The Best Career Advice is…

Follow your heart.

But what does that even mean? Is it just a cliche, or perhaps an unattainable fantasy when confronted with the financial realities of life as a lawyer? Perhaps, but for me it has been the best career advice I have received and has become my personal mantra.

I graduated from law school a couple years after the 2008 financial crisis. I was passionate about public service but worked in the private sector because of job scarcity. As an associate in a few different law firms, I counseled clients, engaged in motion practice, and negotiated settlement agreements. I also found myself responsible for additional non-legal responsibilities such as billing, intern recruitment, and technical assistance on technology issues. I worked hard, barely took time off, and learned how to be a practicing attorney. I also regularly cried on the subway on my way home.

I knew I had to make a change but I didn't know how. I had to pay my bills, including hefty student loan payments. I feared that others would see me as a failure if I left the law firm setting. I wondered what would happen to my career if I stepped away from the trajectory of a traditional legal career.

Since my mother passed away when I was a teenager, I sought out the advice of my aunt. She listened to me give her a tortured analysis of my situation and all of my fears then simply told me to follow my heart. At first I was annoyed because I really wanted her to tell me what to do. Yet as I reflected on her advice, I realized that my heart wanted me to leave the law firm. I provided my notice, packed up my New York City apartment and moved back to Massachusetts for the summer where I started the groundwork on a memoir I had wanted to start for years.

I came back to New York in the fall with an outline of my book and a new apartment. I quickly secured a job in a nonprofit legal organization. I was astounded at the ease of leaving New York and starting over, but everything fell into place because I allowed myself to follow my heart.

The best advice doesn’t direct what actions you should take. It guides you on how to make that decision on your own.


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