Undoubtedly, leaving a job is easier if you have a clear idea of what you want. However, getting bogged down in what you want to do can prevent you from getting out of your current situation. If you’re unhappy in your job something needs to change.

Too many lawyers have the attitude that oh I don't know what I want to do and I'm not really passionate about anything so I'll stay at my unhappy job foreverad infinitum. I found it hard to see a way out when I was stuck and so unhappy in many jobs when my heart was not in it. Looking back on it now I was playing it far too safe.

I found it comfortable to stay in a job I hated because I knew it. You might feel the same now. You know what’s expected of you, you know your colleagues and you know where you stand. Even more stuck when your confidence in your abilities may be flagging because you have been under performing  too long at a job you don't care enough about to be good at  and  your colleagues  constantly remind you of  this.  You may think  that if you can't do this then how can you plunge into something completely new  and challenging. So you limit yourself to an unhappy future because it’s familiar.

Maybe you’re beginning to think about making a change or admitting to yourself for the first time that your job isn’t right for you. At this point, one of the most helpful things you can do is to be easy in the not-knowing.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.
— Mary Schmich (As made famous by Baz Luhrmann)

Jeff Brown, an ex litigator and the author of bestselling book Soulshaping - A Journey Of Self Creation, warns against confining ourselves to a predictable range of experiences. In fact the avoidance of uncomfortable, unknown or difficult situations is a very common human reaction. This ‘experiential avoidance’ means we don’t face up to the hard stuff and causes all sorts of problems in the long run.

Are you staying in a job you hate because you don’t want to confront the fact you don’t know what you want to do?

Stop thinking short term. For stuck would be career changers, it's often damaging to your health, self esteem and happiness. Start thinking long term. Making a career change now will be immediately uncomfortable; it will disrupt your routine and create insecurity and instability. Long term though, you will be happier.

Brown suggests we see life as an ongoing question. It is a process of active exploration. You will live through many questions and many different answers. This may be one of the most important questions you live through. Experiment and explore until you find work you love. Uncertainty is exciting. It’s interesting. How long have you been in your current job doing the same thing everyday? Enjoy doing something different.

Finding out what you want to do will be a learning curve. Everyday you will learn something new about yourself, how you work best or develop a new skill. You might enjoy something you didn’t expect to, or have a skill you didn’t realise you had. If you are held back by your seeming lack of passions to go after, bear in mind that Passions are not born but grown. when you invest your time an energy centre getting better at something.

Work you love is just round the corner when you commit to learning something where the day to day activities could be a perfect balance between challenging you and playing to your strengths. That's how you can avoid those feelings of anxiety or boredom. That's how you can feel completely absorbed in a task and feel like time is just flying by.

What are the first steps to finding out what you might want to do?

Start with what you do know 

You don’t have to have a great passion. Go on the little you do know. You don’t like your current job. Why? What aspects make you want to leave?  Was there any element you enjoyed or were particularly good at? Go from there

Find your strengths.

Begin your journey by completing the VIA Survey and receiving your free Character Strengths Profile.  One of the premier tools of positive psychology, this scientifically validated survey takes less than 15 minutes and is the first step in building the foundation for a better "you". And complete the Strengthsfinder 2.0 to find your top 5 strengths here.

Don’t think too much about the big picture

It isn’t helpful to look at the big picture right now. Keep focussed on small, achievable goals.

I never really had one of these big dreams. And so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious. Put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you… you never know where you might end up. Just be aware that the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery. Which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams. If you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out the corner of your eye.
— Tim Minchin


Try things

You might not find your dream job straightaway. Don’t rule out things because you lack experience or expertise. You didn’t become a lawyer without training and studying. The same applies to a new profession, there will be things to learn and you are capable of doing it.


Talk to people

Find out what other people do, what jobs are out there, what their experiences have been, what have they found useful, networking to make contacts in new industries. It works both ways. People will be interested in your journey and to hear what you have done.


Have trust in the process

Things will come together, maybe not in the way you expect. Making a career change is a process of learning and change.

Some reading to help you on the way

‘Now Discover Your Strengths’ by Marcus Buckingham.

‘Happiness By Design: Change What You Do Not How You Think’ by Paul Dolan

‘The Happiness Manifesto’ by Henry Stewart

‘Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success’ by Carol Dweck

‘Good Business: Leadership, Flow, And The Making Of Meaning’ by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


Martin Underwood is the Head of Career Strategy at Life Productions, helping lawyers and other professionals find a better career fit and take practical action through advice, courses and networking.

You can find out more about our More Than Law Course and how to apply here.