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Waiting for Permission to Quit

Even if I hadn’t yet admitted it out loud, deep down I knew it was time to quit well before I actually did. I had begun to see everything at my firm through slightly different, darker-colored lenses than I had ever seen things through before.  I was essentially ignoring the signs that I should have quit my job. Don’t be like me – check out my post on the 10 Signs You Should Quit Your Biglaw Job and if they resonate with you, save yourself some time and make the leap!

Back to my story.  I had started to view little things here and there as signs it might be time to move on. But they were just little signs; little nudges that were never quite enough to get me to put in my two weeks’ notice. Something was holding me back, as if I was waiting for permission from someone or something, or perhaps one last clear signal from the universe that I needed to admit, first to my head and then out loud, the decision I had already made in my heart.

One day not long before I left the firm, I needed to drop something off at a coworker’s office on another floor. While walking down the hallways of this floor I was unfamiliar with, I glanced at the names of the associates and partners written on the plaques outside of the offices.

Some of these names and faces I knew, while others I had never heard of. It was about 9pm and the office was relatively quiet by this time of the evening so I could take my time walking through the hallways and peeking through the glass windows and doors into the individual offices without unintentionally making eye contact with anyone. It was also not that late at night, especially for a Biglaw office, so there were still plenty of lights on and some activity around.

As I approached an office I knew belonged to a partner (based on its size and location), I took note of both the time (9pm) and the woman at the desk, who I assumed was in the middle of a conference call (I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but by the dramatic gestures and the intense focus, she seemed to be leading a negotiation of some sort).

I wondered if there was somewhere else she would rather have been that Thursday night other than running a tense call. I knew there was somewhere (almost anywhere) that I would rather have been at that point in my career.

Beyoncé Gives Me Clarity

Instead of continuing to stroll down the hallway, I stopped in my tracks as I took in the items in her office. I always loved to see how every person decorated his or her office and walking the halls after business hours or on the weekends was some of the best time to do a little harmless spying without anyone noticing.

Some people decorated their offices with tons of family photos and kids’ artwork, others collected sports memorabilia or travel knickknacks and still others had basically nothing. Empty, white walls and a photo- and picture-less office were definitely bad signs to any junior associate who was about to work with that particular attorney.

Be suspicious of someone with so little personality or so little time to care enough to decorate his or her office. At least put up a little calendar with some beaches on it so I know you haven’t lost all hope of a fulfilling life outside the walls of the firm!

This particular partner’s office was probably decorated very nicely (not to stereotype, but the women in the office usually had the better-looking and more-inviting offices), but the only thing that stood out to me in her office on that evening was the little plaque that sat at the center of her desk with four simple words written on it in gold: “What Would Beyoncé Do?”

The saying was obviously meant to be a joke and a play on the popular “What Would Jesus Do?” saying, and I know I had seen it on plaques and mugs and even t-shirts before, but I had never been struck by it like I was in that moment. To me, it just looked so out of place. It was meant to be funny and probably to be a bit inspiring too, as Beyoncé is one of the most badass artists and businesswomen out there.

Perhaps this partner would look to it during her day for inspiration and perhaps she had even looked at it before the call she was on that very evening to pump her up. In that moment it certainly pumped me up too.

I answered the plaque’s question out-loud and to myself as I quickened my pace down the hallway – “she sure wouldn’t be working in this office!” A new fire had been lit under me thanks to the Queen B herself and it was clear what I had to do. I had my final sign.

It’s Your Turn

Do you believe in signs? Have you ever followed one, like I did, to make an important decision like quitting your job? Sometimes a little nudge from an external force is all you need to give you the final reassurance that the decision you are about to make is the right one.

Lawyers are notoriously risk-adverse by nature and by training, and I am no exception to that. There were probably signs all over the place telling me that I should quit (including the fact that I was no longer dressing for the job I should have wanted – you can read about that here) but I was blind to all of them until I was finally ready to open my eyes and accept the sign.

If you are waiting for a sign, would you need to wait until you knew 100percent that your decision was the right one before you took a similar risk? My advice: open your eyes and look around. You never know where your gut is going to lead you and where your sign might appear.

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