Please don’t wait twenty years like I did


A friend of mine says, "When you love what you do and you do what you love, you’ll never work another day in your life." We’ve heard it so many times, it must be true: The key to success and happiness in your working life is to find something you are passionate about.

A study of 1,500 people over twenty years shows how passion makes a significant difference in a person’s career:

At the outset of the study, the group was divided into Group A, 83 percent of the sample, who were embarking on a career for the prospects of making money now in order to do what they wanted later, and Group B, the other 17 percent of the sample, who had chosen their career path for the reverse reason, they were going to pursure what they wanted to do now and worry about the money later.

The data showed some startling revelations:

  • At the end of 20 years, 101 of the 1,500 had become millionaries.
  • Of the millionaires, all but one–100 our of 101–were from Group B, the group that had chosen to pursue what they loved! [Kriegel and Patler, If It Ain’t Broke. . .Break It!, p. 259, cited in Talent is Never Enough, p. 35, by John C. Maxwell]

But what if you’re not pasionate about your career? What then? It seems to me you have three choices.

  1. Change careers
  2. Change roles
  3. Live with it.

The third choice, living with it, should be unacceptable, but this is the choice I believe most people make. It is a recipe for unhappiness and illness and an unfulfilled life, and it is also the most difficult way to prosper (according to the above noted study), but it is certainly understandable. Lawyers have so much invested in their careers–time, money, energy and ego–it is difficult to contemplate significant change. "What would (fill in the blank) think?" "I don’t know how" and "I don’t have time" are common reactions.

Changing careers is becoming more common. I read recently that the attrition rate for new attorneys is at astronomically high levels. I changed careers (more than once) and I’m glad I did and very happy where I am now. I truly am passionate about what I do! But while changing careers may be the ultimate answer for an individual, it shouldn’t be the first choice.

Changing roles is the "best first option".

You can change roles by changing jobs. If you don’t like the people you work with, look for another environment. It might be that simple. If litigation isn’t where you want to be, perhaps you can draft documents.  And so on.

You can also change roles by finding some aspect of what you do that you are indeed passionate about. It might be only a small part of what you do, but if you focus on it, it might be enough to make up for everything else you have to do.

I know an estate planner who was an excellent draftsman but was all thumbs when it came to finding clients. He partnered with a rainmaker who did not possess the technical skills (or patience) of my friend, and now, the two are happy and making more money than each of them ever made on their own.

We’ve all known people who say they are "burned out". In reality, they probably weren’t on fire in the first place. I realized this was true for me very early in my law career, but it took me a very long time to give myself permission to change, and two decades before I allowed myself to make it permanent.

The purpose of life is joy, and if you are not passionate about what you do for a living, you are shortchanging yourself. As you comtemplate your career and goals for next year and beyond, my Christmas wish for you is that you will be honest with yourself about where you are and where you would like to be.

You can be happy and fulfilled and successful. You can have it all. The first step is slowing down long enough to think about this, and then accepting it. Only then can you begin the process of working towards it.



  1. […] success. Without prompting, nearly every one names passion as the key to their success. I quoted a study about ten days ago that all but proves […]