For a long time, I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. To me, it seemed like a prestigious and important job, one that could be both demanding and highly rewarding, that could offer me the intellectual challenge I craved. There seemed no higher calling than to be able to not only interpret the law, but to also uphold and defend it. I had visions of grandeur, I suppose, of doing good in the world and making a difference.
In preparation for my future career, I thought it would be a good idea to get some experience working at a law firm, to see what reality lay behind the glitz and glamor of on-screen legal portrayals shown in films and television shows like Legally Blonde and Suits. My first foray into the world of law was as a temp at a global law firm headquartered in downtown Chicago. After working there for a summer, I was brought on as an employee of the firm as a legal secretary, working part-time while I finished up my bachelor’s degree at DePaul University.
In late spring of 2018, I saw an opening for a project assistant position (kind of like a junior paralegal) in the Corporate & Securities practice group and applied. After being offered the job and accepting, my responsibilities shifted from administrative in nature to more substantive and, admittedly, more demanding, where I found myself coordinating and organizing projects on M&A deals and reorganizations and preparing and filing documents, among other things.
During the summer of that year, I turned my attention to law school applications. I had taken an LSAT prep course earlier with the intent to take one of the LSAT tests that was offered in the fall. In the interim, I thought I would work on getting my letters of recommendation and other materials together.
When it came time to write my personal statement for my law school applications, however, I hit a roadblock. I found myself stuck, unable to think of a single prompt. This was a rarity for me, as English had always been my best subject in school, writing one of my strong suits. Why, then, would the words not come, no matter how hard I tried to conjure and coax? Feeling discouraged and frustrated, I called my mom for advice. She reminded me of my drive and determination, but also, in her loving, faith-filled way, suggested that perhaps my inability to compose a draft for my personal statement was a sign that that this wasn’t meant to be.
I let her words sit with me. I ruminated. Made a list of pros and cons. And then I let my mind be still. The answer suddenly was there, and I realized that law school was not for me. Not that I wasn’t up to the task or that I didn’t think I would do well, but I knew my heart was not in it even as my mind—that ambitious creature—had tried to convince me otherwise. I had come to accept that not going to law school would not make me a “failure” or “weak.” It just wasn’t the path I was meant to walk. I also knew that I wasn’t truly, deeply passionate about the notoriously demanding schedule I’d have to navigate as an attorney and all the pressures and stress that came with it. Would it all be worth it? Now I wasn’t so sure.
Once I had my epiphany, I felt a sense of peace, of relief. When I started to consider again what I wanted to do with my life, I thought back to my studies at DePaul, where I earned my degree in Public Policy. I thought about how I had won an award for my senior capstone research paper, how one of my toughest professors had affectionately called me a “policy wonk.” I knew this was something I was good at, something that I understood.
About a year ago, I started listening to political podcasts (Pantsuit Politics, The NPR Politics Podcast, The Pollsters, Pod Save America, and Left, Right & Center are my go-tos—you could say I have a bit of an obsession), and when they would have guests who were political strategists or analysts or directors of a policy institute, I found myself thinking, “Now this is what I want to do.” Somehow, inexplicably and yet undeniably, it just felt right. For me, I realized that the opportunity to conduct research, analyze and publish data, craft policy proposals, and help shape legislation represented both the complexity I needed and the sense of purpose that I sought. I could make a difference in the world after all.
All of this will likely mean change and hard work—the possibility of having to move to a new city or starting over again at a new job in order to gain more direct policy experience, building my career from the ground up. But the thought of being able to manifest this for myself excites me. I am ready for it.
Each of us must chart our own course and define our own destiny, whatever that may be. Sometimes the path before us is straightforward, our steps assured. Other times, it is less certain and we stumble. I by no means have it all figured out, but at this point I am as sure of what I want for my future as I can be. My goals are clear, and I know I will reach them someday. What I have learned in all this is to trust: trust our purpose, trust our heart, and trust our intuition. So pay attention to what inspires you, ignites your passion, sparks your curiosity, and sets your joy ablaze—these feelings are there for a reason, and if you listen to them, they will lead you where you are meant to go.