On a recent episode of the Beyond Billables Podcast, we had the pleasure of interviewing the inspiring Fiona Craig. One of the primary themes that emerged from our conversation was how Fiona had found different ways throughout her life to thrive.
What does it mean to thrive?
If you boil down the semantics, you will probably find it means slightly different things to different people. We think of it in terms of growth, engagement, happiness and flourishing, both at work and in life in general.
To presuppose that there is a blueprint that can be followed to career success, life satisfaction and enlightenment is obviously a false starting point. Everyone is different and must, to some extent, follow their own journey – making mistakes and learning lessons for themselves. But that doesn’t mean we can’t listen to people like Fiona and gather as much good advice as possible.
Which is exactly what we’ve done in this post.
Let’s start with a few basics.
If you’re a law student, you’ve likely given careful thought as to why you wanted to become a lawyer in the first place. If you’re already started on a law career, maybe you stop from time-to-time and think about whether you’re feeling good about things. Perhaps you’re a senior associate or partner even, and every now and then you reflect on your legacy or whether the many hours you’ve put into work have been worth it.
This is the best case scenario because the truth is the legal industry can suck people in. And while you may have started out with firm conviction or intention, you may have lost it along the way. One of the surest ways to thrive is to be self-aware and to not lose contact with those things that are most important to you.
In Fiona’s case, she landed a brilliant job with a top-tier law firm in Scotland and was on the way in her legal career. On paper she’d made it and was on her way to a fulfilled and happy life. As anyone with a bit of experience will tell you, things aren’t always what they seem. Despite having the trappings of success, Fiona was miserable. Fortunately for her, she listened to her inner voice and pivoted away from the law into consulting and various other entrepreneurial pursuits which have been going strong ever since.
Knowing what’s important to you and having the self-awareness to keep in touch with those things is step one. Everything flows from there, but beyond this, there are so many other things you can do to thrive.
Never stop learning.
For most people, as soon as the learning curve flattens out is when the boredom sets in. The law used to be something of a static career (comparatively) but those days are gone. If your version of thriving means being a special counsel or hitting the partner track, you’ll need so much more than what they taught in you law school. You’ll need to continue upskilling yourself, you’ll have to start adapting to and being in tune with new law developments.
Learning to code might not be a bad thing. Point being, there is no room to rest on your laurels. When Fiona left the law, she was starting from scratch and learned a tremendous amount. She grew into her role as a recruiter, responsible for sales and managing relationships. She pushed herself to continue moving forward and, after founding her own organisation, honed her public speaking skills and developed connections with people all over Australia. Said another way, she never stopped learning.
Don’t wait for your job to be impacted by technology.
The rate of technological advancement and change is disrupting many professions, and the law is no exception. Regardless of whether you’d like to stay in legal practice or want to branch out into another area you’re passionate about, give some thought to what’s coming. If you don’t really know where to start on this topic, here is a great TED talk on the type of jobs and activities that will soon be turned over to the machines. Or a great in-depth article can be found here. At the heart of Fiona’s work is human connections and communication. In this sense, her position may be a by-product of luck as much as anything, but she is well positioned for a machine learning-dominated future. In some senses, thriving can be as much about having useful or in-demand skills as it is anything else.
Become part of a community or network, and start contributing to others.
A key challenge of working in the legal profession is it can lack a sense of community; it can often be adversarial, and cutthroat competition is the default. We’d argue that although this might be the best thing for corporate bottom lines, it might not be the most conducive environment for human happiness. We evolved from small tribes and, although things have changed tremendously, some of that initial hardwiring is still there.
A great way to thrive is to get yourself plugged into a community, develop mutually supportive relationships and become part of the social fabric. If you put yourself in this type of a context, new worlds of possibility become open to you and it’s easier to feel confident just being you. This is essentially the basis around which Fiona founded Smartwomen Connect, which has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception. There is profound evidence in support of this approach in Fiona’s life. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had people in her life who stepped up and took care of her son, fed her and supported her every step of the way. Fiona is now cancer-free and thriving again.
Navigating the intricacies of a legal career is obviously a challenge. Offering advice on how to thrive is similarly difficult because the topic is so vast, contextual and abstract. We hope some of the thoughts and anecdotes above are valuable for you. They have been for us.