Over 200 comments flooded THE WALL STREET JOURNAL Law Blog post on the law Have-nots - those of you who have received a JD but have no job in law and no income [yet] to pay those student loans. Given that heavy traffic on the blog, you can bet the folks in charge will be featuring the most extreme examples of the Have-Nots. That's in their self-interest, especially with new owner Rupert Murdoch ready to pounce.
But the real story here is what will your gen do in response. You're not the first gen to invest time, money and hope in a degree that didn't pan out.
We Baby Boomers were there first. My stay in the doctoral program for linguistics and literature at the University of Michigan coincided with the government's realizing it had made an error forecasting the demand for college professors with those credentials.
Our story turned out to be one of shrewd leverage. We deconstructed what skills and experience we could put out there and sell. I spent about 20 years as a speechwriter/ghostwriter. My best friend who was writing her dissertation on Virginia Woolf became a trainer in government. Another school chum also dissertating on Crazy Virginia went high up the ladder in human resources at a bank.
Your advantage is that for your gen there is ample research on the transformational power of adversity. We assumed we had done something wrong.
In his breakthrough book "Firing Back," Jeffrey Sonnenfeld [who had plenty of his own career setbacks] documents how it wasn't until an unexpected visit with adversity that ordinary professionals excelled. On page 48, Sonnenfeld observes, "... leaders who triumphed over adversity recognized that greatness was thrust upon them by opportunities they did not seek." Steve Jobs, the patron saint of overcoming obstacles, essentially says the same thing in his now-classic Stanford commencement speech "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish." And Bill Clinton aka Houdini seems to become stronger and smarter after each career crisis.
A number of you have contacted me, asking: Do I do career coaching? The answer is yes. But if you were intelligent enough to navigate getting into law school and graduating you can probably put together a new career path yourself.
Here are the steps to greatness:
- Never panic. Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Kanter sees panic as the source of all career failures. In her book "Confidence," Kanter notes, "It's not mistakes that cause winners to lose, it's panic. Panic is a sudden, anxious feeling of loss of control, and panicking can make a small fumble worse, by causing people to lose their heads and forget to think clearly."
- Get a job, any job. Money coming in, no matter how little, is not money going out.
- While you're at the survival job that might not even support survival, observe how people make a good living. What are the Emotional IQ, skills, knowledge base required? Read the want ads in many categories. The goal is to think outside the law box.
- Outside the law box may be creative ventures that pay off big. What about a documentary on your journey from a JD into the unknown? You can chronicle it on a blog or video feeds on YouTube. Maybe you can write a play or novel about this experience? Do stand-up?
- Take a comprehensive inventory of your work experiences since childhood. Perhaps you helped out in the family deli or sold the most brownies for a fundraiser. Detail your skills. Review your personality strengths. How could you package or bundle together some of these into a resume and cover letter to try going after non-law opportunities? For example, as a law graduate you are probably highly verbal and aggressive. You were a real little salesperson as a child. What about breaking into sales, marketing, public affairs, and/or public relations. Here's the 2% Rule. About 98% of what you try won't be a fit. The other 2% will create magic.
- For those whose passion remains in law, there are a growing number of opportunities in legal journalism and publishing. Check monster.com, journalismjobs.com, mediabistro.com [membership required]. If your strength is marketing, more and more law firms, of all sizes, are hiring full-time marketing staff. Having a JD is a plus.
- Thank those who suggest that you go for another degree. The more you thank them for this inane advice the more quickly they will leave you alone.
- The mindset here is opportunity, not the salary or prestige. A job leads to a better job. No job leads no where.
- Heed Hofstadter's Law: A venture takes longer than estimated. For some reason, a 180-degree career shift requires anywhere from 18 months to 4 years. It isn't like those inspirational stories in the B-level magazines.
- Be prepared to remember this time of struggle as one of the most astounding in your life - to you and to everyone who knows you. You got through adversity to a greatness you never envisioned. Expert on uncertainty Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls that encountering a Black Swan [unexpected development] and making it an advantage.
If you don't exactly feel lucky being blessed with this opportunity, forget feelings. It's what you do.