It was my birthday this week. It’s a date that always prompts a bit of navel gazing, and this year my thoughts were focused on my career. I’ve never been the kind of person who draws up and maintains a five-year plan (my commitment issues are too great). However, even it I had, there is no way my plan would ever have anticipated my current lifestyle as a traveller and writer.
Five years ago I was a lawyer. I’d invested eight years of my life (and money) studying and training, and after a further eight years of practising, I reached a point where I needed something different. I was desperate to get out, to see the world, pursue some other interests and live my life in a different way.
However, jumping from routine into potential chaos is hardly an easy decision and, worse, is one that is rarely encouraged. There is a fear in modern western society about quitting a well paid, steady office-based career in favour of pursuing something more creative or whimsical or…Heaven forbid, following our dreams.
For many people, doing what I did represented a very dire case of “throwing it all away”. And why would any sane person do that? The answer, which many people don’t get, at least not immediately, is very simple: I’ve. Thrown. Nothing. Away.
What follows is my list – what my legal years taught me, how these skills help me travel and why I don’t regret quitting my job as a lawyer to travel.
1. My legal skills are recyclable
When people think about life changing decisions, whether it is a career move, a physical one or something else, it is often viewed as a disconnect – an ending where everything that came before is obliterated beyond existence. When I tell people I’d quit my legal job to travel, is as though I’m telling them I reached into my past with an oversized bottle of Tipex (whiteout) and blotted out my legal years: “Indiana Jo’s Life: 1994-2010 – no data available”. But the reality is quite different.
Sure, I no longer go to an office each day, I don’t have the prestige and status that many lawyers covet, and a healthy pay cheques doesn’t magically appear in my bank account each month (that part I do miss), but the decade and a half of my life that I invested? The path I was creating right up until the point I placed my tools down and decided to build a new life somewhere else? None of it has gone to waste. Not a single year nor a single skill.
I’ve. Thrown. Nothing. Away.
I’ve simply recycled my skills.
In everything we do, we learn and we grow and during the sixteen years that I was pursuing and then living the life of a lawyer, I picked up myriad skills – skills that will stay with me for the rest of my life and skills that I use every day as a traveller, writer, dreamer and explorer. If you’re worried about turning your back on a profession or any job or goal that you’ve been working towards, I’d highly recommend you don’t view it as though you’re throwing anything away. Instead, consider how many ways you can recycle your skills.
Write a list. Note down all of those things you’ve learned and how they will serve you on your next adventure.
2. I know my rights – and I’m not afraid to exercise them
I used to be a consumer lawyer, which basically means I’m a good person to go shopping with if you want to return an item or, more relevant now – if you need help when your trip doesn’t go to plan. Obviously, citing the law isn’t going to do much good when the bus you’ve booked in Laos is delayed for 6 hours due to a lack of passengers (true story) but when the big corporates do something wrong (like my 23-hour delay in New York), I’m happy to have my legal toolkit to hand.
Knowing my rights gives me the confidence to contact companies that don’t perform their obligations and claim a refund or compensation where it’s due. I recently managed to iron out a wrinkle with my specialist photography travel insurance and, all in all, I’ve saved a fair bit of travel money by exercising my legal rights and gaining deserved compensation.
3. I question everything – and I want evidence to prove it
Last year I wrote about Naples and Mexico not being as unsafe as many people would have you believe and I attribute this realisation to my former legal training. From day one of law school you’re taught to seek out the evidence, verify facts and critically assess everything you’ve been told. It’s something I now do as habit and it’s something I find incredibly helpful when making travel decisions. If I hear that women are being attacked in India (ergo it’s unsafe for me to go), I want details, statistics, hard facts. Hearsay, scaremongering and flippant advice won’t do. I want to gather real data so I can make an informed travel decision based on the established evidence.
3. I can assimilate large amounts of data in a short space of time
At university, we were required to consumed entire library’s worth of textbooks and with a cryable volume of judgments (Judges blather on more than I do). Although those years were brutal, I’m no longer scared of large volumes of travel literature. Train timetables, entire Lonely Planet tomes, a 6 month travel itinerary – I can happily pick it up, sift it and pick out the salient points before many people have summoned up the nerve to dig in. Plus, acquiring a volume of historical, political and other travel information always enhances my trips.
4. I’ve become a pragmatist and a problem solver
This skill didn’t come quickly for me (I preferred the academic side of law), but after several years of practice and after living in a fast-pasted business world I learned to get to the root of a problem quickly. Now, I tend to approach most issues in the same way – it usually doesn’t matter who or what caused the problem, what does matters is what we can do to solve it and move on. From a lack of accommodation to staring into the face of a potential tsunami to just plain old annoying missed flights, problem solving skills are invaluable as a traveller.
5. I have a high threshold for stress
If there is one thing that struck me first and foremost when I first set off around the world, it was the amount of new stuff you have to face every day. From finding a bed, a city, a bus station, a place to eat and locating toilets – not so small things we take for granted back home – can all represent challenges when you travel. Add in new languages (which I’m terrible at learning), a constant influx of new people, security worries, financial strain and living a life of general uncertainty, it can start to add up to a fair amount of stress.
Were it not for years of toughening up to stressful situations that came as a regular side-serving with my legal job, I don’t think I’d have continued travelling for as long as I have.
6. I’m well equipped to help people
Rational, reasonable, calm, unemotional, pragmatic and solution driven (most of the time) – being a lawyer helped me develop skills that are essential in fixing problems. Not only am I able to deal with my own travel issues, I’ve helped other travels get ticket refunds, make insurance claims, deal with lost wallets and stolen phones, advise on visa applications and calmed down disputes that could have gotten more heated.
7. I can function well even with limited sleep
Lawyers – they work a lot. I’ve seen the sun rise from my corporate office more times than I’d have liked and during my training days, 7am to 2am wasn’t an uncommon schedule for me. The flip-side: I’ve learned to suppress my inner-grouch when I’m tired and I know that a cup of coffee and a pastry can solve even the most horrid of early mornings. All essential skills when you’d combining a lifestyle of night buses, early flights, sunrise sightseeing and nightclub testing (an official part of my travels).
8. I’m a better writer
Ok, feel free to chirp-in to the contrary, point out typos and correct my grammar – none of which are perfect. However, it’s all relative. Before I was a lawyer, and before I was required to take much more care with my words, my writing wasn’t all that great. The daily practice of law, writing briefs, consultation papers and giving written advice have all upped my game making it that bit easier to try to morph into the role of a freelance writer – a location independent job that can allow me to travel.
9. Travel budgeting wasn’t as tough
How do I say this without sounding like a loathsome braggart? Over my years of lawyering, I earned some decent money. It never felt like enough as the time (one of the faults with our capitalist system in my view). However, the upshot is that I had some savings to fulfil my dream – something I’m incredibly grateful for because it gave me the confidence to take the leap from law to travel.
10. Everything else seems easier
There was a period during my lawyer years that I thought my job description was to sit in an office and row with people all day. It was exhausting and it was changing me as a person (in a bad way). In hindsight, I’m surprised I sustained this way of living for as long as I did and, in comparison, almost everything else feels easier – even the hard stuff.
11. I have a decent ‘fall-back’ option
Not only has walking away from my legal career made me realise that nothing is every really being thrown away, I also realise that it is always possible to reinstall an earlier version of your life. It may not be identical (same job), but my qualifications have not been revoked – I will have them for life and as it’s good to know I have a very decent option if I decide that the travel and writing life is no longer for me.
12. I’m eternally grateful for this new chapter in my life
What more is there to say? Are you thinking of quitting your job to travel? Have you done it already? Did you feel like you were throwing it all away or do you recognise and value the skills you gained in your past work?
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