Quitting could save your life.
On Quitting
Meghann McNiff

Quitting (or at least stopping for a moment to ponder your options) will definitely save your life most of the time.

Quitting saved my life, too.

After having spent nearly 10 years on legal education and apprenticeship I suddenly knew I needed to quit. I had to do it for my sense of self-worth and in order to stay sane and healthy.

Three years earlier I was in the middle of a court battle, something only few of the practicing lawyers anywhere in the world experience. Being in the middle of a fight (really feeling it with every part of your body), and not merely watching it from the outside and moving chess pieces across the board as so many lawyers do day in and day out. This is what is was like for me too before my court battle happened.

It was then that I realized how hopeless things can get for two people (closest family members in my case — me and my mom) if they fail to communicate and decide to put their fate in lawyers’ hands. Luckily, we managed to get out of this mess and regain control.

It was something I was supposed to do professionally for the rest of my life. Help people prove their opponents wrong with every means available. That’s what is all about.

In 2010 I was about to take the bar exam. The last milestone on my path to becoming a litigation lawyer. In spite of the fact that I studied like crazy for this exam, I failed it.

During the next 2 years I fought a court battle (yes, another one — which puts me among a tiny percentage of lawyers who have actually experienced it more than once) to have my exam paper properly reviewed and scored again. I had found out that there were people elsewhere who offered the same solution as I did and managed to pass this exam with outstanding scores.

All this to no avail. The whole procedure only added to my confusion. I never really grasped what happened and I lost faith in the fairness of the system entirely. All I knew was that I’ve had enough and I didn’t want to go through this again.

Meanwhile I took interest in alternative dispute resolution and negotiation, which were the very things that helped me get out of the inhospitable environment of a court room the first time around.

I also thought this might be my chance. I could be a lawyer who helps people negotiate various deals and get out of court or I could switch careers entirely.

It was then that I started to notice possible upside of my situation.

As a lawyer I would probably have to stay in my country for the rest of my professional life. It is very unlikely for a lawyer to leave his or her country and practice law in another country because of the differences in law systems, possible language issues and lack of connections within the legal profession.

Now, as a mediator and negotiator I knew I would at least have the option of moving to a different country. And it felt quite good.

Another upside was the possibility of putting my creative mind into practice. Legal profession is not a place where creatives thrive. Yes, lawyers need to be creative to some degree but they are also very prone to conventional thinking. That’s not me.

So I started reading about negotiation and dispute resolution (books, blogs, articles). I entered a postgraduate one-year program called Negotiation and Mediation.

I figured out that there aren’t many interesting blogs about this topic in my country so I started a blog. Then I figured out that lawyers knew little about the art of negotiation so I resolved to blog especially for them. Three months later lawyers talked about and shared my blog articles and I, to my utmost amazement, appeared on national radio and talked about mediation.

A year after that I was already quite comfortable with public speaking. People would invite me to speak at conferences, seminars etc. I even lectured to young lawyers during their professional training program.

Then I thought a TED-like conference for lawyers would be a good idea. And we pulled it off. After the conference more offers were coming in — three of them concerned postgraduate programs where I … would teach others about negotiation and mediation. It really felt like this thing was taking off.

Apart from it I was able to raise my consulting rates by 100% because my services were (and still are) that rare. Meanwhile my friends who practiced law, faced with an increased competition, were struggling to keep their rates at an existing level.

But two years into this new thing I realized that lawyers are not my ideal target market. So, I decided to pivot again. I figured out I can blog in English and have a much broader readership. That’s how the idea of blogging about parenting was born.

Why parenting?

I have a son and my top priority in life is to be a world class parent to him. Many of the concepts I learned in the previous 2 years are very useful in parenting (psychology, dispute resolution, negotiation) and my tempestuous relationship with my parents seems to be more than a good reason for such a mission.

I realized the predicament in which I found myself in 2010 brought my career as a litigation lawyer to an end but on the other hand it saved me. Today I know that this failed exam was one of the best things that have ever happened to me. And the court battle against my mom brought us closer together than we’ve ever been before but most importantly it made me a much more aware parent and led to my decision to inspire other parents through my blog.

It was as if my eyes suddenly opened.

I went from believing (and living) a myth about a happy and safe life with a job to realizing that I don’t have to be someone I don’t want to be (a lawyer) for the rest of my life simply because I’ve spent 10 years getting this education. I realized that the world has changed dramatically over the past two decades and people really do have other options.

I remember having done one exercise which was absolutely pivotal — I put that predicament aside, I calmed my thoughts down, I fast forwarded my life a few years and I asked myself: Is this what I want to be and what I want to do my whole life?

And my answer was “NO”.