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How a Burned-Out Lawyer Quit Her Job and Discovered Her Dream Career

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By the time I turned 29, I had been practicing law at a top New York firm for nearly five years. I was earning six figures and had the fancy office and the secretary. My parents glowed with pride when they told their friends what I did for a living. By most people’s standards, I was doing pretty well.

The reality was, I was miserable.

I hated practicing law. I hated it every single second of every single day for five years. (And given my workload, that included weekends, too!)

It was on the eve of my 30th birthday that I finally quit. I was sick and tired of hating my work. And I didn’t want to live with the same gnawing sense of career anxiety in my 30s that plagued my 20s. I knew there was something better out there for me. But at the time, I couldn’t imagine what it was.

Running from the law to do what I loved

Without any real plan in mind, I did the only respectable thing I could think of: I packed my bags and went off to graduate school. I’ve always loved learning and had been a great student, so going back to school was the perfect escape from Alcatraz (a.k.a., the law).

I earned a degree in Human Resource Management from Cornell University and went straight on to Goldman Sachs, where I started managing corporate learning and development for technology executives around the world.

My job was all about helping people be their very best at work: team building, performance management, leadership development and coaching for success. I loved it right from the start!

To go so quickly from work I hated to work I loved was just incredible. All the negative energy I once spent on worrying myself sick and complaining about my job was transformed into positive energy and boundless drive. Even though I was making less money, work went from being drudgery to a joy. I could see the positive impact of my efforts on people’s lives every day. And I wanted to do more, more, more.

So after a couple of years, I left Goldman Sachs to start my own consulting firm to help other Wall Street firms manage people more effectively and maximize the potential of their employees.

I couldn’t have been happier. For a good eight months or so, things were literally perfect. I had great clients, I was doing work that I loved—and, I was making more money than ever before.

Then came 9/11. And right alongside the World Trade Center, my business crumbled, too. With the whole city in mourning, it seemed that team building and leadership development were the last things on anyone’s mind.

Not knowing what I wanted to do, but doing it anyway

“Now what?” I thought long and hard. But no clear answers emerged.

Instead, a million Ideas for businesses I could start, products or services I could sell, websites I could create and more flooded my brain. For each idea I had, I bought the related Web address (domain name). Before I knew it, I owned more than a hundred domain names.

One day, someone called me and wanted to buy one of my domains. That day changed my life, because I learned that domain names are like pieces of digital real estate on the Internet and can sometimes be extremely valuable.

My domain addiction only grew from there. Hundreds of domains turned into thousands. And at an average renewal price of $10 a year, owning thousands of domain names came with a hefty price tag! It’s fair to say I had become a full-fledged Internet junky. I was working around the clock to learn how to sell and trade domain names, develop websites, blog, use Google Adwords and Adsense, write Web copy and more.

While I was making some money between a few high-paying consulting gigs and domain sales, in those days, my spending typically outpaced my earnings by a pretty good margin.

Brushing off the career exploration naysayers

Everyone around me worried that my career still hadn’t gotten back “on track.” When I would excitedly brag to my friends about my latest domain name conquests and Internet marketing exploits, they could only roll their eyes and admonish me to “get a job.”

And my poor parents—they were so disappointed. My dad gave me pep talks about how my old law firm would surely love to hire me back. (How comforting!) And my mom, bless her heart, urged me regularly to “find a job with the government, because they have such good benefits.” (Perhaps the DMV or the Post Office could use someone with my skill set?)

While my income during much of my 30s was wildly inconsistent, I was somehow never worried about my career. Whether I was making money or not, I knew I was on the right path. A path to where, I still didn’t know. All I knew was that I loved what I was doing, I loved what I was learning and I loved all the ideas, opportunities and possibilities I was exploring every day. I was happy and confident that one day it would all make sense.

And then, one day, it did.

Becoming the master of .CO domains

I had just turned 40 when I met Juan Diego Calle. We hit it off famously. He had this big idea about turning Colombia’s .CO domain extension into the world’s next great Web address.

Given all my years in the domain space, I knew better than anyone the frustration people felt with the lack of good domains. I also knew how exciting it was to find the perfect domain name for your business, brand or blog. The project captured my imagination like nothing ever had before. Although I’d never held a marketing job in my life, I convinced Juan that I could get the job done. And I’ve been doing it ever since.

We launched .CO to the world three years ago. Since then, people in more than 200 countries have registered over 1.5 million .CO domain names. In my role as VP and brand strategist, it feels like every odd skill, bit of experience and piece of knowledge I’ve ever learned is put to work on a daily basis. My work is filled with purpose as I get to work with an incredible team of professionals to help people all over the world bring their ideas to life online.

For those of you who are feeling stuck doing work that you hate, or who simply have the sense that you’re traveling down the wrong career path, I’d like to share a few words of advice:

1. Listen to yourself

If you feel anxious about going to work every day, chances are something’s wrong. Listen to your gut. If it’s giving you clues that you’re in the wrong job or pursuing the wrong career path, then you probably are.

Do something about it. You never know what incredible opportunity could be waiting for you just around the next corner.

2. Open your heart

Forget the notion that you’re supposed to be climbing some pie-in-the-sky career ladder to success. Instead, open your heart and your mind to new people, experiences and opportunities.

When you let your interests, instincts and passions lead the way, you never know what you might discover about yourself—or what interesting new twists and turns your life may take.

3. Don’t let your degrees dictate your choices

Just because you have a law degree doesn’t mean you’re sentenced to a lifetime practicing law. The same goes for HR, finance, medicine or any other field.

It’s normal to deviate from a plan you may have made when you were younger—or even one you made just yesterday. It doesn’t matter what your degree says. What matters is how you apply your education and seize the opportunities that life throws your way.

4. Tune out the naysayers

Be wary of self-appointed career advisors who may not fully understand you or your choices. It’s your life!

My friends and family thought I was crazy when I started my love affair with domain names—but it turned out to be the greatest career move of my life. Although they had the best intentions for me, had I listened, I might still be a sad and deflated lawyer.

5. Keep moving forward

Your life and career are going to be filled with mistakes and failures. Don’t get hung up on them. After all, it’s the collection of your experiences—especially the hard knocks—that make you uniquely you.

I hated practicing law, but quitting that job taught me there was work out there that I could truly love. I absolutely loved being a management consultant, but it was only when my business failed that I stumbled upon my true career passion.

Have faith in yourself, learn from your mistakes and stay focused on your strengths and passions. Most of all, keep moving forward. You can always correct course from a wrong turn; just don’t let yourself stall out.

Lori Anne Wardi is Vice President of Brand at .CO. Responsible for all matters involving brand strategy, business development and global communications, she spends her time traveling the world and preaching the bible of .CO.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • AttilaSteven

    Great read. At first I was like, oh, its turning into a domain success story, cool. I thought to myself, I might know of this person, maybe even friends on FB or something. Then I realized, oh, its Lori, haha, we met at Peninsula in Hong Kong, along with Juan, haha. Made the story even more interesting. None the less, it’s great to know more about you Lori!

  • Roger Dabdab

    Thank you Lori for sharing. One of the worst risks to have a miserable life is to stick too long in a career that goes against the way you are built as a person. The ladder you are climbing may be very lucrative (like yours was Lori), but it is difficult becoming an expert at something you hate! The trick is to not stay so long on that first “ladder of success” that your salary makes it so difficult to switch when you realize you are on the wrong ladder!

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  • Matt

    Also, keep in mind the network that you had available to you. I understand that you worked hard and were talented. However, not a lot of people can make the jump from top attorney , Cornell master’s, to Human Resources at Goldman Sachs. A lot of these things are done through connections. I think a lot of people have to do what they have to do to get by.

    • eqp

      Agreed, and more. In the moment you’re convinced that your life is fabulous and opine that bliss is around the corner for anyone brave enough to make a change. How often have you felt lost, off track, financially insecure and adrift? Perhaps opine again when you’re on the other pole.

  • Dana Leavy-Detrick

    Agree with Matt that any kind of career change like this is going to force you to look at your network of connections and see what relationship you can leverage to help you make that move. Another reason networking is important at any point in your career – you should always be preparing yourself for something like this, so when the opportunity arises, you have a the right resources to help you make the jump.

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  • Mark Harbaugh, J.D.

    I can so relate! I too earned a law degree and am no longer working in the legal field, but have been practicing real estate in San Diego, California for 15+ years – AND I LOVE IT. I didn’t hate law, instead, I found something I enjoy MUCH more. While I agree somewhat with the comments concerning the benefits of connections, I would add that perhaps equally important are the skills acquired in previous jobs that can be directly or indirectly applied in the new career. For example, my skills as a counselor that I fine-tuned helping people resolve legal issues, I now apply as a counselor or coach in helping my clients navigate their way through the equally complex task of buying a home or investment property. Finally, Ms. Wardi, while I am thrilled that you have “stumbled upon [your] true career passion,” stay “open” and “listen” because you just might find yourself stumbling upon yet another (not necessarily a different) true career passion as you “keep moving forward”! Good advice for all. Thank you!

  • sandy

    What an inspiring testimony. Thank you so much for sharing.

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    Lori, I really enjoyed reading about your life/career story. I was in banking in my 20s, now I’ve become an artist as I’m stepping into my 30s. I’m exciting about what’s coming up next.

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  • Gene

    Awesome transition. Thanks, I’m sure you continue to inspire others.

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