When it comes to your career, be ruthlessly selfish

Being mindful of what other people think is almost always important in life. If whenever you go out to dinner with friends, you always insist that you get to choose the restaurant, you are not going to have friends for very long. And if you choose to wear your favorite whimsical cat dress for a job interview, you’re not going to get the job (unless you’re interviewing for a job at a cat cafe, of course). And then there are the big choices we make in life. When deciding where to move, whether to have kids, or what house to buy, you better worry about what your spouse thinks or your marriage will fail.

But when you are young and have no family obligations yet, when it comes to deciding what you are going to do with your career, it is time to be ruthlessly selfish. No one else’s opinion matters but your own.

The reason that only your own opinion matters when selecting a career path is that you’re the only one who has to go to work every day and you’re the only who suffers or delights in the consequences of your choices. You have to wake up, you have to commute, you have to spend 40 hours in an office (at least) doing that work, and you have to have the same conversation with Tom while filling up your coffee cup in the office kitchen every morning. So unless people who are expressing their opinions about your career choices are going to come to your office and offer to help out with the work (or talk to Tom so you don’t have to), their opinion is meaningless.

So focus only on what will fulfill you and make you happy to go to work every day, not what other people think is the prestigious or cool thing to do.

If you really want to pursue a career in trusts and estates law in Austin, Texas but your friends all think that Austin is not a prestigious enough town and the only law worth practicing is sophisticated financial transactions in New York, who cares? (This, by the way, is a real scenario that a student at another prestigious law school told me he is currently dealing with.) If you have decided that you don’t want to practice law at all but instead want to use your degree to pursue policy work in DC, good for you! If you are deeply interested in a particular practice area that happens to be prestigious, pursue it. Just don’t make crucial career decisions based solely on the optics of their prestige.

Too often, law students lose sight of what they really want to do and forget the real reason they came to law school. Re-read your admissions essay, talk to friends who have known you a long-time, and look deep within. Do whatever you have to do to remember what motivated you to embark on a legal career path in the first place. Because if you chose a job solely because it is prestigious and other people are impressed with it, I promise you’ll end up disappointed. When you are working your tail off at 1:00 in the morning to finish a brief on a topic you are not passionate about, your sleep deprivation, boredom, and ennui will not be be improved by the thought that when you talk about your job at Thanksgiving dinner, your Uncle Hank will be impressed.

I am not being sanguine about the need to pay off law school loans and gain financial independence. Indeed, I think those are very important career considerations. But taking a job solely for the goal of making as much money as is humanly possible is not a goal that is likely to lead to long-term happiness. And if you pursue a career path for the money alone, you are likely to burnout and end up departing from that path later anyway. The way to make more money and get promoted is to succeed at work and achieving long-term success in a job that makes you miserable is just about impossible.

It’s time to start being really selfish when thinking about your career. If you are weighing a few job offers for this summer and cannot decide which one to take, resist the urge to accept the job that is most prestigious because it is the most prestigious. Look at other factors that will impact your happiness. What is the office culture like? Do the employees seem like people that you would fit in with? What kinds of projects would you get to work on? What would your day to day life as an intern or employee be like? And, of course, is the job in the city in which you want to build your career?

In your daily life and in most major life decisions, is it important to consider the thoughts of others. But when planning your career path, focus only on you.

If you need help thinking through assessing whether a career path will make you happy and how to get there, that’s what the CDO is for! Come talk to a CDO counselor.

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