I’ve had a couple of conversations recently with people about their future career plans which are the basis for this blog post. This blog post explores why it is so hard to not want to go for partner even when you know it’s not the right thing for you.

The problem

You’ve been in professional practice for pretty much all of your working life. That means since the first day you joined you’ve been in a culture where you are expected to want to make partner. And even be seen as a fool for not wanting partnership.

Isn’t having partner on your business card all the evidence that you need to show to the world that you are not just good, but good enough to have partner on your business card? It’s not just about perceived status either. It was explained to me that going from employee to junior equity status in a UK Big 4 firm involved a pay rise of about £250k a year. Let’s just put that into context though. That’s not the same for everyone who gets equity in a firm. One of my clients has worked for 2 years as a fixed share partner JUST to get paid the same amount as when he was a senior associate.

Given the financial and status benefits of becoming a partner AND the fact that wanting to be a partner is woven so tightly into the fabric of being in a partnership, is it any wonder that so many of us say we want to make partner even if it’s not for us. We’ve been programmed to “need” to make partner because that’s what is expected of us. This mindset is often so entrenched it can be difficult to shake off and start to look for other career options.

Partnership is not right for everyone

In fact, in the last two months, I’ve spoken with two high achievers who have realised that partnership is not for them. However, realising this and actively pursuing another career path is another thing entirely. It’s absolutely fine to not want to go for partnership. (Even if your current colleagues just don’t get why you don’t want to be a partner.) At the end of the day, you need to choose a career path which plays to your strengths and makes you happy and fulfilled. As I’ve said many times, you only get one life and it’s not a dress rehearsal for the main event.

Stop choosing what others want for you. And when I talk about others I am also talking about spouses who have signed up to you becoming partner and the income/status/prestige which comes with this.

Others, including pretty influential people in your firm and industry, may have big plans for you. It’s not the plans they have for you which matters, it’s the plans you have for yourself which really count.

So before you get seduced into working hard to get to the next stage in your career, then onto partner track and through partner track, take a long hard think. Is this what you really want, or is this what you are expected to want?