Every so often, I lose myself in daydreaming about the ways my life didn’t go: the classes I never took, the relationships that didn’t work out, the jobs I didn’t get. I’m not even 30 yet (not even 29!), and there are so many junctures that brought my life to where it is instead of where it could have been. And no matter how content one is with what is, I think there’s something in the human psyche that compulsively considers what would have happened if you’d turned left rather than right, had a jazzier resume, not had that stupid fight with your best friend in 10th grade that left you estranged for years. If there’s some alternate universe where you’re happy and content because you went right instead of left and ended up exactly where you belonged. I know enough to know that there isn’t, that each decision you make leads to more, harder decisions at some point, but there are some things I always find myself coming back to when I get lost in the reverie…
What if I’d never gone to law school? My senior year of college, I changed my major from political science to psychology and absolutely loved it. I wanted to keep studying it, but I’d been so sure for so long that I was going to go to law school/be a lawyer that I was scared to change my mind. I decided to let fate decide for me: I wouldn’t study for the LSAT, besides a basic once-through practice exam so I knew what it looked like. If I managed to do well on it, I would go to law school. If I bombed it, I’d start getting ready to take the GRE. I scored in the 92nd percentile on my LSAT. I went to law school. I became a lawyer. I hated being a lawyer. What if I’d had the boldness, the nerve to tell everyone who’d been hearing from me for years that I wanted to be a lawyer that I’d made a different decision? It’s easy to think that I would have loved it, that I would have gone on to a fulfilling career. But I know Ph.D. students, and getting a Ph.D. has tribulations of its own. The time it takes to get it, finding a thesis topic, actually writing a thesis…and then there’s the after part, where you have your degree and have to get a job. The pressure of “publish or perish”, the unstable home life of having to move around until you can claw your way into tenure. It’s not an easy life, and it’s all too possible that my sudden bloom of interest in psychology would have been eroded into the nub that my once-passionate feeling for the law was.
What if I’d gone to a different law school, then? I’ve made no secret of the fact that I was often completely miserable at Alabama. It was almost impossible to predict at the time; my campus visit to Alabama was lovely and I thought I would have a splendid time living there. But my final decision on law school came down to Alabama and Indiana. I chose Alabama both because of that great visit and because of scholarship considerations (I had not yet discovered what a racket the scholarship game was at Alabama). But I took a visit to Indiana and I really liked it there, too. Indiana would have been easier on me in a lot of respects: much more similar to home in every way. Maybe I would have done better there, both academically and personally. Maybe not. Maybe I would have spent more time going back and forth between school and home, because it would be easier to stay halfway in my old routines than to develop new ones. Maybe I would never have learned the lessons about dealing with disappointment and salvaging what you can, leaving the rest behind you, that I’ve found so valuable in my life. Maybe I would have settled down, but be building up to a panic at 30 where I wonder what else there is outside the Midwest. This is the one that haunts me the most, honestly. I think I would have been better off making the other choice. But life doesn’t go backwards, only forwards, and I have to take what I can from where I’ve been and move along.
Moving back to Michigan after law school was so obviously the correct choice that I never second guess it. But once I moved back, and passed the bar, I spent nine months looking for a job. There were two that I almost got before the one I did get, and I find myself wondering if I’d gotten one of those jobs, if I’d still be a lawyer in Michigan. The first was a small one-stop shop in Ypsilanti. It was run by an older lawyer who liked to work with an underling and his current one was leaving after several years. I had actually been all but granted the job (a salary had been discussed and settled and a meeting set up to finalize the next day) when he decided at the last minute to give it to the other person he was still considering, someone who had some small bits of summer experience from law school that I did not have. It still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, because I wanted it so bad and was lead to believe I had it before having it snatched away. The second was a small firm focused on representing women in divorce cases, in one of the Detroit suburbs. I breezed through the first interview and went to the second, excited to know that the applicant pool had been cut to ten and they were planning on offering two. I was told, when I got the call, that I finished third. Once again so close but still so far. Maybe in those jobs, I would have had more active mentoring, been taught how to be a lawyer instead of being thrown in the deep end and told to sink or swim, figuring out how to doggy paddle just enough to keep from going completely under but always gasping for air. Maybe I would have been an awesome lawyer. Or maybe the disillusionment would have just been slower. Maybe it would have taken me 10 years to figure out that I didn’t love it instead of a year and a half, already stuck in a real life with a family and a mortgage instead of being young and free enough to run away.
At the end of the day, my life is actually pretty happy. If I hadn’t gone to law school, far away from home and learned how to deal with living in a place that I didn’t like, I might never have had the courage to quit my job for a temporary gig 2000 miles away from home…from which, obviously, I would never have met Drew and I wouldn’t have a job that I wake up excited for every day. I wouldn’t have met the people I came to love in law school and in my lawyer job, people who make my life richer and better. I might not appreciate the job that I have so much if I’d never had the soul-crushing experience of a job I hated. I’m glad I had the experiences that I did, I mostly like the person I’ve ended up. I could still use work, obviously, but I’m pretty damn alright. I think back to who I was a decade ago, five years ago, three years ago, and I can feel how far I’ve come, how much I’ve learned. But I guess you can’t ever help yourself wondering what if.