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By: Jamie Collins

Reprinted with permission from KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals: www.paralegalknowledge.com.

I’m here today to share the story of two paralegals. Their stories might implore you to rethink your current spot in your career, and more importantly, in the parking lot of life. As you read their stories, take a deep look inside yourself and decide which of these paralegals seems most similar to you. Let’s meet the paralegals!

Paralegal A: The first paralegal is 35-years-old. She has worked as a litigation paralegal for 13 years, mostly in the fast-paced world of litigation, although she’s dabbled in some other areas, too.  She enjoys her job. She works hard and has learned a great deal, as she earned her paralegal stripes along the way.  She is eager to arrive at the office most days, although she finds some people and projects far more appealing than others. Overall, she is happy, but beginning to wonder if this is the end of the career road.

Networking: Paralegal A’s outside involvement with other professionals is limited.  She is not a member of any social media networking sites, nor does she attend any local paralegal association meetings.  Essentially, this paralegal’s only “professional contacts” are those she works alongside at her law firm, which is small in size. She feels like part of an important team. She earns a pretty good living.

Extra-Curricular Involvement: While Paralegal A has written a few articles for one of the paralegal education groups, that is her only involvement outside of normal office hours.

How She Feels: If we’re being totally honest here, this paralegal feels a bit complacent. And the thing of it is – she’s not okay with being complacent. She enjoyed constantly challenging herself. She is the type of person who is always attempting to up her own game in some manner, to keep herself moving faster, reaching farther, and accomplishing more. She’s hit a point in her career where she really isn’t sure what to do next. Perhaps she’s hit a career plateau. She wants to shake the complacency. She feels like something is missing; like she could be doing more; like she is more. She is successful by any normal person’s standard, but is quickly being consumed by career complacency.

That is the story of Paralegal A.

Paralegal B: Now, we’ll talk a bit about Paralegal B. She also works at a small law firm, doing litigation work, and has worked in the legal biz for more than a decade. Overall, Paralegal A and Paralegal B’s job duties pretty similar, as are their work environments.  Paralegal B thrives in the hustle-and-bustle atmosphere, enjoys performing a wide array of tasks each day, and loves her job. She is a real go-getter.

Networking: Paralegal B has an amazing network, and is connected to other legal professionals all across the country, and beyond. She enjoys mingling with people, both in person and virtually.

Extra-Curricular Activities: Paralegal B is actively involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities outside of the office.  She is a member of two local paralegal associations, on a paralegal board, on a paralegal panel, and speaks regularly to paralegal students at a local college. She is also an avid writer. I tried to add up exactly how many articles she has written to date – but for purposes of estimation, we’ll say it’s more than 50.  This paralegal not only loves what she does, but enjoys helping others on their own journeys through the paralegal trenches. She likes giving back. She encourages others to volunteer, write, speak, and mentor.

How She Feels: This paralegal feels as though she’s riding on a lightning bolt through her career. She is on the fast track to the next best thing, whatever it may be. This is Paralegal B.

So which one of these paralegals is more like you?  Paralegal A or Paralegal B? Take a moment to ponder it. Which paralegal’s story best describes where you currently find yourself in your career?

Do you want to know something really interesting?
Both of these paralegals are the same person.
Each of them is me.

Well, actually two versions of me; each an accurate story, but taking place approximately two years apart. It’s amazing how much you can change your career (and life) the moment you decide you’re going to.  I shook off the complacency the day I decided I wanted more, and was willing to do what it took to make it happen. I am here to tell you that you can go from being “Paralegal A” to “Paralegal B” in a matter of 6 months to a year.

I was okay with the person I saw staring back at me in that reflection in the mirror two years ago. I was proud of the things I had accomplished to date.  I had managed to successfully parlay a meager Associate’s Degree in Paralegal Studies into a rather impressive career. I’d worked for several well-known attorneys and done some pretty amazing things. Fantastic!

But I wanted more.

Perhaps I knew I had more to offer to the world.  Perhaps I was smart enough to know I should expect more of myself. Two years ago, the winds of complacency blew and staunch boredom hung heavy in the air. I found myself asking some big questions and looking deep within myself to find the answers:

Who was I?
What more did I want to be?
What could I do next?

The funny thing is, once I started asking myself these questions, and opened myself up to the possibility of expecting more in my life, the more the opportunities came to me…and fast.  One day I would find myself wishing I could get involved with shaping paralegal programs, and the next, I would see a discussion string on LinkedIn in search of people to do exactly that.  I would apply.

I wanted to visit local colleges to interact with paralegal students, despite my disdain for public speaking. I made a local connection with the head of a paralegal program, and was asked if I would visit the local university to share advice and information with its students. I would open myself up to opportunities.

Perhaps, most importantly, I would place myself into random encounters with important people. Perhaps the one random encounter for which I am most grateful is the one that brought me into the writing arena. I had vowed to myself (and if I’m being entirely honest, to God) that I was ready for more in my career and life, and if things came my way that I thought I should be doing – I would do them.  And I meant every word.

It was a secret vow I made to myself. Those around me had no idea that a change had taken hold of me, but internally, my potential was abuzz. I began to see opportunities flashing all around me that I probably would have never noticed the day before. It was as though I had awoken to a new world filled with more opportunities. Only it wasn’t the world that had changed – it was me that had.

Following a normal exchange on LinkedIn one day, I found myself virtually face-to-face with none other than the wildly fabulous Chere Estrin. Want to hear the really funny part?  At that point, I had no clue who Chere was.  I was new to social media and carefully making my way around the first bend in the “newbie networking roadway.”  Now, I honestly believe if I had “met” her when I was still “Paralegal A,” I would have made a mental note it was “pretty cool to meet an editor,” and sauntered back to my computer screen to live another day pounding out perfect pleadings.

One day later, I found myself on a live call with her.

The new me – Paralegal B – figured, while I have this really cool Editor-in-Chief on the phone right now, I might as well pull my high heels up a little tighter, fluff my hair, and go for the gusto.  I tell her I had applied for a columnist position with a competing magazine, and was waiting to hear back about the position (all true). About thirty seconds later, not quite literally, I was being offered a columnist position for the magazine you are now reading. Get this – “I had to think about it.”  Ha. It throws me into a fit of hysterical laughter now, but let me remind you I was new to social media and had never heard of Chere, nor seen the magazine. (I mean, seriously, who has to “think about” being given a dream opportunity like this? Apparently, this girl – that’s who).  The new me wasn’t afraid to be told “no.” I also didn’t fear doing a face plant. I was willing to put myself on the line to see what happened.  When I saw an opportunity, I took it. The rest, as they say, is dream-making history.

I know where are people out there who will say, well if you hadn’t gotten lucky and ran into the right people or opportunities over the past two years, things may not have worked out as they did.  Fair enough. But I believe when we open ourselves up to possibilities, we make them imminent and likely to occur.  I had so many opportunities beckoning to me from the periphery it was hard not to entertain them.

For me, the goal was to shake off the complacency and become more. I wanted to create the type of career I saw myself retiring in.  The potential to become a columnist, blogger, better paralegal, mentor, quasi-leader of a social forum, and all around “better me” was all on the table because I was hungry for it.  I wanted it.  I was willing to work hard to make it happen. I didn’t always know exactly what to do, but I propelled myself into action.  What I did know was this:

I would apply.
I would open myself up to opportunities.
I would place myself into random encounters with important people.
I would turn caution into confidence and put myself out there.
I would follow the opportunities to wherever they led me.
I would become the person I wanted to be.

Movers and shakers seem to find a way to make their way down the road of dreams. It’s those standing still watching the dust blow by that stop to ponder the impossibility of it all. Put simply, no one is going to chase after what you want if you don’t. It’s your goal to dedicate yourself to, chase down, and pursue. It’s your own potential to examine, muster, and set on fire. It takes courage to decide what you want. But once you do, it all comes down to the three D’s:

Decide – what you must do;

Determine – what you can do in order to take one (or twelve) steps in that direction; and

Do – as in do it now

The only thing standing between you, and “Paralegal B;” whomever she may be, is the three D’s, and a little courage.

Courage is admitting that you’re afraid and facing that fear directly.  It’s being strong enough to ask for help and humble enough to accept it.

Courage is standing up for what you believe in without worrying about the opinions of others.  It’s following your own heart, living your own life, and settling for nothing than the best for yourself.

Courage is daring to take a first step, a big leap, or a different path.  It’s attempting to do something that no one has done before and all others thought impossible.

Courage is keeping heart in the face of disappointment and looking at defeat not as an end, but as a new beginning.  It’s believing that things will ultimately get better even if they get worse.

Courage is being responsible for your own actions and admitting your own mistakes without placing blame on others.  It’s relying not on others for your success, but on your own skills and efforts.

Courage is refusing to quit even when you’re intimidated by impossibility.  It’s choosing a goal, sticking with it, and finding solutions to the problems.

Courage is thinking big, aiming high, and shooting far.  It’s taking a dream and doing anything, risking everything, and stopping at nothing to make it a reality.

– Caroline Kent

What are you dreaming about today? What should you be? Are you willing to think big, aim high, and shoot far? Will you do [darn near] anything, risk everything, and stop at nothing to make it a reality?

Figure out who you want to be. Open your eyes to the multitude of amazing opportunities all around you. Seek out important people. Don’t be afraid to fail. Take the first step toward becoming the person you want to become. Do it today.

“Don’t let anything stop you.
There will be times when
You’ll be disappointed, but you can’t stop.
Make yourself the very best that you can make of what you are.
The very best.”

Sadie T. Alexander

_____

Shake off the complacency and get out there, paralegals! Forget seizing the day, seize every good thing about you. Starting now…