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Midlife Career Transitions

Advice for the restless from lawyers who have reimagined and retooled their careers.

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October/November 2007 Issue | Volume 33 Number 7 | Page 43
Features

Midlife Career Transistions

Career Moves Snapshot: Charles Duffy

FORMERLY: A solo practitioner in Portland, Oregon.
NOW: A development office organizer for the Society of Jesus in Rome, Italy.

PATH TO PERSONAL PASSION

Charles Duffy’s career transition has (literally) taken him 6,000 miles—all the way from law practice in Portland to a remarkably different type of work in Rome, Italy. Duffy spent 30 years as a successful trial lawyer, including 20 years as the author’s law partner, followed by a stint in a solo practice, and he always liked his work. But a few years ago his life and his perspectives began to change.

One factor, Duffy says, is that he didn’t like the sense of isolation he came to feel as a solo. “I missed the human connection of working collaboratively,” he admits. But his ponderings on connections reached deeper levels. Like a lot of lawyers in midlife, he began exploring some of the spiritual issues that had been on his mind for years, contemplating the life mysteries that seem beyond our understanding. Feeling like he needed structure in contemplating those mysteries, he participated in an in-depth, yearlong spirituality course offered by the Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits. That course helped him focus on what he wanted out of the rest of his life.

He reports that he also greatly benefited from a three-week course sponsored by the Oregon State Bar, called “Lawyers in Transition.” That course helped him focus not so much on “whether to leave the law,” but instead to focus on, as he puts it, “what it was about my life as a lawyer that I didn’t like—that gave me a different perspective.”

After a period of evaluating their lives at the time and their aspirations for the future, Duffy and his wife, a successful graphic artist and advertising executive, decided that it was time for a change. And what a change ultimately came their way.

Here’s how it unfolded: Duffy’s contacts with the Jesuits in Oregon led him to do some part-time work for the provincial office in Portland. Over the next five years, he increased his duties with the Jesuits and began phasing out of his law practice. Two years ago, Chuck and his wife decided that they wanted to live in Europe, so they both began studying Italian at a local university. This past summer, they rented an apartment in Rome that they could use as their base of operations for traveling and working in Europe for a couple of years. At that time, Duffy didn’t have a job in Italy, but was encouraged by the words of a Goethe couplet: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

And then the magic happened—Duffy got a call from a Jesuit colleague who was stationed in Rome asking if he would be interested in working for the Society of Jesus at its Rome headquarters. The position was one that would take advantage of his prior experience working in Portland, as well as the skills and analytical abilities that he had honed over the years as a lawyer. Duffy said yes—and now he has started his new job organizing a development office at the Vatican headquarters of the Jesuits. (His wife will continue her Portland-based work via the Internet from Rome.)

“The best thing about working with the Jesuits has been the spiritual component,” he says. “It’s not just a job, but there is a sense of mission, a sense of trying to make the world a better place.”

His advice for those contemplating what they want out of life is to ask the difficult question “What do I want?”—but then to go further and ask the still-more difficult question “What do I really want?”

“This can be a challenging question for a person approaching 50, or even older,” Duffy acknowledges. “The answer may open up previously unexplored territory, and it may take some time.” The trick, he says, “is to act on the answer.”

— By K. William Gibson

About the Author

K. William Gibson is an attorney, arbitrator and mediator in Clackamas, OR.  A member of Law Practice’s Editorial Board, he also authors the magazine’s award-winning “Ask Bill” column.

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