Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Fought the Law, and the Law Won

Since I was 12, I wanted to be a lawyer... or so I thought. Part of me also thought that, given that my knowledge of the job market was limited to my New Jersey beachside community, I probably was not yet aware of where my future job lay. Because my parents were teachers with limited means, and because half our family lived in Colorado, my childhood experiences were more or less confined to New Jersey and Colorado. Thus, books became my escape. With each novel I devoured, I would learn about the rest of the world that I had yet to explore, and the people I hoped to one day meet.

Books also became a type of career guidance counselor for me, as I wanted whatever the job was of the protagonist in the latest novel I was reading. So it made perfect sense that when I became obsessed with John Grisham books at age 12, I wanted to become a lawyer. I loved how the protagonist-lawyers in his novels were always uncovering conspiracies or fighting the law in nontraditional ways. I guess I can blame John Grisham for my early career choice, considering I had absolutely zero real world contact with the law, and knew not one lawyer. (I come from a family of teachers, accountants, and engineers).

So, I went through high school and most of college on the notion that I would go to law school and then my post-graduate life would somehow magically become a legal thriller novel. It was not until the last year of college, when I spent a semester in the nation's capital, that I was introduced to a whole world of opportunities-- careers I never knew existed because of my limited exposure. That semester, I worked in an international non-profit that helped the developing world put into place the building blocks of democracy. I found the work interesting, but still felt compelled to complete my goal of becoming a lawyer.

Shortly after graduating from college, I got a paralegal job offer from a large law firm in Manhattan, called Cleary Gottlieb. I knew the firm would pay for my LSAT and preparation courses, and would be a good "in" to the big firm opportunities later on in life. The HR woman who hired me, Paula, was wonderful. I remember that during the interview she told me that she loved her job, and was able to find her passion by listening to her friends. Her exact words, "We can learn more about ourselves from others, than we can from our own head sometimes."

I thought about her words, and decided not to take the job... even though I had spent 30 hours a week for the last six months applying to big law firm jobs, and had spent the greater part of the last decade of my life dreaming of becoming a lawyer. Instead, I took a job at a start-up consulting firm in DC, because it excited me. I loved the idea of being back in DC, using Spanish everyday, and helping companies bring new commerce and industry to the developing world. I wrote Paula a letter, thanking her for the opportunity, but letting her know that it was ultimately her own advice that lead me to take a different opportunity that was more fitting for me.

As it turned out, the consulting firm was a partnership between former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and ex-White House oficios from the Clinton administration. (Though, they did not advertise that in the interview because they did not want to attract people who were there simply for the prestige and network). It was my first professional job, and my first real taste of working with big businesses. I threw myself into my work, and was excited to learn each morning what my day would bring. To this day, that job experience was one of the most amazing and eye-opening experiences of my life. Even when I had days at work when I wanted to cry, I never looked back.

It was only when I started law school that I began to have regrets, and constant bad dreams. I always felt like a circle trying to fit into a square. I constantly felt like I was forcing myself into a mold, while suppressing qualities that came natural to me. For example, law is about finding the precedent in the past that might allow us to make a move in the future. But I believe that we make our own futures, and the only limits in life are the ones we create. Even now, a year later, I cannot force myself to like being a lawyer simply because it is the path I happen to be on. Every day I come to work, I feel like I am living a big lie. I feel a strong sense of dissonance between who I am, and what I am doing.

Fortunately, I have people in my life who keep me focused on following my heart (which is currently calling me to pursue my passion for connecting people, and start a career in PR/consulting). I have a wonderful boyfriend (and his family), who believes in stopping at nothing to pursue your dream. I have supportive friends, who I know will be there for me no matter what happens. And most recently, and perhaps most importantly, I have amazing co-workers at lululemon, with whom I can be myself and talk freely about my goals and ideas, and who inspire me to pursue my dreams relentlessly.

Little did I know how important and to my life the words of Paula the HR lady would become. By listening to others, I am learning about who I am, and what I am supposed to do with my life.

I don't think I will look back and have regrets for leaving the law and exploring something that excites me. The only things I ever regret are the decisions I make with my head and not my heart. Perhaps I fought the law until I let it beat me down, until the law made me realize that I am not cut out for it. In the end, I fought the law and the law won. And I am perfectly okay with that.


Elyse said...

This is a great posting Kelly!! I am glad I have you so we can figure out our next career moves together!

Becca said...

Hi Ms. Kel,

Loved your blog! It's so easy to relate - good for you for breaking the mold and going for what you really want...I feel like life is about identifying and taking the next step towards what really embodies and fires you up! And gladly, there is adventure that accompanies the risk!

NatalieFriton said...

Congratulations! And good luck for sure. It's fun and a lot of work but always rewarding. :)