There I was at the office, churning away, berated by my boss, being laughed at, missing meetings, leavings tasks unfinished. Everywhere my heart raced, a test around every corner. Perform or perish – I was perishing. But then the fog of sleep lifted, the grey clouds of my old job giving way to the sunshine of reality. The old job long gone, I breathed in the heaven of the here and now. Sometimes a nightmare is good for the soul.
Perhaps because I love giving advice more than taking it, I often talk to lawyers considering a career change. I have seen lawyers write out a list of all the pros and cons about their current position, do the same about another position, and compare the two. I have seen flow charts looking like Nobel prize-winning chemistry equations diagramming possibilities and priorities. I have seen lawyers meander about from story to story, soul-searching their personal histories for the holy grail of meaning. I have seen calculations measuring income adjusted for standard of living, taking into consideration the cost of health benefits, sick days, vacation days, commuting time and cost, and pension matching programs, to arrive at the best possible total compensation. But it is the rare bird who thinks about the question under the three heads of happiness: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
Strong research, and now popular psychology, supports the theory that happiness correlates with your own perception of your level of independence, the quality of your relationships, and how good you think you are at what you do. Young lawyers, you may have low levels of autonomy depending on the kind of files you are working on. Do you have the patience to wait it out, gain experience, and eventually achieve autonomy as a more experienced lawyer? Can you find autonomy and satisfaction in the task assigned to you? It may well be a matter of perspective and delaying gratification. Relationships at work can vary from place to place. If you are unhappy with your friendships at work, or lack thereof, is the problem the workplace or you? Might a change of scenery affect that? Feeling competent is hard for a lawyer. Most of us are perfectionists and little mistakes can be costly. Do your colleagues support you enough? Can you improve your resilience? (Research shows that resilience is one of the most train-able skills.)
So today’s tip: if you’re considering a change of scenery, take stock of your levels of autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Assess your abilities in each and determine if the weakness lies in you or the job. You’ll have a better idea of what to do about the former (train up!) and about the latter.