|A Lawyer's Adventures in
By Janel Bush
Funny, how it all comes together.
At the end of 1994, with the New Year coming on, I realized it was time to
start thinking about a change. I had been an attorney/lobbyist for the City for 13 years.
Within days into January I was taking time off to reconsider all my established career
plans. I hated the craziness and politics, and the meanness that I saw. I took little joy
from my work. I dreaded getting up each day. This was not me. I will not bore you with the
endless trivia about why it got so bad, but trust me, it did. I sought employee counseling
for help in dealing with the really negative stress I was feeling for the first time in my
My counselor asked me a simple question: "Why do you work in a place like that? It is
dysfunctional." (Just the word I had used!) Well, it paid well, and had been exciting
and fun for a long time. I only had a few visits under our employee assistance plan, but
they helped me to decide to not be a victim, but to decide what I wanted, and to go after
The boom drops.
Before I got much chance to develop a plan, my position was eliminated in an amazingly
swift move that left me with little recourse but to take severance and get on with my
life. While all this was handled with a staggering lack of class or feeling, I realized
that my biggest desire had indeed been to get out... or better, get out alive.
I admit it, I was really set back by the fact that after years of pretty devoted service,
I could be so misunderstood, and treated so cavalierly for political purposes. Boy, how
could I be so naive with my experience and so-called smarts? Dumb and Dumber!
Oh well, what was I going to do next?
Looking for the next happiness.
I spent more time than I thought I should just being angry and hurt, humiliated and beaten
down. I could get a job doing what I had done -- lobbying -- but I really disliked the
kiss-ass requirements of many such jobs. I wanted to do something new that would still put
bread on the table. I would reconcile myself to "buying" happiness with a
reduced salary if necessary, but I would still require creativity and excitement to be a
part of any new position I took.
So, I embarked on a search. I read tons of books about "Job Shifts", "Doing
What You Love and the Money Will Follow", "Transitions", etc.. I took
personality tests, some of which confirmed what I had tried to hide from myself... that my
work personality was too independence-oriented, entrepreneurial, and relationship-focused
for me to be happy in the structure and hierarchy of government (where I had spent 20
years as a lawyer!).
I also went for employment counseling and job search training because it was a part of the
severance package. I "honed" (stupid word) my resume. I networked like crazy. I
found a great on-line place called the "Motley Fool" which had "Nick the
Headhunter" who provided excellent advice and feedback to me about what steps I could
take next. His message board, and his book about how not to interview, provided
much needed confirmation of things I had been feeling about my job search.
Unfortunately, no simple answer came to me, except that I should sell my house, and make
sure that I had no debt so that I would be truly free to consider a wide variety of
alternatives. But, I had some new tools to continue the search.
A table spread before me.
In some ways, I felt like I had just come out of a desert, and all sorts of wonderful
drinks and elixirs were being placed before me! I just didn't know where to begin and I
was plenty thirsty. I really enjoyed the summer, learning the Internet, installing
Windows95, creating imaginary businesses, thinking about books and ideas I cared about.
But how to weave all these separate threads into something whole?
To make ends meet, I took a temporary job six months after losing my job of 13 years. I
did not have a plan for where I was going next. Survival was the idea. I was even
contemplating selling computers! I just did the job as well as I could, was friendly, and
paid attention to the big picture around me. So, how did I find the great job I am about
Working on my own terms.
Well, there was no job listing, no classified ad. It wasn't even really a "job".
When I heard about a short-term project at the County Attorney's Office, I jumped at the
chance for temporary employment. I could help them with their backlog of child support and
paternity orders, and work fairly flexible hours, and even a little bit at home on my own
computer. It would keep the wolf at the door but not inside the house!
I enjoyed the work! It wasn't wildly exciting, but I got a real sense of accomplishment
getting all those proposed orders out. More importantly, I was reminded that I did have
"Excellent Work Skills" and that I could learn anything, even child support
formulas and an archaic version of WordPerfect.
The cases I dealt with also reminded me that I had a great deal that many other women did
not. I was educated, could make a decent income, and lived in my own comfortable home.
What was best though was that people liked me, thought I was a real asset, and praised me
often. I realized that I had never been in a work situation like that before. When I was
gone for Thanksgiving, I returned to find all sorts of little post-its with messages
saying they had missed me! Geesh if it paid real money, I could get used to this!
I cranked out over 200 hundred child support orders in a few months, and they were
impressed. I also learned the system, and the problems line staff were facing. Apparently
the County and the Department were beginning to realize that their new administrative
system was not without its problems.
The Old Girls' Network.
Here is where another of the Ask The Headhunter precepts came into play. I had friends I
had kept over the years, from when I had helped with the hiring of new lawyers at the
Senate Counsel. Two women in particular became my best friends... the kind that are forged
over 20 hour workdays, crazy stress and late night legislative shenanigans.
Well, I didn't know it, but I had created an old girls network. The network came into play
with the temporary job, and then, as I succeeded at that beyond my employer's
expectations, both the County and the State agency people began to see ways to really use
my skills to solve some problems of their own caused by the massive changes in the
judicial and administrative system. And I made sure they knew I could handle the work and
that I would love a new challenge. . .in an area unrelated to my prior experience! I
showed them that I could fit in, and that I had a unique mix of skills that just might
create the miracle they said they needed.
Basically, I talked with one woman and gave her my resume as an afterthought for the HR
people. True to Nick's precepts, I convinced people that I could do something that they
needed to have done... that they hadn't focused on until I came along.
Luckily, another of my friends is now a senior commissioner type in the Department of
Human Services, on loan from the Attorney General's office. The new position that I have
accepted is several levels down from her, but she too, supported the idea of hiring me for
this new position.
I think that it is interesting that both of my friends did not fear hiring me for
positions that ultimately reported to them. I think there are some real differences
between men and women in this area.
The flying carpet... er, rug.
I will begin work next week with the [State] Dept. of Human Services. They simply want a
miracle worker, and I said I'd give it a good shot. I will earn lots less than I did as a
lobbyist, but lots more than I earn currently, and I will be in the running again, and
Having grown up with zero money, I was absolutely enamored with security, and here I am
pulling the rug out from under my own feet. Or am I?
Nick deals with a lot of people on Ask The Headhunter who don't know how to get out of
what they are currently doing, and who want to make real career changes. I have especially
enjoyed the letters from the lawyers... maybe the malaise is contagious in that
profession? It IS hard to change, especially if you are heavily invested in being a
"Professional Anything", but you first have to let go, float a bit and then
start swimming toward your goals! In my case, I had a network of friends who shouted
encouragement, and when I appeared to be floundering a bit, threw out some water wings.
Rules? We don't need no stinking rules!
At my lowest point, when the employment counselors from the outplacement firm were calling
me asking when I would redo my resume or use their list of jobs or whatever, I kept
reminding myself that it was not laziness on my part, but my conviction that their methods
wouldn't work that pulled me through. If I hadn't read Nick's book and suggestions, I
might have chickened out!
This was a problem I faced with my friends as well... as in, "How many jobs have you
applied for this week?"
I did apply for jobs, usually variations of government relations positions
because that was what I was "qualified for", but in other government
organizations or in the private sector.
I think my subterranean dread of going back to that life came through in the interviews. I
always got to the finals, but couldn't pump myself up enough to truly convince them that I
could do the job they wanted done. I just didn't want to do it, and I couldn't quite
believe this of myself! I just did not want to end my search with one of those jobs. I am
not even sure that the new job I will be taking is just IT either, but I can admit that
from the start, and see what I DO want from it, and my expectation is to always be
"in the market" (more Headhunter lessons).
Planting the next seeds.
I have kept in contact with some other people because one of my long term ideas is to get
government to use the Internet and other new communication systems creatively. I know I
could be a great consultant in this area because what government needs is someone to help
them imagine all the possibilities and also help them make it real.
One particular contact is head of a planning agency in the State, and I suggested to him
that he should be concerned with where our local utilities were laying fiber optic cable
because it was a form of the "new infrastructure". If suburban sprawl and
segregation came from unrestricted sewer, highway, and school construction, what on earth
were the potential impacts of this new infrastructure? I don't think he had seen the issue
in quite that way recently. . .airports, wastewater, and sports arenas had been on his
latest list of problems.
I am just planting seeds wherever I can. I think that over the long haul, this man and a
few others will discover (with my help!) that they have problems that I can help solve. I
basically have to figure out for myself what I like to do before I can go out and
I now know that, at heart, I want to be a change agent. I would prefer to be a consultant,
and that is why I am taking this job -- because it is very close to being an internal
consultant. The new job will deal with bureaucracy and change as well as the trend toward
non-judicial resolution of legal problems.
I can't wait to see what I think of it once I am actually in the middle of it!
Please tell us what you think of this
Janel Bush is an attorney. She is now
focusing on being a "midwife to change" in the public sector. She is especially
interested in the potential for high tech communications (including the Internet) to play
a special role in 21st century democratic discourse.
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