It is always good to have goals. Goals give direction and meaning to one’s choices and behaviors and help chart plans and paths to the future. But your targets should be moving and always evolving; allowing your goals to change and grow along with your experiences and ambitions can help sustain optimism and growth throughout your career. Because plans and people change, as do industries and the employment market, your goals must be able to change as well. If your goals are resilient then you can be too!
It is very rare for any career to follow a straight and narrow path. Some law students come to law school for a very specific reason. They build their resumes towards that goal and with hard work and good luck, land that dream job. But how many people actually stay in that dream job forever? They don’t, because as they gain experience and grow, their goals become more refined or diverge in another direction. Even more commonly, the law student who thinks he or she wants to practice in one area, sometimes realizes after gaining some experience in that area that they are actually better suited for something else. Students and practicing attorneys who can let go of an original goal and set new ones will have the best chance of success. Letting go of a goal should not be viewed as a failure, but rather the shift should be seen as a liberation of sort.
In my own career, I have experienced the need to adjust my goals. I went to law school intending to be a prosecutor. However, after participating in a clinic in the public defender’s office for a semester, I was hooked on defense work. That epiphany caused my first gear shift in my goals—I literally switched sides. After graduation, I practiced as a criminal defense attorney. However, after a period of time, I realized that this role was not meeting my professional or personal needs. I still wanted to work in the legal profession and interact with lawyers, but I did not want to represent clients. After some soul searching and career counseling, I realized that I loved sales, and I found a position selling interactive court reporting to lawyers. Now my colleagues were my clients! The goal change helped me realize that sales was my niche and I have been there ever since. Certainly, the move from practicing attorney to vendor was a great change for me, and not a goal I had ever considered when applying to law school, or throughout my education. But that change made me happier, and made me realize that goals have to be a moving target over the years. Flexibility not only allows for success but happiness.
Being flexible in your goals does not only mean a willingness and ability to change what it is you desire to accomplish. Flexibility also recognizes that there is more than one way to get to your destination. You should be nimble in moving among the choices you make to build towards a goal. Just as a GPS adjusts direction when you hit a detour, or decide to take the scenic route, your career path should be adaptable to your circumstances.
One example of being able to be flexible with the ways to reach a goal is reflected in the experience of a particular 3L student I knew. Like many, she graduated from law school without a job offer, and was doing everything she could to find her “dream job.” This student wanted to practice in the cutting edge, tech entrepreneurial world. She networked, interviewed, and spoke to anyone and everyone who would speak to her in the industries in which she wanted to work. Eventually, one of her contacts helped her find a non-practicing position in this industry, but on the West Coast. Despite the fact that she had originally planned and hoped to stay in New York City as a practicing attorney, she took the job. After learning the business and gaining great experience from the inside of the industry, she came back to New York and found a position as counsel at a start-up. Her foresight and ability to reboot her path to reaching her ultimate goal helped her land her dream job.
Another former student was determined to become a “sports lawyer.” (I am still unsure if that is a practice or an industry!) He had multiple internships involving sports law throughout law school, took relevant coursework and networked with the right people. Yet, upon graduation, he had no job offer in the field. Recognizing that the competition for attorney positions in this area was fierce, especially at the entry level, the student adjusted his short-term plan to gaining litigation experience, which he knew would be invaluable to his eventual practice. He found a position in insurance defense litigation work but continued his sports world networking, remained active in relevant Bar committees and kept up on the news in the sports industry. After two years as a litigator, he moved to a junior level, quasi-attorney job in sports and slowly moved his way into practicing sports law. Today, he is happily ensconced in a sports law practice, and is thankful for the two years of litigation experience. It ended up that what seemed like a divergent path from his goal actually kept him on track to reach his overall dream.
It is important for you to remain nimble on your path to achieving any goal, and to be adaptable and open to the need to change goals when one is no longer within reach. Remember: Plans change, people change, the market changes and the unexpected will happen. But if you can “recalculate” as ably as a GPS, you can achieve any goal!
Jill Backer is associate director for employer relations at Brooklyn Law School.