The Danger of Doing Things Because You are Good at Them

The Danger of Doing Things Because You are Good at Them

Let me ask you a question:

Should you aim to make a career out of doing things you're good at?

"Why, sure," you say, "what else would I do?"

It's Not that Easy

This is a question I've struggled with for a long time (see a three year detour into architecture school so I could try something "hard"), but I don't think it's so straightforward. For example, I went to law school for three main reasons:

  1. I wanted to live in NYC for a few years.
  2. I thought I'd be good at it.
  3. I wanted to be able to support myself.

As it turned out, I was quite good at law school, and at being a lawyer.

There was only one problem - I hated it!

I was very good at being a litigator, but I hated the constant fighting (and the firm "lifestyle," but that's a separate issue). To be honest, I even detest the pro bono case I'm still working on. Every time I have to deal with it, I get tense and wish I'd never gotten involved!

Pay Attention to Context

It's easy to let yourself get pulled onto a seemingly lucrative and stable career path, if you're good at many of the job requirements: You've always been good at writing and public speaking? Fantastic, go to law school!

But it's not enough just to be good at these things. You have to enjoy using these skills in the context in which you'll be working.

And I think, for a lot of lawyers, that's where matters fall apart.

The reasons for dissatisfaction differ:

  • For some people, it's ethical concerns ("I don't feel good about the clients I'm representing").
  • For others, it's some unrelated detail of the work environment ("I hate everyone I work with").
  • For others, it's another aspect of the job ("I'm a good writer, but I'm not detail oriented enough to do this job").

It's hard to pin down why so many lawyers end up unhappy, but I think a lot of it has to do with the fallacy that you're required to do the things you're good at.

You don't. Do the things you want to do instead!

You'll be a lot happier in the end.


Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School and a co-founder of the Law School Toolbox. A 2006 graduate of Columbia Law School, she was a member of the Columbia Law Review, a Civ Pro Teaching Assistant, a Kent Scholar, and a Stone Scholar. After law school, she clerked in the District of Massachusetts and was a BigLaw patent litigator for two years. Now she helps other aspiring lawyers get into law school, get through, and stay true to themselves in the process.