FRIENDS share with me how unhappy they are at work listing reasons such as salary, commuting, no room for advancement and lack of motivation, and end by saying, “what can I do? It pays the bills. I’m not trained in anything else.” When asked my advice, I recant, “Choice, Chance, Change.” Make a choice to take a chance, or your life will never change. With that advice, I hand them my recruiter’s business card, share employment opportunities and offer to help spiff up their résumés.
Fast-forward 17 years and here I sit staring down at my own impressive résumé listing a vast number of law firms, ranging from boutique in size to large, and I’m wondering about my choices and what changes I have made. After all these years of service, is this really what I wanted to do. Have I reached my goal?
I quit a management job and enrolled in the legal secretary program when I turned thirty because, since graduating high school, my goal was to be a legal secretary. The desire stemmed from a list that was placed in front of me by a career councilor in 1982. Lawyer was not among the list. The councilor asked me to select the job I’d enjoy doing most. At age 15, what I enjoyed doing most was typing and reading books such as To Kill a Mockingbird and any John Grisham novel I could find. I knew I wanted to help people, and I remember learning a spelling mnemonic that secretaries keep the secrets. Ergo, legal secretary it was.
While I respect those that pass the bar, it has taken me all these years to discover working in law is not for me. For 10 years, I worked alongside a brilliant lawyer who sacrificed much to hold her status as partner. I recall arriving to work and finding her dressed in the same clothes as the day before evidencing she’d again worked through the night and not gone home. Monday mornings I’d find my desk riddled with her children’s drawings because they had spent weekends again, with mom, at work. In January, she asked me to join her again and I felt mixed emotions. Both pride, that she wanted me back, and sadness that I was contemplating going. I took this as a sign for change.
Over the years, I’ve assisted in many areas of law. I’ve created precedents, incorporated companies, drafted wills, filed immigration documents, met with clients, attended conferences, prepared the bills and oh how I’ve done the overtime. I have witnessed estate battles, watched billionaires profit from destruction and listened to heartbroken families unable to immigrate and reunite . With each day, I became more complicit in my own misery. I sat at my desk and played it safe all the while thinking, “what can I do; it pays the bills; I’m not trained in anything else.”
What began as intrigue and complexity working alongside solicitors who needed my experience slowly turned into days of nothingness. Multitasking, legal drafting and interaction with clients were replaced with administration and Internet surfing. Many lawyers today are technology-driven and self-sufficient, thus relying on their assistants less and less. My brain was going to sleep. I decided it was time to practise what I’d been preaching all along: Choice, Chance, Change. I went to see my recruiter and got the ball rolling.
On my last day at the law firm, I humbly walked out of the office tower carrying my life in a box and was met with a realization—although sad to leave the cherished friendships behind, I was not unhappy. I felt energized and happy. Being a legal secretary provided me with a beginning goal and has afforded me the opportunity to strive for more. I am grateful.
It is difficult to find the right next step to take but I embark on a new career with a fresh outlook. I’ve taken my own advice to make a choice because I was no longer happy. I’m taking a chance that I will enjoy this new career. I’m nervous to leave a legal career that I’m comfortable with but my heart, and brain, tell me I’m moving in the right direction. That direction is forward.
Choice, Chance, Change is for everyone, of all ages, and in all areas of life. We have one life, and it’s up to us to live our best one. It’s up to us to strive for more and keep striving.