What if I told you that there is a subtle force influencing you right now, defining your thoughts and actions, and ensuring that you make the “right” decisions, whether those decisions are large or small? This force is inertia, and at a minimum, it has at least some effect on your career, finances, and social life.
No one is immune to it and it is something that will not simply disappear.
But we don’t have to surrender to this reality. I think of inertia as a car that needs constant inspection and upkeep so that we can avoid trouble down the road. Upon recognizing this, we can act to manage our lives, rather than having our lives manage us.
This post was written by Adam Pascarella, host of the podcast The Power of Bold, teacher at DecidingonLawSchool.com, and my wonderful boyfriend!
A Case Study: Inertia in the Legal Field
Inertia can lead us in directions that we don’t anticipate—or even intend. I’ve seen its effects as a graduate of Penn Law School and as an attorney in New York City.
Ambitious Millennials pursue law school for a variety of reasons. But they may later discover that it’s increasingly difficult to veer off of the law school track.
And this feeling does not go away once you become a law student.
Some enter law school with no set idea of what to do after graduation. But there is often this seeming consensus to pursue the highest paying jobs. These are found at so-called “Big Law” firms, which are large commercial law firms that primarily serve corporations and wealthy individuals.
Granted, these are excellent opportunities to work with extremely intelligent attorneys. Yet it can be difficult to work at Big Law firms.
Work-life balance is nonexistent and many associates don’t become partners.
Even though this reality is well-documented, it is easy for students at the most prestigious schools to at least investigate these opportunities. The compensation at Big Law firms (with starting salaries of $180,000) is attractive since law students often need to account for six figures of debt. Big Law firms are also prestigious and well-respected within the legal community.
It is made all the much easier when Big Law firms visit law schools to recruit law students for their summer associate programs. Summer associate programs are fun—not to mention lucrative—and it’s easy to envision life at a Big Law firm. After the program, summer associates often obtain full-time job offers, which are difficult to turn down.
The short story is that five or ten years pass and some of these lawyers wonder what led them to their current situation. They feel the tangible effects of opportunity costs and start asking those dreaded “what ifs.”
I worked at a Big Law firm for nearly two-and-a-half years before taking a risk to start a startup. It’s an uncertain, yet terribly exciting adventure. I can’t wait to see how it pans out. I truly understand how difficult it can be to take a risk, so I created a podcast which offers advice for others who are looking to shake up their careers.
Inertia is a real thing, and it has a larger impact on your career than you think.
Your Advantage in Combatting Inertia
It is too easy to become wrapped up in our habits or the stresses of daily life. We are all busy people and are stretched thin enough as is. It requires some effort to take a step back and reflect on our careers and personal lives.
Yet I’d argue that this momentary discomfort is less costly than ignoring the status quo and feeling disappointed in ten years.
Luckily for college students and recent graduates, there is time to understand and resist inertia. I’m not saying that you absolutely need to quit your job and live alone on a mountain for one year—like a recent guest on my podcast. There are practical realities involved. You may have a strict budget, you may be struggling to handle your debt, or you may have responsibilities to others that you love. I get it.
But this doesn’t stop you from asking yourself whether your current path aligns with your goals. This doesn’t stop you from taking baby steps to change your direction. Your youth is such an asset—you can take greater chances at this stage of life.
I’d highly recommend that you sit down and dedicate some time to thinking about whether you’re satisfied with your current path. When doing this, don’t hold anything back. Try to be as objective as possible.
As humans, we come equipped with a wide range of cognitive biases. These biases can easily cloud our thinking. Some of these biases include confirmation bias, status quo bias, and negativity bias. It’s useful to keep these biases in mind as you ask yourself the tough questions.
One way to gain a new perspective is to imagine yourself standing in the shoes of one of your heroes. Would they say you are on the right path to accomplish your goals? If not, what would they suggest going forward?
If you’re scared to make a change, rest assured that your heroes undoubtedly felt fear at first, yet were willing to take the necessary action to pursue their dreams.
Having said all of this, self-reflection isn’t entirely valuable if you fail to take action. It’s too easy to fall into analysis paralysis. So you should ask yourself: what baby steps can you take now to make a change? What risks—no matter how small—can you take today?
It’s Your Choice
It’s too easy to become a passive participant in life rather than an active participant. Passivity can drain the color from life, creating a dull reality where the days blend together in a thick fog. Instead, check in with yourself and make sure that inertia is not taking you down a path that you may regret. Your future self is already thanking you.
Adam hosts The Power of Bold, a podcast focused on helping white collar employees take risks in their careers. Beyond the podcast, he writes about law school at Deciding on Law School and on Quora. He also tweets at @apascar.