Never look a gift horse in the mouth

Posted by Pierre Watson, head of talent acquisition at Legal Futures Associate Acquira Professional Services

Watson: When did you last reflect on your career?

It’s one of those surreal sayings. But as far as career moves go, it’s a useful one to remember.

In the real world, everyone is a candidate. As a candidate, you are either active (looking for the next move) or passive (not looking for the next move).

From a career standpoint, it is wise to be mindful of new opportunities when they arise.

In the legal world, we hear the following all too often: “I’m not looking to move.” Absorbed with their current work, most people tend to say this and it is hardly surprising.

At any time, there are many more passive candidates than active. But what does “I’m not looking to move” actually mean?

Let’s pause for a moment. The key thing is – when did you last reflect on your career? Are all your career needs met where you are now? If the answer is yes, that’s great!

If the answer is no, then that’s treading water in career terms and is a giveaway sign that your work is unfulfilling. You are being hard on yourself if you are unable to change things to put it right.

Legal professionals commit to doing the right thing by their employer. Staying focused to execute the day’s business for their firm in the best way they are able. It’s ‘business as usual’, whether that means from the office, or by working from home, which this year has become the new ‘business as usual’.

It’s easy to become transfixed by the day job. This means not giving any thought to your career goals or whether you align with your career values.

Therefore, when opportunities arise, it is worth your time to pause, take a step back and reflect on how it’s going.

In their insightful book, How Will You Measure Your Life?, James Allworth, Karen Dillon and Clayton Christensen talk about career strategy. They applaud the benefits of a combined approach of “deliberate action and unanticipated opportunities”.

In the same way, companies grow by following a combination of deliberate and emergent strategies. The latter result from being open to the unexpected. If we close the door on the unanticipated opportunities, we may be looking that gift horse in the mouth.

The book goes on to explain: “Change can often be difficult, and it will probably seem easier to just stick with what you are already doing. That thinking can be dangerous. You’re only kicking the can down the road, and you risk waking up one day, years later, looking into the mirror, asking yourself: ‘What am I doing with my life?’”.

This inertia is undone by taking that initial step back to assess where you are in relation to where you want to be.

So, what needs to happen to get you there? As mentioned, if everything is going well, you are thriving in your role and being rewarded for your efforts and achievements. Great – there is no need to pursue alternatives.

This is crystal clear if the list of factors that keep you happy currently is too big a list to surrender.

The lost opportunities occur when individuals become too immersed in the day-to-day activity. They appear bizarrely wedded to the firm and not the partner with whom they walked down the aisle a few years ago.

Then you get that same hypnotic, self-fulfilling mantra of a response – “I’m not looking to move.”

It’s been a crazy year, and the next will prove crazier as we aim to launch a vital new service to the legal profession – How To Divorce Your Firm*.

The Christmas and New Year break offers a chance to pause to reflect. Happy Christmas.

*Not really. Now go pour yourself another glass of port – cheers!


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