I started practicing law in San Diego in 2008, in the midst of the worst economic climate anyone I had ever seen in my lifetime. The year before, right before the financial markets collapsed, I’d turned down a well-paying job at a large, well-known Arizona firm to move to America’s Finest City with the man I’d go on to marry.
No problem, I thought to myself in the days before Lehman Brothers disintegrated before our eyes. I’ll find something great — I always do. Buoyed by youthful optimism, I set out to enjoy my final year of law school. I said no to the job and yes to the West Coast. And then, of course, the bottom fell out. (I have great timing like that.)
I found a job that paid peanuts, but hey, it was a job. I was happy to have one; I had loads of law school debt and we needed to make rent every month. I set to work learning all I could about litigation, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was absolutely flailing. As it happens, law school is nothing at all like practicing law. In fact, I actually sort of despised it. The day-to-day grind was tortuous. Dealing with opposing counsel brought out every scintilla of imposter syndrome I’d tried so desperately to tamp down throughout my professional and academic career. I was desperate for growth, for a cohort of peers that could help advise me on what incremental steps I needed to take right now to leave my job and find something that inspired me, but I felt completely and utterly stuck.
If this sounds familiar to you, let me first assure you that you are categorically not alone. You are having a very common, very human experience. My initial solution, which I wouldn’t recommend, was to bounce around without much of a plan. I went to a plaintiff’s firm, where I worked with great people but wasn’t moved by the work I was doing. I went in-house, where I learned an incredible amount about the intersection of law and business, but constantly confronted the nagging feeling that this was not what I was supposed to be doing with my one wild, precious life.
In 2014, after the birth of my first child, and mere hours after receiving a prestigious award for young lawyers in the San Diego community, I announced I was leaving the law to pursue a career in communications. My lawyer friends told me I was crazy. You’re on this upward trajectory, they said. Keep at it! But I didn’t want to anymore. I went to work in public relations and remembered that I absolutely loved the pace and the work of shaping story.
Along the way, I began to invest in myself: first in a coaching setting, which has been instrumental in my personal and professional growth, and next in specific, targeted training designed to elevate my executive presence and business development acumen. Choosing yourself can often be the most difficult work. We pay for our kids’ soccer leagues and horseback riding lessons and French horns but investing in ourselves can feel self-indulgent rather than mission critical. I am confident that I am better for doing it — and that you are, too.
Earlier this year, in the weeks before a pandemic changed every facet of our lives, I launched a storytelling and communications company with my business partner and dear friend Ann marie Houghtailing. We had to learn how to reimagine our business and our roles all from the comfort and chaos of our homes. I was educating my young kids from home; Ann marie was caring for her ailing mother, who was dying in her living room. The volume felt as if it had been turned all the way up, and some days were excruciating.
Ultimately, Ann marie and I decided that life, death and even a global pandemic couldn’t stand in the way of our vision. We doubled down on Story Imprinting. We chose ourselves. And that work has reminded us of a few immutable truths: to pivot, you must be nimble and open to opportunity. To thrive, you must control your choices.
By Holly Amaya
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