys to success. The other is a growth mindset, a willingness to learn from difficult experiences and adjust behaviors. Your “passion and drive to learn and advance” is just that. Props for weathering the storms!


  1. […] Transition: Girl’s Guide shares thoughts from Kate McGuinness on your different “selves” in the context of career transition over time.  However, we also often have different versions of […]

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