When you were a child, do you remember being asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I do. The ideas many of us came up with were often dreamt up after watching kids’ TV shows and included firemen, racing drivers, astronauts, adventurers or indeed super heroes.
Me? I had a desire from a very early age to help people. I wanted to be a doctor. ‘What happened?’, I hear you asking. Well, once I discovered I’d need an A-level in Chemistry that was enough to put me right off.
Instead, I opted for Geography because I wanted to study a subject at university I’d genuinely enjoy. I felt, being such a broad subject, it would also keep my future career options open as I still hadn’t really figured out what I wanted to do after my studies. Then, somewhere along the way, I developed a realisation that I should do something ‘sensible’ that was also ideally well paid.
An opportunity arose to become a founding member of my university’s law society. Rather handily, this also seemed a sensible career choice. I had regular correspondence with law firms and became campus manager for Herbert Smith (as it was then named), helping to promote their brand around my campus. The more I found out about what a career in law might look like, the more attractive I found it.
The larger firms were well represented at university law fairs, so I didn’t even consider smaller ones when applying for vacation schemes. I was fortunate enough to be accepted onto Allen & Overy’s (A&O) vacation scheme and following this received an offer of a training contract.
Like so many other aspiring lawyers the next few years were then mapped out for me. Graduate from university, attend post-graduate law school, complete my training contract and become a qualified solicitor. I like to think of this time as being on a conveyor belt – as long as I didn’t stray too far to the edges, I’d end up qualifying. Naturally, there were ups and downs during this time – I don’t want to give the impression it was easy. The reality is I had worked incredibly hard to get there and this slogging away only continued. The training at A&O was fantastic and I enjoyed spending my final seat with the banking team in Moscow – an opportunity I’ll never forget and always be grateful for.
I picked my qualification department based largely on my experience in the team and the individuals I got to work alongside. People have always been important to me – I get a lot of my energy from others around me. If I find inspiring people, I want to stay connected with them. With hindsight perhaps that wasn’t the best strategy – I ended up qualifying into the leveraged finance team.
Though the work handled by my team often made the front page of the FT, it didn’t excite me. I’m not sure how many people would have the courage to openly say they didn’t find the work they did enjoyable. I didn’t, on both counts. One factor I hadn’t fully appreciated was high team turnover. Coupled with the relentless and gruelling hours, I wasn’t spending enough time with family and friends. I decided something had to change and tried a change of environment by moving to Fladgate.
I was initially excited by the prospect of joining a smaller law firm where I’d gain good exposure on deals and plenty of client contact. This was the case, and I enjoyed the people aspects of my new role – and is it soon transpired this had become a common thread throughout all the career choices I’d made to date.
I felt there was still something missing. What happened next involved me taking the most courageous leap of faith in my professional and personal life. I quit law to become a carer for patients nearing the end of their lives.
To find out more about why and how I made this significant leap, please sign-up for my fireside Zoom chat with CheekyLittleCareers’ Associate Coach and Contributing Editor Husnara Begum, who like me is also a career changer, on 9th September at 6.30 pm. Advanced booking is a must.
Matt Verrell, associate executive coach