As a young Boston lawyer in estate planning with a promising high-powered career ahead of her, Darien Fleming seemed to be poised for professional success. But something wasn’t right, and her body let her know about it. She passed out in her office from dizziness and couldn’t sit up in bed for a week. She slowly recovered and went back to work and a few months later, it happened again.
What had gone wrong, and how did she make it right? I’ve had the pleasure of working with Darien Fleming, the Manager of Professional Development at the law firm Brown Rudnick while working with Brown Rudnick’s summer associates and first year associates, helping them build their team and find their strengths using the StrengthsFinder tool.
I sat down with Darien before one of the StrengthsFinder trainings for the fall associates and got to hear her inspirational quest story. Her enthusiasm is infectious – listen below and read excerpts of how she made a significant work change that enabled her to engage her strengths and find her passion.
“Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you like it” – Darien’s life as a lawyer
“When I was a lawyer I thought to myself, ‘Well I’m not really that miserable. It’s fine.’ But life shouldn’t just be fine. I knew I wasn’t happy. But it’s really hard when you’re good at something. Everyone said, “Oh, but you’re so good at it.” Yeah, but that doesn’t mean you like it.
I remember when I was a kid I was on the swim team. I physically made myself sick because I didn’t want to swim anymore. My Mom and my Dad said, “But Darien you’re so good.” That doesn’t mean I’m enjoying myself.
I was not happy, even though I was good at it. It’s hard to abandon stuff because you feel like a failure, especially if you’re an achiever. But, I was poisoning myself. I collapsed in my office and couldn’t stand up for a week.
“I said to myself, ‘You are doing this to yourself.’ The moment I realized I was making myself sick I realized it wasn’t worth it – it didn’t matter. 50% pay cut, 75% pay cut, it just wasn’t worth it. I asked my husband what the bottom line was, what could we take and survive, and he pretty much gave me, ‘Whatever you want, we’ll make it work’, and that was huge to have his support for whatever I wanted to do.”
I contacted a head hunter when I was in bed, unable to move and I got a new job within one month.”
Choosing Professional Development
“I knew I wanted to be around people. Part of my job description now is working, talking to people. I used to take a break from my job and talk to people.
As a lawyer, yes you talk to clients, but that was not working, that was breaking. So I decided to find a job that required me to work with people every day and that’s what I did – that’s why professional development is perfect for me. When I read the description of what’s involved I said, ‘Oh boy, this sounds just like me’ and sure enough – I applied for one job and got it. It’s the perfect job for me.”
Darien’s Passion at Work
“Six or eight months into my new job, I decided to do a traveling tour and meet all of the associates I help in all of their offices. I got back and I felt so guilty, because I didn’t feel like I had worked that day. It didn’t feel like I was working. But I was working; it was my job. When I told my husband what I did that day, he said to me, “Well that’s working, Darien, you just happen to enjoy it.” Then I got so excited!
I’m way too open about how much I love my job. But I do, because I get to talk to people and groom people, these little balls of potential. The first year associate program is the favorite part of my job because they’re fresh. I know that some people are meant to be lawyers. I was not. It doesn’t mean I’m not good at it and I couldn’t do it, but I couldn’t do it and be happy.
You just have to find your passion. I found my passion – there’s no mistake that talking to people is my passion. My first paying job was as a cashier at Burger King. I loved it! Person after person I could say ‘Hi’ to, a new person every minute, every hour.”
Darien’s favorite story about when she knew she made the right decision to switch careers.
“We have a one-cup coffee maker and I was making coffee. I had just been in my new job maybe three weeks. And I asked my husband, ‘Do you want a cup of coffee?’ and he just paused and stared at me. and I said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ He said, ‘You haven’t asked if I wanted a cup of coffee in a long time.’ And I said, ‘Don’t be silly!’ And he said, ‘No, seriously, it’s great to have you back.’
And I thought, ‘Where had I gone so wrong?’ I’m just so glad now, because you can just get so blind and you don’t know that’s how you’re acting. I’m never going to that old place, ever. I love my husband too much and I love my life too much. I know he’s so happy to see me so happy.”