When I was a freshman in college, I interviewed for my first real job at a law firm for a legal assistant position. Oddly enough, the person that interviewed and hired me was my BFF, Emily. That was how we met. Isn’t that romantical? I was hired to work for one of the partners in the law firm named Doug. In the three years that I worked at the firm with Doug while I was going to school, he taught me just about every lesson in business I’ve ever learned. He taught me by example that it takes a smarter person to accomplish things with kindness than to accomplish them by bullying. He taught me that you should always dress for the job that you want, instead of the job that you have. He taught me that when you work hard, you can play hard and that you better not put the wrong one of those priorities first. He was just a good, decent person. And he took me under his wing.
Like my parents, he thought I was destined for law school. And I was right there with them. I would work through college, get my law degree, and come work for Doug. It was just the understood plan.
But, life happened along the way.
Two weeks after I got my acceptance letter to law school, Chris got his acceptance letter to Yale. And there was no question in my mind. I would go with him. We were going to be married that summer and he was my new life. For the sake of all those people who believed in me and supported me and encouraged me over the years, I pretended like the decision to postpone law school for Chris was a hard decision, but it really wasn’t. I declined my acceptance, threw away my acceptance letter, and moved to Connecticut.
When I got here, I planned to re-apply to law schools in the area so that I could go to law school at night while working to put Chris through Yale. But, with my newest batch of applications submitted, I started to reconsider my plan. Chris and I had been married for almost six months. I loved coming home to him at night. I loved spending weekends with him. I loved every minute of our time together and the thought of a life bogged down in legal briefs and legislation had lost some of its shimmer to me. My priorities had shifted and, once again, I withdrew my law school applications.
I applied instead for my Masters in higher education, an area that I had always loved but had never really considered professionally because all eyes had been focused on law school. But with that out of my field of vision, a whole world of possibilities opened up in front of me and I knew that brave new world wouldn’t include courtrooms.
When I made the decision to move in a different direction, it was fairly easy. We had just moved to a new state and none of my new friends knew anything about my past aspirations. I was essentially able to just wipe that part of my past away. It was a dream I once had, but now only one of those hazy dreams that you can’t quite remember but you can’t quite forget.
I called Doug earlier this week. We hadn’t caught up in almost a year and it was time to check in and see how he was doing. He quickly filled me in on his two sons, now grown and in college. We talked about people we used to work with and where they were now. And he asked me about being a new mom. Towards the end of the conversation, he harmlessly asked, “So, when are you going to law school?”
No one had asked me about law school in years and his question caught me off guard.
“Well, Doug,” I stammered. “I don’t see law school in my future. Haven’t really seen in there in a while now.”
“Well,” he said. “That’s a shame, Katie. You had a great mind for it.”
He meant it as a compliment. As a pat on the back and a nod to all the work I had done to almost achieve a goal. He meant it with all the goodness of the kind person that he is.
Its been three days since I spoke with Doug and that conversation is still rolling around in my head. But its the thoughts that come after the conversation that I have been thinking the most about. Did I regret not going to law school? What would my life be like if I had gone? Had I made a mistake? Had I given up on something too big in exchange for quiet evenings at home with my husband? Was I okay with that?
When I shared this conversation with a friend, she said to me, “You’ll go down too many roads in your life to count, Katie.” And she’s right. Maybe life isn’t one continuous road that we forge, but instead a series of roads. The thing about this particular road is that I’ve never been old enough before to look back at where I’ve been. I’ve never been old enough to reflect on life choices.
As I think back through the individual decisions that brought me to where I am – getting married, moving across the country, changing careers, having a baby, buying a house – there is not one decision that I would make differently. Not one of them. And that’s not necessarily because I made the right decisions every time, but because to undo one of them would be to erase the rest of them. And I’m just not willing to do that.
Today, I am not in the place that anyone ever expected me to be in. I’m not in the place that I expected myself to be in. If I had stuck to my plan, stayed on my one road, I would be in sensible heels and killer suits in some Capitol somewhere lobbying about insurance reform. And that would have been good, too, I suppose. But that baby that’s sleeping in the nursery across the hall? He probably wouldn’t be there. And that husband of mine sitting downstairs watching television? He probably wouldn’t be there either.
So, is my life turning out how I imagined? No, its not.
And that might be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.