It’s a fresh new year, and I thought you might like to read a Do-Over! story by the change agent herself. Here’s how Amy Stewart abandoned big-law and started up her own firm, as well as the advice she offers to anyone contemplating a career transition.
I’m a lawyer who actually admits that I like practicing law. Among close friends, I’ve even been known to say I love it. I always have. After spending the first 17 years of my career in a big-firm environment, I decided last year to launch my own law firm, Amy Stewart PC. Based in Dallas, I specialize in insurance coverage and complex business litigation.
I’m not a natural seeker of change. I struggle with the idea that abandoning a course of action, even one that is completely unproductive, is somehow admitting defeat. I want to overcome my challenges, not run from them. As a result, I tend to stay in undesirable situations too long, determined to improve them. Na?ve, I know. I’m also a mom, with two young children. It wasn’t exactly the best time to plunge headlong into a new business venture.
My decision to launch my own firm was compelled by a myriad of factors. Some stemmed from the discombobulated economy and what I perceived as potential business opportunities. I also faced some challenges specific to my former firm and my type of practice. My former firm represented virtually every insurance company in some capacity or another–and someone other than me controlled the business. This made it difficult for me to cultivate my own clients.
Discouraged and annoyed, I hired a business coach. Here’s another bit of advice: Never underestimate the power of an ally and mentor. A good coach can make an enormous difference. My coach was the mentor I always wanted but never had. She validated my ideas and encouraged me to pursue them. She pushed me past my fears, challenging me to confront them and defeat them. I will be forever grateful.
Early in my coaching, I determined that I needed to leave my firm in order to make some specific, meaningful advances in my career. I embarked upon a business development plan with great fervor, while beginning to explore the market. The decision-making process that ensued forced me (or presented the opportunity!) to clarify my values and figure out what I really wanted to be doing in two or five years.
Envisioning my options, I realized I had reached a point in my career where I sought either to head an insurance coverage section in a firm or start one. I was craving the chance to try out my own brand of leadership. Upon making that determination, I stopped exploring “safe” opportunities. And I was determined not to compromise my qualitative standards. I felt it would be mistake to settle for “just a job.” Now what?
In July, I went to Nashville to visit my best friend from law school and follow up on some business leads and introductions. The physical separation from my usual day-to-day routine, coupled with some exceptional opportunities and the encouragement of several close friends, made that trip a turning point. The distractions quickly faded, and starting my own firm emerged as the clear frontrunner. My excitement (bordering on outright giddiness) about my new venture was grounded in a calm confidence that was new for me, and I liked it. I made the leap in August, with very little portable business, but I did have relentless enthusiasm, incredibly supportive friends and family, and a million ideas.
The Progress Report
Six months out, I’m thrilled (and relieved) to report that I still have the lights on. In fact, my practice is growing. New business has come from unexpected sources, due in large part to persistent networking and marketing, along with supportive clients and friends. My mantra has been: “Go, even when you don’t feel like it.” And it seems to be working. Now I make my own decisions about how and when to spend time and money on marketing. If it ends up being a bad idea, it was my bad idea. I’ll learn from it. When I work until 2am, I reap the benefit of my hard work in a completely different way. It’s an exhilarating experience, and one for which I am thankful beyond measure.
And I have learned something important. Fear hinders our ability to identify what we want to accomplish and take the steps necessary to achieve it. Launching your own start-up might not be your passion; it might be something completely different. The same principles apply with equal force. Eschew fear! It’s worth it.
Amy’s advice for women in career transition: