I want to tell you the story of how I accidentally became a high-powered corporate litigator. This story is true.
After having spent a few years practicing architecture, and then interior design, in DC and Baltimore, I knew it wasn’t the right field for me. It turns out the feeling was mutual – architecture broke up with me. In the throes of the 2009 economic collapse, I was laid off two times in three months. I took it as a clear sign to move on, but I had no idea where to head next.
After some soul-searching (with a touch of depression), I decided on law school. I thought that I would be good at it, and that I would like it – I loved history, politics, logic, and debate. Everyone I consulted agreed: I was a great fit for the law. So, I started law school in September 2010. I didn’t know what I would do with a law degree once I was through, but I felt confident that at some point during my three years of law school, I would figure it out.
I was right – very right – about my hunch: I excelled in law school. After my first semester I learned that I had gotten the highest grade in two of my five classes. When class rank came out at the end of the first year, I was shocked to learn that I was number one in my class. That’s when unexpected, un-planned-for opportunities started knocking on my door.
Law school is insane in many ways. For example: the law school recruitment process. In the summer after the first year of law school, large firms conduct on-campus interviews of the best and brightest first-year law students based upon class rank. These firms compete heavily to hire the cream of the crop at each law school across the country so that this upper crust of first year law students can join their firm the following summer (after the student’s second year) for a paid summer internship position – the “Summer Associate.” The standard goal of Summer Associates is to wow the firm during the summer program so as to secure an offer at the end of the summer to join the firm as an associate after law school graduation. In sum – law students start interviewing for their first legal job two years before they would start, and with only a single year of law school under their belts.
As you have surely imagined by this point – I went through this process, I was recruited by a premier Mid-Atlantic law firm*, and the following summer I was a star Summer Associate. I received my offer to join the firm to my great excitement. Little old me? The failed architect from humble beginnings on the eastern shore of Maryland? – I was invited to join this glamorous, fast-paced world? I could not believe it. I was honored, flattered, and energized. This is not even mentioning the starting salary (I’m sure you can imagine that, too).
Upon accepting my offer, I knew that I was going to work very hard and would have a lot of demands and pressures placed upon me. I was ready and willing to accept these conditions. My life had felt so listless and dull before law school – even if I had to spend all of my time at the firm, the position felt something like a new identity I could assume – a prestigious part to play. I had never, ever imagined myself here, but here I was. How could I say no?
September 9, 2013: I became an associate litigation attorney for a big law firm. From then until I left on February 28, 2018, I worked hard. I lost myself in the work. I forgot what it was like to just be; I was constantly trying to maximize every moment in order to become the best attorney possible. I detached from the things I loved to do. I had no space in my mind for the stillness necessary for art, creation, self-reflection, or personal growth. And it worked – I was a superstar associate. My work was extremely well-respected and I was building a reputation as one of the future leaders of the firm. I was on the fast track to making partner, and to more, more, bigger, more…
I don’t tell you all of this to brag. Although I am proud of my accomplishments in law school and at the firm, I no longer attach my self-worth to those titles and accolades. I tell you this so that you can understand how a ball can start rolling down a hill before you notice it, and suddenly you are in a place you never planned for yourself. Sometimes, that experience is a godsend. Sometimes, it can just… happen. I didn’t mean to become a fancy lawyer at a big firm. But an opportunity arose and, because I was directionless, I let the prestige, the power, and the money act as a substitute for passion and authenticity.
I did escape (more on how I did that in another post), but I know in my bones that had things gone differently I would have never given myself the opportunity to stop and ask myself: is this really what I want for my life? Is this really who I am? Oh, and by the way – WHO AM I? I know there is a great likelihood I could be sitting in an office overlooking the Inner Harbor of Baltimore right now, counting the minutes I have worked that day (literally) and strategizing as to how to make partner – a goal I had never truly set for myself.
And now I turn to you, Camp Gemstone enthusiast, and I ask you: Are you driving the bus, or are you along for the ride? Are you living authentically, or did this life just… happen… to you? If your answer is the latter, can you change?
That’s a false question – you absolutely can change. I promise. I believe in you.
* The firm I spent 5+ years working for was, by all standards with which one can measure a large law firm, fantastic. I made deep connections with lovely, thoughtful, fun people, was given tremendous opportunities to grow and learn, and was fostered through countless hours of mentorship and sponsorship. They did the best they could in a model that I have come to believe is deeply flawed. I do not blame these people for my story at all – I thank them for everything they have given me.