I Had to Break Up With My Career Coach

Look, shaving the side of my head was probably a step too far. I did it the night before I started my first job as a lawyer. I was going for a modern-day mullet: business on top, badass below. But the shaved side looked like a wound, patchy and raw, and the constant itching was completely unprofessional. It was a hot mess.

But at least it was better than the time I let somebody else take all my risks for me.

I loved law school. I loved debating and getting philosophical. I studied foreign parliaments and human rights and avoided boring stuff like corporate tax law or interning at commercial firms. It wasn’t the usual path, maybe it wasn’t smart, but I was having fun. I thought I had it under control until I asked my niece, “What do you wanna be when you grow up?” She said a Transformer (good answer). When she asked me the same question, I panicked. I had no bloody idea.

When I found a legal mentoring program with free career coaching, I thought I’d found God. The program boasted that it would help me figure out my goals and then achieve them. I signed up straight away. The coach I got was an ex-partner of a respectable law firm and a great listener. He bought me coffee and a muffin that first session and laughed at all my jokes. We brainstormed my goals – to get paid for doing something I love. I told him my strengths – debating shitty laws over a glass of wine with friends. I really thought he got me.

So I gave up the reins and let him run the show. When I was confused about where to start, he suggested corporate, because every successful lawyer he knew started there. If I found interesting work at an NGO, he frowned and encouraged me to aim higher. If I applied for a big firm, he patted me on the head and said I was making good progress. I wasn’t achieving my goals, I was trying to achieve goals he would approve of. When the rejections came in, he panicked. “Why didn’t you study tax law or do an internship?” I internalized all of it. Why hadn’t I done it the right way? I kept applying but every potential employer could tell my heart wasn’t in it. After six months of rejections, my coach suggested I prepare myself for the worst: that I was never going to be a lawyer.

When I came home after a coaching session in tears, my boyfriend said, “Enough.” He helped me write a “we will no longer be requiring your services” email. When he realized how much of my agency I had given over to a stranger, he was shocked. “Fuck that guy,” he said. “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” With his help, I stopped trying to be somebody else’s version of myself.

It took me a long time to trust my own instincts again. I eventually found a research position that my coach would have called “support staff for real lawyers.” But those research skills later enabled me to get a job as a lawyer working on policy. Eventually I married that clever boyfriend of mine and got a job writing the fucking law. I debate shitty laws all day and I love it.

So the night before I started my first job as a lawyer, I shaved the side of my head. It was a little too far, maybe. But by then I knew: I play by my own rules, I take my own risks.

Collage by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

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