Welcome back to Thrillable Hours, my interview series about alternative careers for lawyers. This next instalment of my interview series for lawyers doing interesting things stemmed from my keynote at WDS. At the conference, I was fortunate enough to meet all sorts of wonderful people who were restless inside and seeing to do something out of the ordinary with their lives. Through them, I was connected to an additional network of smart and interesting people, Sibyl Chavis among them. After an undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, Sibyl went to Harvard Law School, started out at a big firm in Atlanta, Georgia and after a year and a half, realized this wasn’t for her. She then moved to working as in-house counsel at an advertising agency for the next decade, after which she took a deep breath and walked away from it all. When she decided to change her life, she did so in one fell swoop — she was 7 months pregnant with her second child when she decided to haul across the USA and move to California, to start anew.
What I love about this Q&A series is that it provides exposure to a markedly different group of individuals, each taking the questions and answering it through the lens of the personalities they’ve developed over the years. Some are more practical and ‘tough love’ – “get out there, do it” – and others more gentle in their coaxing. Sibyl falls into the latter category and in my brief conversations with her, I can see how she would be a calming, encouraging presence for those within her orbit.
Interview with Sibyl Chavis
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What made you decide to follow a less conventional path than typical law school graduates? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?
I wanted to be an attorney for as long as I can remember. I don’t really know exactly why, but from a very young age, I was determined to do everything I could to become a lawyer. I worked really hard in my undergraduate degree so that I could get into a good law school. I then worked really hard in law school to make sure I could get a job at a good law firm. I thought that working at a law firm was exactly what I was meant to do and that after I landed a job at a top law firm … voilà, my dream would have come true and I would feel amazing.
However, that is not what happened at all. I really respect the legal profession and believe certain people are meant to work in law firms. But, I definitely felt like a fish out of water. Nevertheless, it honestly took me some time to get to the point where I decided to follow a more unconventional path. I think I always knew deep down I was meant to do something a little different, but I was extremely pragmatic and risk averse, which made it daunting to even contemplate not following the path that was laid out in front of me.
I now realize the universe will continue to whisper until you work up the courage to listen and move in the direction that is right for you.
I took two different leaps away from the conventional path for lawyers. My first leap landed me as in-house counsel for an advertising agency, which was an amazing experience. After 10 years at the agency, the universe whispered again. Actually, this time the universe raised its voice a little to make sure I understood, and I came across a 3-foot sign in my hotel room while on a business trip. This is a photo of what it said:
The timing couldn’t have been anymore apt because I had been experiencing a nagging feeling that it was time to move on again, but I was still in need of a little push. This sign in my hotel room was my final “push” (along with a gentle nudge from my husband and my mother) and I realized it was okay to really jump even farther away from the conventional path and follow my true passion.
The lesson I learned that day after seeing that sign was that life really is about creating yourself.
We get to choose how we will act on our passions and what actions we take to become the person we want to be. We really do get to shape our lives, but it is up to us to be bold, confident, take chances and do everything we can to take advantage of our ability to create ourselves.
So, that’s what I did … I took another leap.
What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?
Without a doubt, what is most fulfilling about my current job is the opportunity I have to work closely with people I would have otherwise not met and help them in every way I can while also learning from them. You can have two types of experiences in the blogosphere: you can feel very isolated and on your own since most of your interaction happens virtually, or you can meet extremely interesting people and form great friendships with people all over the world. I have been fortunate enough to have the latter experience and it has been amazingly fulfilling.
Do you have any advice for professionals who are interested in leaving private practice but concerned about what is out there?
My first piece of advice would point to one of my most favorite quotes:
“I have learned that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” –Henry David Thoreau
It can be scary to let go of your safety net, but things have a way of unfolding just as they should. The two most important things we must do are: (1) believe in that reality and (2) believe in our potential.
Once you have decided you are truly interested in leaving, you should start creating a plan for how you are going to do what you want. Lay out the steps you are going to need to take to leave your job and the steps you are going to need to take to start your new endeavor. There is something about putting it all on paper that just makes it feel more real and feasible.
Of course, you probably will not know all the steps in the beginning, but as soon as you really start thinking through things, the answers come. However, it is important to take a step (even a small one) every single day because it is too easy to get comfortable maintaining the status quo. You get used to your daily routines and caught up in all the things you have going on. Your current life doesn’t pause so that you can create the life you want. You have to be willing to take chances, change up your routines and make the time to set things up so that you can create the life you want.
How did your legal education inform the way you see the world today? Do you still identify yourself as a lawyer?
My legal education has definitely impacted the way I see the world. I am continually analyzing situations and always trying to see things from more than one perspective. It was a realization that I unfortunately had later in life, but I finally figured out that things are usually multidimensional and not just black and white. I think you can really get at the heart of an issue when you look at it from every angle and my legal training has definitely allowed me to do so. In fact, I continue to identify myself as a lawyer (at least some of the time).
What do you see for yourself in the next five years?
Ideally, I would like more of the same. I have learned so much about myself and life over the last several years and I see things continuing to unfold along the same lines. I plan to continue helping people and learning as much as I can about really living life the way it was meant to be lived.
What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?
I say let’s spend the day together.
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Sibyl Chavis blogs about simple tips for Living Today Better than Yesterday over at The Possibility of Today
She’s a full time blogger and the author of several eBooks.