Sunday, March 18, 2012

Big decisions

I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm going to die a journalist.

And I'm OK with that.

This week, after months of studying for the beastliest test I've ever taken, after weeks of giving myself carpal tunnel syndrome writing and rewriting and triple-checking essays, hassling my references and spending hundreds of dollars on LSAT books and applications, I chose to not go to law school.

Two months ago I realized I suddenly wasn't so sure of a course of action I, the day before, had felt quite sure about.

I spent the first two weeks angry at myself. How could my mind just change itself? I swear it was 100% committed just a short time ago. I was excited to live somewhere new and different. I love school. I'm a geek who enjoys reading Supreme Court rulings. I'd steeled myself to reality of the debt. I'd researched schools and programs and mentally diagrammed the type of lawyer I wanted to be.

Then one day the enthusiasm was gone. I kept finding articles about how law school is hard in a different kind of way than undergrad and how schools lure students in with scholarships but make it very hard to keep those. I heard about grads who couldn't find jobs in law, despite their school's impressive numbers to the contrary. All I could think of was the crushing debt and the prospect of spending my lawyering years doing research. I thought about wearing a suit every day and saying "Your Honor" and the very real possibility that I would one day have to argue for the innocence of someone I knew to be guilty, or defend the actions of a company that I considered despicable.

The excitement came back briefly when I got accepted into Michigan and I imagined myself on their campus in Ann Arbor, rubbing shoulders when some of the best. But it was fleeting.

Then I spent a weekend in Zion National Park and couldn't force myself to hate Utah. I've spent a week or so of my entire life in that park, less time than I've spent shaving my legs, probably, but the thought of moving so far away made me ache.

Any "Anne of Green Gables" fans out there? In one of the books, the red-headed heroine meets her knight in shining armor. She loves him. She plans to marry him. She's happily anticipating becoming Mr. Perfect Man. On the day he proposes, she looks at him and realizes all the deep, powerful, real feelings she'd felt for him the moment before were just ... gone. That's how I felt.

Once I'd gotten over the reality that I am in fact flaky and indecisive and unlikely to ever be able to commit to any long-term plan, I faced the reality that it was time to actually make the choice I thought I'd already made. I felt a little bit like a couple of governments I know that thought the discussion of a bill should happen AFTER it was passed.

So.

My primary motivation was to leave Utah. And because I was bored. But law school is a pretty pricey escape hatch, and I've spent enough time in court to know that the real deal is nothing like "Law & Order."

Law school, though, isn't a new idea. When I was in college, journalism was always my major, but it wasn't until I started working at the paper that being a reporter became Plan A. Before that, I figured I'd leverage my degree into law school. People have randomly throughout my life looked at me contemplatively and asked if I've ever thought about law school. Truthfully, yes, and fairly frequently. If I was ready for a career change, this seemed like a good move. The skill sets are fairly similar, and I've read enough legal documents to know the legal world needs better writers.

And with a law degree I could do so much. People need lawyers. They have questions and need advice and too often it's out of reach for anyone without money. The First Amendment needs a fighter. So do many of the downtrodden. I wanted to be that help. It seemed like I could do more for people as a lawyer than I could as a journalist.

But.

Somewhere in my law school future was a tax law class. I made it through accounting by the skin of my teeth; I'm not sure I could handle accounting and law mixed together. Plus, I don't like arguing within specific parameters. And, given the lisp that I've rocked my entire life, I'm not a huge fan of public speaking. I'm great at thinking on my feet, but speaking on my feet is a whole different ball game.

I love school, though. Besides all the learning, I love the atmosphere, the tree-lined campus, the opportunity to wear my school colors and go to football games. I was going to study abroad this time. I could do work with the Innocence Project. Plus, everywhere I may have been headed was much closer to my cute nephews. I miss them all the time.

I don't know how many times I've wished I could talk to my dad, even though I know how the conversation would have gone: "So, Dad, I'm thinking about going to law school." "Don't."

Anyway.

I've come to grips with a few qualities that make up the girl in the mirror.

She is a child of the desert — raised in a land where you can see for miles. There's one mountain off in the distance. Wind-battened brush is home to jackrabbits, coyotes and tarantulas. When she is homesick, this is what she's missing.

She doesn't want to be a cog in an organization. Part of her self-worth is based on knowing she plays a significant role in what she is doing.

She will never leave the LDS Church, even if for the rest of her life she is surrounded by a culture she doesn't like. Too much is at stake.

She is never going to grow up.

She needs focus, goals, something to be working toward. With that, she is happy and motivated. Without it, she's accomplishes much less and gets bored.

She thrives on adrenaline, tight deadlines and being the best.

Money is way down her list of priorities. Personal satisfaction is near the top.

She doesn't want to be a lawyer.

Ergo.

I've tried so many times to switch careers. I've applied for jobs in public relations, marketing, education, copy writing, fundraising and administration, writing for the FBI and Homeland Security and more. When I left for my mission I thought for sure walking away from the world for 18 months would kill my journalism career. I've thought about going back to school in nursing and psychology. I took several steps toward doing freelance copy writing and editing.

I couldn't do any of them. I know now it's because I love journalism. I don't want to do anything else. I like knowing what's going on. I like sitting in a newsroom surrounded by people who know what's going on and discussing the ins and outs of the world from a half dozen different perspectives. I like that I'm never sorry when it's time to go to work. I love when I can look at a piece of my work and know that I made that. I took ideas, opinions, facts and figures and created something that spoke to people, that made people think, that made a difference.
Journalism makes me crazy. It doesn't pay enough, I'm always on call, the nicest stories always elicit the complaints. Everyone's a critic. There's always a mistake. And even if you have a perfect day, it's all gone the next day.

I've spent about a decade trying to figure out what I want to be. I think I've found out.

However.

I'm a little bemused by the path I took to get here, but a lot of good came from it. My choice to leave netted me the opportunity to write a column for the Herald, one of my professional goals. My frugality in living throughout the last year, law school fees notwithstanding, have put me in the best financial position I've ever been in. It provided focus. It was good for the ego. It gave me ideas about what is important to me.

Still, I can't deny that I'm sad in some ways. I haven't lived somewhere unfamiliar since I moved to Provo in 2005. I was eager for a change of scenery. My dream of living abroad became a lot further away. I'm never going to stand in front of the Supreme Court and make an impassioned plea for the sanctity of the First Amendment. The worry about finding a law job has reverted to the constant worry about the future of my industry.

So.
 
Last night I returned to my old apartment to pick up mail and started chatting with my old roommate and her boyfriend. He immediately launched into why I should go to law school: I'd make a ton of money and hardly do any work, I've already taken the LSAT and that's the hardest part, it's easy to get a job doing law after finishing law school, and people who do death row appeals for poor illiterate folks make a lot of money. His stories about the law firm where he used to work drowned out my protestations.

Even, though, if all of that were true -- it's not -- but even if it were true, I said I still didn't want to be lawyer. I didn't think I'd be happy as a lawyer. His response?

"That doesn't matter. You'll be making lots of money."

Except it does. It does matter. I only get one go-round at this life, and I want to enjoy it. If that means another 30 years of being poor and frustrated and at the receiving end of someone yelling and not wearing suits and having the best job in the world, so be it.

4 comments:

  1. Congrats! I used to look at all of the money my brother made as a lawyer and be jealous. Then I looked at the 30 minutes a week he got to spend at home with his family and I realized I was much happier where I was. Basically, the worth of my soul is great and law school can't afford me.

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  2. Oh how I wish I were you again. When I was 26 and working for the Deseret News I thought there has got to be more than writing obits and doing movie listings. I was single, I loved to travel, I wanted to see the world. I had grown up in Arizona with a mother who thought the desert in spring time was the Garden of Eden. After my mission and BYU, I thought Utah would be a mere way station not a residence. In the years between then and now, I did travel, I also got to write columns, I too thought I would grow up to be either a politician or a lawyer, and I realized that it is ok to grow where you're planted. I also dated a lot of jerks, hated the Mormon singles scene, yet eventually met the man of my dreams, he was 26 and never married. I was 34 and tired of dating divorced men with kids. I guess what I'm trying to say is, your heart is attached directly to your spirit and that feeling in the pit of you stomach. While others may try to sway you other wise, for this moment in time your spirit, heart and gut worked together and made the right choice. As a co-worker who desperately needs your wisdom and daily advise, I couldn't be happier!

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  3. What a tough situation to be in - deciding that you won't change your life in the way you were planning for the last while. But, I'm glad you had a chance to REALLY discuss with yourself all the pros and cons. I'm with you about the 'chat with dad.' But, I can say you have certainly put your heart into all the decisions you've made. Good luck as you continue as a journalist (till death do you part?).

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