On the day I left for college, my mom said something strange to me: “I’m just worried that you will start dating an upperclassman boy and that he will stop you from going to law school,” she blurted out. “Please, just promise me you won’t do that.” It was one of the last things she said to me as she dropped me off with tears in her eyes.
I was surprised by my mom’s request and more than a little annoyed by her sudden interest in my love life. I was eighteen, a brand-new college freshman, and recently broken up with my high school boyfriend. I had zero prospects for dating anyone at that time, much less an older college guy. And even if I eventually met Mr. Right, I was pretty confident about my career plans. I rolled my eyes at my mom and assured her that she didn’t need to worry.
Becoming a lawyer had been my dream from the time I was only a freshman in high school. I joined my high school mock trial team at age of fourteen, and for the next eight years—through high school and college—I regularly spent my weekends dressed up in skirt suits, questioning pretend witnesses and delivering arguments. Overall, it was a great experience: I became a skilled public speaker and got to travel around the country. I even won a few best attorney awards. On the off seasons, when I wasn’t competing, I dedicated myself to getting accepted into law school. I worked several legal internships, and I was sure that I was pursuing what would become a long and successful career.
When I graduated from college, though, my dreams started to change. After putting myself under so much pressure for so long, I was incredibly burned out. I decided to take a year after college to participate in a graduate service work program, but the truth was that I really just needed a break. I had failed to take care of my mental or physical health for years, and now, at the age of 21, I was suffering the consequences.
So there I was, living at my mom’s house and on the edge of a nervous breakdown, and, to top it all off, I was in a long-distance relationship. I had wound up meeting a great guy in college after all, but after struggling for a year to find full-time work after graduation, he had received a job offer in Hawaii that he couldn’t refuse. For the first time, I was beginning to fantasize about a future for myself that didn’t necessarily involve a high stakes legal career.
I was deeply conflicted between two different sets of goals. On one hand, I had an amazing, service-oriented legal internship and was dedicating all of my spare time to preparing for my law school admissions test. On the other hand, I was saving every penny for airline tickets to Hawaii to visit Thomas. I was terrified to admit the truth that all of my dreams for my career might not actually work out with my hopes to be with the boy that I loved. My mom’s warning about letting a boy take me away from my career echoed in my mind, and I became determined to prove to her and everyone else that it would be possible for me to do it all
I managed to negotiate a year deferral on my acceptance from my top choice law school, and I went to Hawaii so that I could finally spend some time with Thomas. It was only supposed to be for a few months, but when I managed to get a job with a non-profit organization in Honolulu that I really loved, I extended my deferral by another year. I spent nearly two full years in Hawaii building my relationship with my future husband and really enjoying my life. But the whole time I was there, I knew that I was eventually going to have to leave.
So, Thomas and I got engaged the February before I was scheduled to start school in September. We planned our beach wedding for June in the hope that it would give us a little time to enjoy our new married life together before I moved away. I felt so overwhelmed as we desperately tried to make everything work out, and Thomas did not want to be the one who took me away from my dreams, so he prepared to make a lot of hard sacrifices in order to support my career
In the end, it wasn’t the boy who talked me out of going to law school, but rather me who finally admitted to changing my own mind. For years, I had been trying to ignore the sinking feeling that the future I was working towards was no longer the future that I wanted. When the day came to sign on the dotted line and make the final commitment to law school, I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to quit my job, I didn’t want to leave Hawaii, and I didn’t want to be in a long- distance marriage. More importantly, I had to accept the hard truth that I didn’t actually want to become a lawyer anymore. I had spent nearly a decade of my life preparing for this one thing, and then I suddenly just threw all of those plans out the window. It was a freeing experience, but also incredibly terrifying.
It was a relief to no longer have the pressure of law school looming over me, but I still struggled with feeling like I had somehow let myself down. I had worked so hard on my internships and tests and application and school in order to pursue a career in law. Was all of that just meaningless now?
Today, I can openly admit that I still have not figured everything out. I am so grateful for all the choices that have led me to where I am today—even the ones that I believed at the time were actually going towards something else. I still don’t really know what I want to do next with my career, where we are going to live in two years, or if I want to go back to school someday for something else. Thomas and I make a lot less plans now in general than we used to. This experience has taught me the importance of trusting my gut and being more open to significant changes when they come. For the first time, I’m beginning to trust that it’s okay when life goes in directions that I can neither predict nor control. More importantly, I am learning to trust myself when my dreams change as well.