April 1, 2011 | File under: Advice and Lessons
I am not a quitter. In fact, I am known to be so stubborn that any obstacle placed in my path will only strengthen my resolve to accomplish a goal I have set for myself. It’s a family trait. It’s also one of the main reasons why I was undeterred in my decision to become a lawyer many years ago even when people close to me expressed concerns that the profession might not be the best fit for my personality. But I was stubborn. I had to see for myself.
Having now left the law, I can look back on those nine years I devoted to training and work and confidently say that I gave it a fair shot and tried the best that I could to make it work for me. I gave it more than a fair shot, in fact, since I would have left earlier had I not been responsible for paying back my overpriced law school education. I knew almost immediately upon entering the working world that the doubts I had so desperately attempted to ignore were actually legitimate concerns that I had been too stubborn to face.
I tried everything I could to make it work. I took a job at a smaller law firm outside of New York in hopes that it would provide a better quality of life and less stress than New York would ever be able to provide. My quality of life did improve, but it was not enough to counteract the nagging sense of dread created by work. I tried to change my attitude to convince myself it was “not that bad” compared to other possible scenarios. I even tried employing the tactic of immersing myself even deeper in my work, in hopes that trying harder would make me like it more. Nothing worked. There was no other solution but to get out as soon as I was in a position where it was financially possible.
I often think back to my 21-year old self and wonder whether it would have been better if I had more thoughtfully considered those concerns I now know were legitimate. On the one hand, I would have saved myself nine (!) years of my life that I could have devoted to something more fulfilling than a career in the law. On the other hand, though, I know that had I not followed through on my desire to attend law school I would have always wondered “what if?” and questioned whether I had sold myself short by failing to “live up to my potential.” Maybe I wouldn’t have been so wise as to see that my “potential” was only an illusion created by many years of carearing.
I really haven’t come to any conclusions on this hypothetical. And it really doesn’t matter. I do know that I needed to find things out for myself. No amount of dissuasion or reasoned doubts would have deterred me given my previous state of mind. If I had chosen another path maybe things would have turned out better, or maybe worse. But at least now I am able to look at my present situation with 100% confidence that leaving the law was the best choice for me. It’s just unfortunate that I had to make so many sacrifices to get to that point. A hard lesson, indeed.
There are so many people who find themselves in the same position I was in many years ago: a little unsure if committing themselves to a career is the right choice, but feeling compelled to forge ahead thanks to a careared mentality that having a prestigious career is something one should desire. Like me, I know a lot of those people are very stubborn and need to see for themselves what a career is like before deciding it’s not for them. But for those who actually allow themselves to doubt, I hope they will consider the possibility that a bit of lingering “what ifs” may be preferable to devoting many years to an unfulfilling career. I may not have any “what if” thoughts about being a lawyer. However, what if I could have spent those nine years doing something else?