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Leaving The Law: A Risky Career Change Toward Passion

The result is less of a job than a marathon, one without much light at the end of the tunnel. Fourteen hour days were common, and weekends became an opportunity to start at 11:00 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. Advancement offered more money, but at the cost of working still longer hours. Even out of the office I was always on edge. Through my Blackberry people could always reach me, e-mailing with "just one quick thing" at literally any time of the day or night. I was on call, like a surgeon but with much, much lower stakes. I've never known anyone to die because a research memo waited until morning. With the Blackberry in my pocket another shoe could always drop, and I always knew it.

Over my years in practice I gained approximately 25 pounds from inactivity and stress eating; night after night spent in the office folding salt and sugar onto my tongue. When the work is that dull and the hours that hopeless, when even sleep doesn't help because it's only a four-hour nap and showers get interrupted by the Blackberry, you just actually need to feel something.

Although to me it felt like I waited a long time to get up and leave, this situation is not uncommon according to Judi Lansky, a Chicago career coach who's seen a lot of professionals over the years.

"Generally they've been unhappy for a long time," Lansky said of many of her clients. "I don't think somebody wakes up one day and says, 'you know, I'm going to make a career change today.' You're not going to do it because this week your boss was scary."

In fact, the only thing I didn't want to escape was the camaraderie of people in the office. Contrary to what I'd learned from a lifetime of TV and movie references, my coworkers and supervisors weren't an army of backstabbing, spittle-flecked Gordon Gecko wanna-bes. Far from it. For the most part they were just like me, lawyers trying to be good at a job that's always just one bad day off from completely overwhelming you. We cut each other slack whenever the job allowed and helped each other out if we could. To my surprise, we were friends.

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