Like a lot of people, Rich Lombino didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life as a teenager.
“I fell into being a business major,” Lombino said. “All of my roommates were business majors, and it seemed interesting, but not really exciting to me.”
Instead of getting a job right out of undergraduate school, he decided to go to law school, for the first time setting up a career goal to be a high-powered Manhattan lawyer.
“I thought law was fascinating and I could be successful at it,” he said. “I wasn’t really thinking about things like, ‘Will I really enjoy being a lawyer? What is it actually like to be a lawyer?’ I didn’t really know any lawyers that I could ask questions like that to.”
By 24, the Long Island-born Lombino was a full-fledged professional with a job at a small New York City law firm. And just a few years later, he was working for one of the biggest law firms in the world, focused on commercial real estate.
Working his way up at a big Manhattan law firm was a dream achieved. For a while, at least.
“I didn’t really know what [working at a big law firm] meant,” he said. “Once I achieved that goal, after about six months to a year, when the thrill wore off, the reality set in that this was what my life could be like in terms of number of hours and the type of work just wasn’t fulfilling to me.”
A normal day, he says, was working from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and a busy day meant being on call, often working late into the night and on weekends.
Transitioning from one industry to another can be scary, but as Lombino and others have shown, it can be worth it.
“I was a junior social associate entering mid-level, looking at partner,” he said. “For some reason I thought once you become a partner things are easier, but they were working harder than I was working. They were making crazy money of course, but I had gotten married and we wanted to have a child and I was thinking about how there was no way I could be present in my family’s life if I was working those hours.”
For the first time, he started soul searching about what it was he really wanted to be.
“I started to read a lot of books and think about the type of person I wanted to be,” Lombino said. “I developed this need to help people. Ultimately I pushed myself toward a population of people who are really in need and suffering the most — people in the middle of homelessness and severe mental health issues.”
One advantage of initially going into a high-paying field was that he was financially able to leave his job at the law firm and volunteer with nonprofits as a way to network his way into a job that aligned with his new goals. With nothing on his resume in the nonprofit sector, he wasn’t a desirable candidate otherwise.
“I researched and volunteered over six months at at least three to four places at any one time, 10 hours a week at each one,” he said. “And then I just networked like crazy, tried to talk to everybody in the office, especially the higher-ups.” It meant being open to doing anything, including mundane tasks like envelope stuffing.
“It was almost like an on-the-job interview for weeks and months — you show up on time, they can rely on you, you’re positive, open to helping in any way,” Lombino said. “Eventually a job opportunity came available at a nonprofit in Manhattan. They actually came up to me before the posted it, saying ‘We think you’d be perfect for this job,’ and I would up getting it. I am 100% convinced I would not have gotten that job if I would have just applied.”
He would eventually add to his education to become a therapist — and, after working for healthcare systems for several years — his own boss.
A lot of people I work with feel like they're trapped and there's nothing they can do. There is a path they can take.
“I had an entrepreneurial spirit, always wanted to have my own business,” he said.
His practice, Lombino Counseling in Wilmington, specializes in mental health therapy (both in-person and virtual) for lawyers and other professionals facing job stress, addiction issues and burnout — some of whom want to make big changes in their careers.
When a patient wants out of their current career, it’s usually not something that comes out in the course of therapy. It’s usually apparent, he said.
“There are three stages,” Lombino said. “Stage 1: I hate my job; stage 2: I need to do something else; and stage 3: Do I want to get a similar job somewhere else, do I want to do something slightly different where I have transferable skills, or do I want to completely switch?”
If someone wants to make a big leap right away, such as quitting a job to open a restaurant, they will talk about the risks and realities of making the transition.
“Typically they’ll figure out what is the best transition to get to that goal.”
What would he say to someone reading this who is dissatisfied with their current career?
“I would try to infuse hope in them that you’re not trapped,” he said. “A lot of people I work with feel like they’re trapped and there’s nothing they can do. There is a path they can take: Think about prioritizing your life and what is most important for you. [If you’ve] never been to [your daughter’s] soccer game, is that a problem for you? If the answer is yes, then look at where you are now and the easiest changes that can be made. Is it possible for you to work four 10 hour days? Make a light at the end of the tunnel.”
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