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Career Consultancy Tips by Helen Campbell Harder, South Australia

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“Finding the right work can influence your emotions, your physical well being, your energy levels, indeed your whole way of life…”

As a psychologist who specialises in career consultancy, this quote caught my eye some eight years ago. It continues to resonate as I meet with clients and engage with stories of their lives and work.


Of particular interest has been the increasing volume of younger lawyers who have made their way to my office. It is striking how the threads of their stories echo similar refrains disillusionment, dissatisfaction and exhaustion. It followed that many were struggling with psychological and physical symptoms of ill health.

Long before visiting with me, they had begun to engage with the idea of identity, “If not a lawyer then who am I? Who do I want to be and further, what do I want my life to look like?” It takes resolve to excavate uncertainty and to honestly explore aspects of life supporting nagging dissatisfaction. Themes appeared of work not sitting comfortably with personal values and principles; for example discovering that their chosen vocation (law) was not focused on helping people in the way they had imagined. For other practitioners, disrespectful communication and behaviour create toxic working environments, a strong part of the picture related to their unhappiness.

Stories come forward of traditional ways of working that have contributed to compromising health, relationships and confidence. Clients speak of high volumes of work and overlong work days, a regular feature of their week. The prospect of a fifty to sixty hour week would not be uncommon for many lawyers. Accounts of giving up life-generating activities (creative and physical), of having little or no time to catch-up with friends as well as fractious personal relationships. Others want to start a family but find it difficult to imagine how these responsibilities can fit with the demands of their profession. Once clients begin to acknowledge that they are grappling with realities that may not be able to shift, these realisations become compelling motivations for change.

 Clearly the profession of law is not the only one where difficult and sometimes unhealthy work practices survive. Indeed for some clients rather than questionable work practices, requirements of a profession or vocation just don’t fit with the qualities, skills and personalities of many individuals. With sustained effort clients begin to see how other careers and options are more compatible. Regardless of work history, all clients speak of wanting satisfying work, work that fits with who they are and with their identified priorities.

Most clients come through the door saying, “I know what I don’t want to do, but I don’t know what I do want to do with my work life”. So the prospect of change often begins with the acceptance of not knowing. Changing a career, finding work that works for you, can be a major life transition, one that requires thought, planning and action. Giving ourselves permission to question our lives and explore the roots of disappointment include examining the prevailing notions of success and achievement, as well as noticing how our ideas may differ from the work culture with which we are aligned.

The option is not simply will I stay or go but includes some thoughts around what you want to let go of and what might be really important to you in life. It’s often about finding the courage to execute decisions that will chart the path to better health, to balance in the way that you need it and to a sense of fulfillment that drives you. A law degree is a valuable achievement and solid foundation from which to survey other possibilities. Taking that first step, having conversations about how life is for you and how it can be different, are actions that can support your efforts to reclaim the ways you value your life.

Consider some of these activities and ideas….


Purchase a binder/book that can accommodate your career research/notes/information/advertisements. You could also carry a small pocket notebook of ideas, recording ideas and thoughts without evaluating them…just yet.

Review in writing “pros and cons” of leaving current employment.

Think about how you can alter the way you work

to leave space for other activities of high priority to you?

Look for strategies to manage your current employer/supervising partner more skillfully. Focus on how you're thinking? … what you are doing/saying? … how do your current habits contribute to dissatisfaction? How can you shift even 1 or 2 of these? Notice what difference even small changes make.

Give yourself permission to leave your work and as a consequence become more alert to other career directions of interest. Review the Careers section of the newspaper (local and interstate), cut out and keep a log of interesting advertisements.

Consciously have conversations with people who cross your path about the work they do…really allow yourself to take an interest.

Browse the internet, large career sites, small professional sites, etc.

Notice your intuition and allow yourself to act on it, even when these actions seem strange or really different for you.

Look at volunteer possibilities in areas of interest – even though you may be unready to commit to these, even researching them is a good beginning. Allow yourself to consider those that generate energy, are enjoyable and get you to loosen up your thinking…..

Contributing Author: Helen Campbell Harder For more information about Helen Campbell Harder and how her services can facilitate career transition see

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