I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how passive decisions (or lack of decisions) can accumulate in weight until they shift the balance of your life. We are infatuated as a society with the idea that big moments shape the path we follow, and to some extent, this is true.
Throughout high school and college, I planned to become a lawyer. At some point in the past, I’d determined that being a lawyer was going to be the most successful application of my aptitudes, would earn me an acceptably high salary, and offer what I deemed perks at the time – things like wearing stylish skirt suits, traveling, and selecting witty friends from a cadre of sharp-tongued attorneys. I’m not sure when I decided this, but through years of tacit endorsements, my path toward lawyer-hood became pretty set. I never really examined this decision, never really thought about who I was, what else was out there. I floated through my undergraduate degree, feeling that the time to shine was law school and that basically I was just waiting around until then. I had no worries – I knew I was well-equipped for the journey. When the time came, I took the LSAT, scored high as expected, procured my letters of recommendation, and applied to twenty-five schools. I received 23 acceptances, 1 rejection (suck on it, Harvard), and 1 wait-list.
After the initial glow of having all of these flattering acceptance letters, scholarship offers, and fellowship invitations (I told you I would have been a good lawyer – I was exactly what they wanted) filling up my mailbox faded, I began to panic. A little at first, and then, a lot. I wondered in an increasingly loud inner monologue, “Do I want to be a lawyer?”
It took me about a year to answer myself honestly. I worried most about the fact that I would be a good lawyer – and, like many of us, I like being good at things. I worried that I’d spend my days chasing a paycheck, seeing very little other than the inside of some room or another. I realized I wanted more than to spend my life working at a job that I had acquired just because I would be good at it. And spending your life doing something you “kind of” like is not enough if you’re in a position to do something else.
While I recognize that it’s possible I could have found a balance – found a way to be a lawyer and have a life, or be a lawyer and care about what I did – I also realized that the temptation for me to throw everything into my job was going to be strong. I’m no slacker. And I realized that it was not kind to my past, present, or future selves to “enlist” in an army that was going to be very difficult to leave.
Through a period of soul searching I began to gather answers to the inevitable follow-up question of “What next?” After all, I’d spent nearly ten years now just assuming I’d be a lawyer and doing little to prepare for anything else. I found my answers. That’s not the point of this post.
The point is, now, five years after I took the LSAT and “being a lawyer” started to become real, I am back at the place where I swore I didn’t want to end up. I spend most of my time each week working at a job that, although I like reasonably well, is not what I am “supposed” to be doing. My strongest motivator is the paycheck. Between the commute, the hours on the job, and the many, many hours which I think about, stress over, and try to unwind from this job each and every week – it IS my life.
The irony? The paycheck I traded for is a heck of a lot smaller, my outfits far less cute than what I’d imagined, and I pinch pennies to afford to travel. The indentured servitude I rejected was far more glamorous than the bargain I’ve entered into now.
But, it’s not all bad. Life is a journey, after all, and perhaps this is a route I need to take. There are lessons to learn, people to help. It’s time to stop letting these passive non-decisions pile up, though, because by not making active choices, I have come full-circle after wandering through the woods for four years. It’s hard not to feel like I’m back at the beginning, but I know a lot has changed in the past four years.
This may seem overly dramatic. After all, I have a job. I am able to afford to pay my bills and even have a bit of fun now and then. My work is somewhat suited to my abilities and there are aspects of my job that are pleasing. I am grateful for what I have. I know many people cannot say the same. But, I also know that I have the ability to improve my situation – to live a better life. It will take conscious struggle to throw off these shackles.