Today is my graduation day. This afternoon, I’ll be flouncing across a stage wearing a cap and gown and collecting a piece of paper that certifies that I have earned a double degree. I studied for six years for that bit of paper, and after today, I’ll be able to officially tell people that I have a law degree and a psychology degree. I should be very proud of that fact, and I am to an extent. In a way though, the whole day feels bittersweet. This is probably because I decided about a year ago that I don’t want to be a lawyer.
That might seem like a pretty wacko decision for someone who has put in six years of training to work in the legal field, but I assure you that it’s not one I’ve made lightly.
While I was studying, I had plenty of friends who were dying to be lawyers. They spent their summers doing internships at law firms and revelled in moot competitions and case summaries. I have never felt that burning passion for law. I decided to study law when I was about thirteen, when a relative made an off-the-cuff comment that I’d ‘make a good lawyer’. When I told other people of my intention to become a lawyer, they would get so excited and tell me what a great profession it was, how much money I’d make and how far I could go. For a young girl who never seemed to do anything right, it was pretty sweet to feel the shimmering glow of approval.
After a couple of years of study, I started to worry. I’d figured that after a while, I’d grow to feel passionate about the legal profession. I imagined that I’d have an a-ha moment one day during class, or while watching court cases or researching in the libary. I figured that everything would click into place and I’d know for sure that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I swept my hesistations aside and kept plugging away. I reasoned with myself that I shouldn’t quit something I was felt lukewarm about, particularly if I didn’t have any idea of what I’d like to do instead.
In my second-last year of study, I was accepted into a clinical program where I would actually get to work with real life clients. The application process was very competitive, and I was so shocked when I was told that I’d been selected. For me, this was an opportunity to see how I would deal with the real-life business of being a lawyer. Surely, once I was helping real people with their problems, I’d fall in love with being a lawyer?
Sadly, that didn’t happen for me. I enjoyed the program immensely, and learned a great deal. I liked helping my clients too, although I took it perhaps a little too seriously. Each night after clinic, I’d lie awake for hours stressing about my clients, and worrying about what would happen to them if I messed up their paperwork or made a mistake in some other way. I couldn’t shake the anxiety.
After that, I didn’t know what to do next. In a fog of uncertainty, I wrote to a bunch of law firms, asking for an internship. Every single one rejected me, and each time I opened a rejection letter, I’d feel a little quiver of relief. One by one, my chances to become a lawyer were fading.
I had also applied to do a clinical legal education program and I was accepted. The thought of doing more study in law filled me with dread, but I didn’t know what else to do instead. During my enrollment process, it came to light that I still had a bunch of outstanding credit points on my university degree, so I wasn’t eligible to do this course. This stunned me,. When I heard that news, I nearly fainted with relief. All I could think was, “I don’t have to study that course, and I don’t have to be a lawyer”. I was confused by the way I was feeling, and I started to work my way though my thoughts and emotions.
The reality is, I would be an awesome lawyer. I’m very diligent, organized and I always got great marks. I am brilliant at piecing together an argument and I love helping people. But I don’t enjoy it. I realised that for the first couple of years of my law career, I would be expected to work incredibly hard. My hours would be long and I’d probably spend several years paying my dues to get a really good position. On top of that, I’d be facing the same stress I’d had while doing my clinical placement and more. It hit me that I didn’t care enough about a career in the legal arena to put myself through that gauntlet. I just didn’t want it badly enough. So I quit.
It was awful telling people that I don’t want to be a lawyer. I felt as though I’d wasted six years of my life. Worse than that, I had to admit to myself that I’d made a huge error of judgment about the direction I wanted my life to take. I have been pretty hard on myself about it, but I think I feel better now than I would have if I’d kept striving towards a career that I hated.
Even though I spent six years studying, I don’t feel as though those years were wasted. I’ve got two degrees that I’ll have all my life. I learned valuable research, analytical and persuasive techniques that will help me in other areas of my life. In those six years, I met so many incredible people and forged amazing friendships that I probably never would have done if I hadn’t gone to university.
My point is this: it’s never too late to change your mind. Whether you’re in a job that no longer appeals to you, or a relationship that no longer stokes your fire, you can always change your mind and get out. You don’t have to keep plugging away towards a future that won’t give you bliss if you don’t want to. It’s not always easy to quit, but it’s always an option. More than that, it’s an option you should probably take if you feel as though your life-force, your spark, your you-ness is being eroded by the path your taking.
It’s never too late to change your mind. Believe me. If you find yourself on a path that you no longer want to be on, it’s perfectly fine to turn around and go back, or find a detour to take you to the place you truly want to be.
Have you ever had a change of heart about a major life decision? How did you deal with it?