Fearless Friends- Blakely Lord
In honor of back to school season, this "Fearless Friends" article features my wonderful friend, Blakely, who changed career paths from law to teaching. She's a wonderful example of doing what makes you happy in life, not what makes others happy. It's been such a joy to watch her make this transition because you can see the happiness pouring out of her now that she's made the switch to teaching. Here's her Q&A:
How do you know Chewbacca's Mom?
I met Chewbacca's dad when I was living in Seattle. He told me of this woman who was so smart and funny and wise and kind and lovely that I almost thought he was lying. Or that he had sustained a mild brain injury and was hallucinating. But then I met her, and lo and behold, he was right! Chewbacca came along a while later.
What are you doing for work now? What did you do before?
I teach high school English now. I used to be a lawyer, and then I was a claims manager, which is sort of a quasi-legal job.
How did you get started doing your current career?
So, here's the thing: in the 90's people were all about telling girls, "You can Be Anything You Want To Be!" And in theory that's great, but in practice there was this really strongly implied, unspoken addendum that said, "Since you can Be Anything You Want To Be, we expect that you will Want To Be something good, like a doctor or a lawyer or a Fortune 500 CEO." So it never occurred to me to be a teacher, because it didn't seem grand enough.
So I went to college and majored in English and had no idea what I Wanted To Be. And eventually I decided to go to law school because it seemed like it would be a good idea and it made my parents happy.
But one thing no one ever asks you when you apply to law school is, "Do you actually want to be a lawyer?" Instead, a lot of people say stuff like, "There are SO many things you can do with a law degree!" But that's not actually 100% true. There are like, three things you can do with a law degree: practice law, go into politics, or run a business. And to run a business, you might also need an MBA.
So I went to law school, and I passed the bar and I got a job and it was a cool job (working for NASA) and it paid well and, you know, I figured I had to grow up and start doing Real Work. And the fact that sometimes I didn't want to get out of bed in the morning didn't seem related to the fact that my job was maybe not the best fit for me. I was super anxious that sooner or later everybody would all figure out I had no clue at all what I was doing...but I just ate a bunch of chocolate and ignored that stuff. Eventually, I decided that the issue was where I was living. So I got a job with an airline and moved to Seattle and I LOVED Seattle. But I still didn't love my job all that much. I had to sit in a cubicle and pretend to care about stuff that, frankly, just didn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. And I was still struggling to get out of bed a lot of mornings. And sometimes I cried for no good reason. And I ate more chocolate and gained a lot more weight and generally wasn't very happy. But all along, I kept teaching in one way or another. I taught religious school and advised a high school mock trial team and volunteered as a creative writing teacher and helped organize youth group events. But I figured all that stuff was a hobby and I told myself I had to do Real Work like a Grown-Up. And then I got laid off. And I was not sad about it.
So when I was offered a job as the assistant education director for a synagogue, I jumped at the chance. And I really enjoyed it. But most of my joy came from teaching; not administering the program. So as much as I loved Seattle, I decided to head back to North Carolina, where all my family lives, and go back to school and get a master's in teaching.
I was a little nervous, because I was in my 30s and making a huge career change (and taking out loans for a career that came with a sizable pay cut). But as soon as I started student teaching, I knew I had made the right decision. I wasn't cut out to be a lawyer, but I am a great teacher. I have absolutely no trouble getting out of bed, anymore. I'm not self-medicating with chocolate and crying randomly and hating myself for being unsatisfied with my life. It makes a world of difference when you're doing what you love.
Any advice for people chasing their dreams?
Well, first and foremost: embrace your dream. Don't be afraid to be honest about what you want to be/do/achieve. I think a lot of people rule out options without realizing it, and end up self-limiting without even being aware of it.
Second, be sure to be realistic about what it means to chase a dream. You have to be prepared to do the work and make the sacrifices. As a teacher, I make less than half what I did as an attorney, and a pay cut like that has consequences. I used to think nothing of buying a concert ticket or new shoes or going out to a fancy restaurant. Now I have to make sure it's in my budget.
Finally, remember that if you're switching careers to pursue a dream, you may not get "credit" for the work you did before. I mean, it's great to have lots of different experiences, but no one is going to say, "Oh, you were a lawyer? Well, obviously that means you can also be a great ______________!" I do think some employers have given my resume a second look because of my nontraditional background. But when push comes to shove, I still need to prove that I can teach. I think a lot of folks make the mistake of assuming that they can leverage experience from one career into another. But 9 times out of 10, you will end up starting at the bottom and working your way back up. Pursuing a dream requires enough humility to work hard and accept that you have a lot to learn, even if you already "paid your dues" in another field.
What makes you feel fearless?
I don't think I'm a fearless person. But I have learned to embrace my fear. It can be energizing to do the thing you fear. If I'm afraid, that means I'm challenging myself and growing.
What are you most afraid of?
For a long time, I was afraid of disappointing my parents. Telling them I was not going to be a lawyer anymore was hard. But they have been nothing but supportive. I also used to be terrified that people would figure out that I am mostly faking it and I don't have my act together at all. But as I reach the end of my 30s, that fear has faded substantially. It helps that I've stopped (most of) the negative self-talk that used to play on a loop in my head. I owe a lot of that to an amazing therapist I saw for several years. Seeing her was really the first step toward pursuing the life I wanted to live.
There are so many songs that speak to me, and I often think of them when I think of quotes. But in terms of more traditional quotes, I love these the most: "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there." - Rumi
"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." Dalai Lama
"The whole world is a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is not to be afraid." - Rebbe Nachman
Brittney Spears or Celine Dion?
No. Neither. What are you thinking? Jenny Lewis
Koalas or Pandas?
Why do I have to choose???? I love them both.
Anything else you want to add?
One piece of advice I'd give anyone who is planning to make a big career change (or any major change, really) is to figure out how you want to spin your own story. It sounds weird, but I really believe that a big part of successfully reinventing yourself is constructing your own narrative and putting it out there. There are lots of versions of the truth, and you get to decide which version you embrace. It might seem manipulative - and it is, to a certain extent - but if you tell the story that emphasizes the choices you made and put a positive spin on why you made them, people tend to respond better to the changes you're making. For instance, when I tell my story, I could say, "I hated practicing law, and I was depressed and miserable, but I wasn't motivated to do anything about it until I got laid off and couldn't find another job. Teaching is way better than being a lawyer, because I am a pretty good teacher, and I was a lousy lawyer." That is NOT an attractive story. And yet, it's a version of the truth. But it's the version that emphasizes the negative things that happened TO me, rather than the positive choices I MADE.
So instead, I say, "I was lucky to get laid off, because it forced me to reassess my life and finally realize that my true passion is teaching. When I took a hard look at my life, I saw that I had always been teaching something - and I decided to take the plunge and try to combine my career and my passion. It's been difficult, but it is so, so worth it!"
I guess my point is that it isn't enough to make the change; you also have to figure out how to sell the change in a positive way. It's crucial for job interviews (I haven't had a single interview that didn't include the question, "So, you were a lawyer? What made you decide to switch to teaching?") and it's also beneficial for friends and family - and, honestly, for yourself. Don't focus on why you're leaving your old career; focus on why you're pursuing a new one. Not only does it cast you in a more flattering light, it also helps you remember why the hard work is worth it.
And now for some pictures!
This is the only picture I have of Blakely and I, where we went on a camping trip and tried to do a jumping picture on the beach. I am terrible at jumping pictures and am the one on the right, barely jumping. Blakely is in the middle doing a much better job, and our friend Jenn, who is pratically in the circus, is looking flawless on the left.
Ms. Blakely, all smiles. I mean come on, does the look like the face of a scary lawyer?