From Doctor & Lawyer to Musician & Revolutionary: Making Extreme Career Transitions & Why It’s Never Too Late
“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot
Reader Note: Today’s article is a continuation from last week’s massive guide on How Formal Education Killed the Passionate Career (+ A Practical Guide for Students, Parents & Lifelong Learners).
I wrote this for those of you who are currently studying something that doesn’t excite you or are already in a career that you feel you’ve invested too much time and money to make a change.
I have good news. You’re not alone and it’s not too late. It never is.
Here’s proof and a path…
From Successful Lawyer to Civil Rights Revolutionary
On October 2, 1869 a boy was born in the town of Porbandar, which at that time was a part of the British Indian Empire in India.
He was born into a simple life to a caring mother and father.
At 13 years old, he was married to a woman a year older than him, in a typical Indian arranged marriage.
At 15 they had their first child, who died two days after birth. His father had also passed away earlier that year.
He went on to have four more children, meanwhile barely making it through school.
After much encouragement from his mother, and with the desire to honor his father’s legacy, the boy moved to London to study law. He invested heavily, both in time and money, to become a lawyer and make his family proud.
Once he received his law degree, he learned that his mother had died while he was in London and his family had decided to keep the news from him.
Disheartened, he returned to India and spent nearly the next decade struggling to build his law practice.
At 24 years old he took a job in South Africa with the Indian firm, Dada Abdulla & Co. For the next 21 years he went on to become a successful, respected and well-paid lawyer. The kind of profession that could really make your family proud.
But around 1915 something interesting began to happen. This young man started to feel something. He noticed the growing human rights injustice throughout British-controlled South Africa and India. He wanted to do something about it. He felt called to something else. To something bigger. To work he felt mattered.
But he had a career he’d spent decades building. The kind most would kill for.
So what’d he do?
He exchanged his three-piece suit for a traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, which he wore from that day forward.
He traded a ‘successful’ life for one of simplicity.
And then Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi went on to become one of the biggest, most influential non-violent revolutionaries in the history of the world.
His work lead India to independence through the use of non-violent civil disobedience, and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the planet.
Gandhi’s birthday, October 2, is now considered the International Day of Non Violence.
Imagine if he decided not to “throw away” his hard earned legal career…
“In doing something, do it with love or never do it at all.” – Mahatma Ghandi
You Are Not Your Profession
Society has a pretty fascinating (read: ridiculous) way of valuing things.
Lawyers, doctors, dentists and accountants are respected, encouraged and given a crystal clear path towards a successful career.
Yet the crazy guy who wants to promote love, compassion and happiness through his passion and talent for classical music gets told to be more realistic and pull his head out of the clouds. He’s likely even made fun of and told he’s crazy enough times that eventually he starts to believe the critics. So he gives up. Or worse yet, never starts in the first place.
Thankfully, Benjamin Zander decided not to listen. And instead, pursued his passion for music and using it as a tool for inspiring others. Among countless accomplishments, he went on to give one of the most viewed (and definitely most entertaining) TED Talks in history. Didn’t think classical music could make you cry? Wait until you watch this talk.
The Ultimate Sunk Cost of Life
But so few people follow a path like Gandhi or Zander.
And it’s no surprise why. As we read last week, the school system is not set up to prepare you to leverage your passions, strengths and creativity to make an impact on the world.
Not even close.
Instead it prepares us for steady jobs that society respects (At least they’re steady until you get fired…). These jobs might even have the potential to make us a boatload of money.
So we invest years if not decades into getting sophisticated educations that cost us upwards of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Only to graduate deeply committed (psychologically and financially) to a path that we might not give a sh*t about.
And by the time we graduate, assuming we did well in school, we might even get paid some ginormous salary that makes it feel even more impossible to “throw it all away” to do something that actually interests us.
This is exactly how business school killed the entrepreneur.
Death by Commitment & Consistency
Robert Cialdini has a term for this psychological behavior. He calls it Commitment & Consistency.
Cialdini is the bestselling author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (2 million copies sold in 26 languages) and is internationally recognized as the leading researcher and practitioner of ethical persuasion and influence in business and in life. He spent decades under cover doing field research to find what makes humans do what they do. (Btw, Robert just opened his annual weekend workshop for registration and I just signed Liz and me up for it – so excited! Details here.)
His studies found six core principles that dramatically influence our decisions and behavior (often times with us having no idea it’s happening). One of them is Commitment & Consistency. As defined by Wikipedia…
Commitment and Consistency – If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self-image. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement.
Once you understand this principle, you’ll notice it showing up everywhere. It explains why people do so many things that don’t make sense…
Why they stay in marriages they can’t stand. Why they don’t return products they don’t like. Why they don’t fire employees that aren’t a good fit. And why most people you see reading Porsche Magazine already own a Porsche – in fact they probably just bought it. Helps justify their new image!
And most importantly for us… why people stay in jobs and careers that make them want to pluck their eyes out with chopsticks.
In accounting there is a term called “sunk cost” – which is basically a past cost that you can’t do anything about. Also a cost that should not affect future decision making.
But there are sunk costs in every walk of life…
Just because you invested time in your husband, doesn’t mean you should stay married if you know he’s abusing or cheating on you.
Just because you spent $5,000 hiring the right employee, doesn’t mean you keep them around when it turns out they actually suck.
And just because you told yourself and the world that you wanted to be a lawyer, then went to an expensive school, got some job that allowed you to bill out at $500/hour and talked about how great it all is — none of this makes an ounce of difference if every day after work you feel like you should drive yourself straight to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Having invested time, money and belief in a job does not make it ok to be miserable the rest of your life.
Note: This is just an example – I don’t mean to pick on lawyers specifically. Please read to the bottom for more explanation.
So How Do You Make a Change When You’re Already So Deeply Committed to the Wrong Path?
Here are three things that will turn you around…
#1. Realize There Are Countless Ways to Apply Your Skills
Lawyers are fantastic at a lot of things. So are accountants, doctors, dentists, scientists, engineers, programmers, psychologists, or any other specific profession you’ve been trained for.
Identify the underlying strengths that make you good and desirable in those professions. Then take a step back and notice how many other professions would kill to have the compassion that your medical training has taught you, or the attention to detail of your accounting background or the expertise of the law that came with your JD. If you need more clarity, check out the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment.
Those skills are crazy powerful in almost any career, profession or entrepreneurial endeavor. You just have to recognize it and do something with it.
#2. Find People to Serve As Proof of What’s Possible
The fastest way to do the things you don’t think can be done is to surround yourself with people already doing them. I call this brainwashing the impossible.
If you think you have a good excuse why you can’t make a change, go out and find someone with a sob story ten times the size of yours, but who decided to take a crack at it anyway. For every excuse you think you have, I guarantee I can find a handful of people who had it much worse, but still made magic.
Search these people out. This is why we do our Reader Spotlights and why I write about people like Gandhi and the everyday Living Legends in our community who are changing the world in their own unique way.
Here’s Some Proof of Why It’s Never too Late to Make a Huge Change…
Salman Khan graduated from MIT and Harvard Business school. He then became a highly paid hedge fund analyst. In 2004 he started to tutor his cousin in math over the Internet. His videos started to get popular on YouTube and he began to think he could add more value to the world via education instead of making rich people richer. So he decided to leave the money and status to build Khan Academy, which is now one of the most popular and effective alternative forms of education on the Internet. It’s also 100% free.
Lissa Rankin was a highly successful doctor who was also sick, burnt out and on the verge of a breakdown, so she sold everything, dramatically simplified, and went on a quest to instill love and compassion back into medicine. She then wrote a book, Mind Over Medicine, proving that the mind and our daily actions can heal the body of disease. It’s become a runaway bestseller and is spurring a whole healthcare revolution. Watch her latest TEDx talk here: Is Modern Medicine Killing You?
Kris Carr was a dancer, actress and photographer in New York for the first decade or two of her career. Then she was diagnosed with a very rare and incurable form of stage IV liver and lung cancer. From that day forward she dedicated herself to health and nutrition, filmed a documentary, Crazy Sexy Cancer, wrote a bestselling book, Crazy Sexy Diet, and has gone on to lead a wellness revolution to get the world to treat their body the way it deserves. It’s no surprise that Lissa and Kris are close friends.
Leo Babauta was a 70-pounds overweight, deeply in debt, father of six kids, working a job he couldn’t stand, while living on Guam, an island in the middle of nowhere. But he wanted a better life for his family so he started to write 20+ articles a week (in his ‘spare’ time) to build ZenHabits.net, which is now one of the biggest single author habit change and simplicity blogs on the Internet. He’s also built countless projects since then, such as his Sea Change Program, and most recently, his Habits of Entrepreneurs video site.
Ray Kroc was 52 years old when he started McDonalds and built it into the most successful fast food operation in the world (Note: While Ray is a great example of staring something later in life, please do us all a favor and DO NOT start the next McDonald’s!).
Jesse Jacobs was a washed-out tech employee who decided he’d rather pursue a passion for tea, connection and slowing down. So he started Samovar Tea Lounge, but only after being rejected by 71 banks before he got the loan he needed to start the business. Samovar now has three massively successful locations in San Francisco and is considered a mecca for the entrepreneurial community. More on Jesse’s crazy story of perseverance here.
Corbett Barr was a ridiculously highly paid, flashy consultant, who traveled first class all over the world. But after the stress and anxiety brought him to his knees, he fired himself to travel Mexico for six months with his wife, and then went on to start Think Traffic, and most recently, Fizzle, which has turned into the premier community for providing honest online business training for people who want to make their own difference.
Jonathan Fields was making multiple six figures as a securities lawyer. But after too many 14-hour days away from his wife and daughter, he decided to ditch it all to become a personal trainer. He later opened what became one of the most successful yoga studios in Manhattan – he signed the lease the day before September 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center towers came crashing down and New York was in turmoil. And he did all that before becoming a best-selling author, sought-after speaker and famous online entrepreneur. His most recent endeavor is The Good Life Project TV Show.
Debra Russell was a struggling hair stylist and teen mom. Then she decided something had to change. Fast forward a few years and she was the General Manager for Tony Robbins and was leading his 4,000+ person events around the world. She’s now an independent coach (my coach in fact!) and recently released a very cool app called Pat Yourself On the Back.
Brett Rivers was burning the candle for years as a corporate tech jockey in Silicon Valley. Trail running had always been his release. The last 100 mile race he entered, he took second place. A few years ago he left the paycheck and suicidal hours to pursue his dream of creating the best ultra running community and store in the country. So far San Francisco Running Company is, well, off and running…
Ray Zahab was 30 years old, smoked a pack a day and had no purpose or much of a career to be proud of. One day his brother encouraged him to enter an ultra marathon. He did…and he won it. He went on to build a life around inspiring others to push limits and create change. In 2006 he set a world record when he ran 7,500 km across the Sahara Desert. The adventure was turned into the documentary, Running the Sahara, narrated by Matt Damon.
Ray continued to set records, and in 2008 founded the youth charity, impossible2Possible to inspire teens to pursue adventure and expand their belief of what’s possible. impossible2Possible is also the official Live Your Legend partner charity. 5% of everything our business makes goes towards Ray’s mission of getting kids to do the impossible.
Benjamin Robinson was a farm boy turned school teacher at a disadvantaged regional high school in Australia. Then he decided he wanted to help kids in a bigger way, so he took his passion for surfing and launched an around-the-world surf trip as he and two buddies filmed a documentary to help kids battle suicide and mental illness. Their full length documentary just went live – 3 Mates 7 Seas. Ben’s been a member of our community of Living Legends here for a while. Makes me proud.
Dan Chang spent the first eight or so years of his career as a healthcare consultant. He also loved to sing and play music. For years he performed on nights and weekends at small venues. And just recently he signed his first major record deal with his band Hunter Hunted, and they are now touring with world-class artists such as Fun and Weezer. Dan and I went to high school together – his music is amazing.
Eric Shamas and Jorge Giroud spent the first decade of their careers starting and running a study abroad and tour company in Sevilla, Spain. Jorge was my roommate for a year out there, and I used to be a tour guide for them on the weekends. Eric always had a passion for health, and two years ago he felt called to medicine, so he spun off to start the med school application process from scratch. He’s in his mid 30’s – at least a decade older than most his classmates at medical school in Florida. He wouldn’t have it any other way. And Jorge recently sold their company, Student Voyage, to International Studies Abroad.
And remember, Gandhi was in his forties when he finally left law to lead an international civil rights movement.
Simply put – It. Is. Never. Too. Late.
You can either find excuses for inaction or find reasons for change. The proof of what’s possible is all around us – as long as you’re willing to look.
#3. Find a Big Enough Reason Why
“Desire is the starting point of all achievement, not a hope, not a wish, but a keen pulsating desire which transcends everything.” – Napoleon Hill
All the people above had a deep desire and specific reason why change was a must. Without a big enough reason why, making an extreme transformation is all but impossible.
Tony Robbins calls this “leverage”. If I asked you if you could raise a million dollars for a project by next week, most of you would say no way. But what if there was a gun to your husband, wife or child’s head? I bet you’d get a little more creative.
Find reasons why your change is an absolute must. Surrounding yourself with people like the above is a powerful place to start.
It’s not about not being a lawyer (or doctor or whatever) – it’s about doing what embodies who you are.
Please don’t read this the wrong way.
I’m not saying don’t be a lawyer. That’s not what this is about. If that’s what you genuinely feel called to do (and you’ve done the self discovery work to prove it), then by all means apply to law school.
But just because you studied to be an accountant or doctor does not mean you have to become one.
You are not condemned to your past decisions.
How ridiculous is it to think that just because you decided something a decade ago means that you have to be miserable with it for the rest of your life?
The world needs you at your prime.
And it’s not about just throwing your arms up and quitting cold turkey. That rarely makes the most sense. Most the examples above eased into their transition so it didn’t feel like they were ‘risking it all.’ That’s certainly what I did in building Live Your Legend.
Stack the deck your favor.
Realize how useful your skills can be in just about any industry on the planet.
Surround yourself with people who prove what’s possible.
Find your compelling reason why.
Then get your ass in gear and start doing what you’ve wanted to do all along.
The world will thank you for it.
For more inspiration check out: How to Change Careers without Quitting Your Job (Yet): The 9 Most Inspiring Transitions of 2012
Need more guidance?
There is a lot involved in a proper transition. The above few thousand words only scratch the surface. But if you’d like more step-by-step hands-on guidance, you might want to take a look at our Live Off Your Passion Guided-Discovery career course. That’s why we created it!
Either way, just please start doing something about the transition you know you want to make.
P.S. Tickets for The World Domination Summit went on sale today. They usually sell out very fast. Chelsea and I will be going again next year, as well as well over a hundred members of our community (We’ll also be hosting another party like we did this year).
This event is by far the best place I’ve found to meet passionate, inspiring, like-minded people. I hope you’ll join us!
Photo Credits: All photos are my own. You can see more by following me on Instagram.