I’m going back to school in five weeks. If you’ll allow me a few moments of narcissism and self-indulgence, I’d like to tell you why.
I’m a lawyer. Technically, in that I passed the bar exam and pay mad scrilla to keep my license current. But I don’t practice. I never wanted to. Most people don’t understand that. Suffice it to say that a legal education teaches many great, transferable skills and I wanted to take those skills into the nonprofit sector. I did what I could to make that happen. I did that whole DC internship thing, I went off to study human rights law for a summer at Oxford, and I did some major volunteer work for Amnesty International. But I graduated in 2010, a couple of years into the financial crisis. Yeah…not great timing.
I knew that there were very few firms coming in to interview third year law students for jobs, but I managed to keep my optimism up because, hey, I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I wanted to do something else. I wanted to work on issues I care about: women’s rights, LGBT rights, health care, death penalty abolition, and other various progressive causes. And I truly felt – as I still do – that working at a law firm or in a court would be excruciating. As someone with a paralyzing fear of public speaking and being in the spotlight in any way, I knew that practicing law was the wrong way to go.
Luckily, I knew that I had marketable skills. But oh, remember how I graduated in the middle of the Great Recession? Things didn’t work out so well.
I kind of floated around for two years, doing part time legal research, freelance writing and organizing, with periods of unemployment. It was awful. I was miserable. (Although, it was during this time that I joined Skepchick. They don’t now it, they helped me a lot. But I digress.)
Then something kind of magical happened: I got a job. It was a temp job, sure. But I had somewhere to go every day and people to talk to. It was scheduled to last nine months, but beggars can’t be choosers, right? Anyway, it’s pretty much the most most boring job I’ve ever had. The people were great, but the work was…not challenging. My mood started to yo-yo. When the assignment got extended, I was happy – because, you know, money – but I was also really, really sad. Because I knew it wasn’t going anywhere, and the job market wasn’t really that great so my options were still very limited.
On a particularly bad day, my lovely, wonderful, and selfless partner took me to see The Avengers. (For the second time.) When it was over, we were talking about much I love Bruce Banner, and how I wished I could understand physics. (Look, I know using a movie like The Avengers isn’t a great segue into talking about actual science, but that’s how it happened.) He told me that I said that a lot, and that maybe I should take a class or something.
Psh. No. Physics requires math. That ship had sailed. I hadn’t taken a math class in 10 years. And when I had to take math classes, I was really bad at it. I was a cliche. Which is too bad, because I was a giant astronomy nerd. But because it required math, I abandoned it.
I know, I know, I know. I’m completely ashamed of myself. Can I get back to my story now? Thank you.
I thought, Well, I guess taking a class can’t hurt. So I rearranged my schedule at work and audited a physics class at the local university. It was Physics for Non-majors, so there was minimal math. However, I thought that maybe I could gauge how deep my interest in physics ran.
This is when things started to accelerate. Everythings would have been so much simpler if I’d hated it. But I didn’t. I really liked it, and I started to think that checking out of math-heavy disciplines was a huge mistake. But, remember, the class I took had very little math. My history with math is horrible. Many tears were shed and stressful nights spent just trying to work my way through high school trig. I needed to know if a decade removed from any kind of math had changed my perspective.
So I took the next step. The last math class I took was college algebra as a freshman in college, so I saved my pennies and enrolled in a college trig class. I decided to actually pay for the class for two reasons: 1. If I paid money for it, I would be less likely to rage quit in the middle and 2. If I decided to actually pursue a degree I would need trig to get into the required calculus classes.
That was last spring. What happened?
It was a lot of work. There were many nights at the library. I still need to come at problems very slowly and methodically. And yes, there were times when I was so frustrated that I was reduced to tears. But this time…I liked it. Every time I solved a problem I was having trouble with, I got this weird high. I just wanted to run down the halls of whatever building I was in, showing everyone what I did. All by myself! It made me want to take on more and more difficult problems.
Let me tell you something, guys. This was unexpected. This was new.
Crap. You know what this means, right? Something clicked. I like math now. I may not be very good at it yet, but I like it.
In many ways, my life would be simpler if I’d hated everything about this trig class. It would have at least affirmed that, even though my employment situation is tough right now, going down the humanities path was the right way to go. But that wasn’t what happened.
I had a decision to make. Do I stay in my crappy temp job for however long it lasts, not moving my life forward at all? Or do it take a risk and call a mulligan?
I’m calling a mulligan.
Not everyone understands this. Some people – mostly old law school buddies – really don’t get it. That’s understandable. Going back for a physics degree must seem like a really random decision to make for people who do not live in my head. In reality, however, it’s not so out of the blue. I love physics. I love astronomy. I always have. But, as I explained above, I was scared away. For some reason, I felt like those fields weren’t for me. They were for other people. Smarter people. I had to find something else.
Law school was an expensive mistake to make (that study abroad at Oxford did not come cheap). I’m told that, if I’m having trouble finding a permanent job, I should just hang out my own shingle. But this totally misses the point.
I know that I’ll owe a lot – a lot – of money at the end of this. That alone almost scared me away. But life is short, you know? I want to do something fun and challenging and interesting. Sometimes I feel selfish for wanting this. I don’t think I’m special. I don’t think that I have a unique brain who will unite all the forces or discover some heretofore unknown particle or finally confirm life outside our solar system. Besides, I had my chance, and I wasted it.
Then I think, Fuck that. Yeah, I’ll be up to my eyeballs in student loan debt. But you know what? I’m already up to my eyeballs in student loan debt. If I’m going to paying this off for the rest of my life I might as well be doing something I actually like. Is it foolish? I don’t know. Probably. But is it any more foolish than the path I’m on now? That’s less clear. I’ve weighed my options. I haven’t jumped into this without a lot of thought. I think I’ve made the best decision for me. I think.
So, in five weeks time, I get to quit my crappy, boring temp job and go back to school full time. I’m incredibly excited. And terrified. There is no guarantee that I’ll succeed. That’s a very scary headspace to be in, and it’s very unfamiliar to me. (Don’t let lawyers intimidate you. Law school is not as hard as it seems.) It puts my stomach in knots. In a good way, though, if that’s possible.
I don’t know what the moral of this story is, or if there even is one. It’s never too late to do what you love? Never stop learning? Take risks? Don’t go to law school? I don’t know. I also don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I’ll be any good at this. If I’m not good at it, at least I tried. If I am good at it, well, I guess I’ll have more decisions to make.
Until then, five weeks, people. Wish me luck.
Featured image credit: Flickr