“Well, when I graduated from college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So what do most reasonably smart, analytical types do after college? They go to law school,” I wryly chuckled to my counselor. “It is a three-year holding pattern for the chronically undecided. It is the new open studies major.”
Unlike some friends (“I knew I wanted to be a pediatric doctor at age four,” a long-time confidante once told me), I drifted into my profession. There was no sense of calling — unless you count my father’s hysterical phone calls about turning down a prestigious law school. Truthfully, law school was more of a fallback than bubbling “C” on those deceptively difficulty Iowa Test of Basic Skills multiple choice tests.
Now in my 30s — and with a 10 year school reunion circled on my calendar, I look at my law school classmates’ LinkedIn professions: recruiter, start-up advisor, environmental advocate, real estate broker. And, not surprisingly, this question rattles through my brain: Why did my classmates and I slavishly devote three years — and countless caffeine-induced all nighters — to survive law school’s grind?
Unlike my first-year Torts class, I have the answer to this seemingly vexing question.
Drifting. In her esteemed brilliance, Gretchen Rubin coined this term for us 20 something types. We are ambitious, motivated, earnest, and decidedly unsure of life’s next chapter.
Faced with uncertainty, we defer to others’ recommendations. “Well, Matt, you like to debate; why don’t you go to law school?” my father barked. And I was a high-achieving student and, well, a lot of my peers were gravitating toward law school. With this high-level analysis (insert droll smile), I dipped my toe into the cauldron of stare decisis, eminent domain, and amicus curiae briefs.
And, almost immediately, I felt out-of-place among law school’s hyper-competitive personalities. I wasn’t indifferent — more ambivalent about devoting my Saturdays to memorizing the facts of an some esoteric 16th century property law case.
And while law school surely satisfied some of my classmates’ intellectual curiosity, I suspect most of my classmates were nudged into the Boyd Law Building for reasons other than an overwhelming interest in stare decisis, eminent domain, and amicus curiae briefs.
In addition to Rubin’s seminal article, my latest temporary legal job hammered this point home. As 70 underemployed lawyers shuffled into a spartan auditorium — pained expressions on their face, I could see their thought process. “Wasn’t law school supposed to ensure I wouldn’t have to do this numbing document review project? I thought law school was a versatile degree — at least that’s what my family and friends always told me.”
Congrats on your default degree. While it sounds impressive during those Happy Hour conversations, it isn’t making you happy for those other 23 hours. And, at least in my case, it felt like I was living someone else’s carefully constructed life.
Wading into adulthood, it is tempting to drift along in contented apathy. “I might as well” or “Well, they think it makes sense” becomes your default decision-making calculus. And while you aren’t miserable, your demeanor is the equivalent of that half-hearted shrug emoji.
For some, we know what we want at age four (hello, Hayley). For others, we search and discover and then search some more. But there is one truism charting our divergent life paths: only we know what fuels our passion — whether it is recruiting, real estate, or — in my case — ‘riting.
Pithy Psych Central columns, that is, not amicus curiae briefs.