Friday, August 24, 2012

So Let's Set The World On Fire

I was sitting at my desk at work today when I got an unusual call. It was a student. She needed to interview a lawyer for one of her college classes. 

She started out by asking me some basic questions, like "what type of law do you practice?" and "where did you go to school?" Then came deeper questions.

"What lead to you becoming a lawyer?"

I gave the cop-out answer. I told her I had graduated from undergraduate school with double majors in Political Science and International Studies. But after they handed me my diploma, I had no idea what was next. I mean what exactly are you qualified to do with a Political Science degree? So, at the last minute, I joined my fellow Poli Sci majors and took the LSAT. My dad was a lawyer so I already had some admiration for the profession. I decided to let my LSAT score decide my fate for me. In the end, I got a pretty good score so I went to lawschool.

After I gave my answer, I turned the tables and asked about her career goals. With a cheerful, optimistic voice, she told me she didn't really know what she wanted to do. But she wanted to dedicate her life to helping people, especially people in other countries. In short, she wanted to help save the world.

Her positivity and noble goals nearly bowled me over. I paused for a moment to reflect. What she said hit me. It hit me really hard. Eight years ago, I was her. I was EXACTLY her. Eight years ago, before I chose the path that led me to lawschool, I was desperate to serve.  I wanted to save orphans in India. I wanted to oversee U.S. foreign policy in countries around the globe. Administer foreign assistance in third world countries. I wanted to be a part of the United Nations. I wanted to give myself to the world and to all of her children. I wanted a career of sacrifice and love and diplomacy.

But I just didn't know how to get there.

After college, I had plenty of internship experience to help me land an entry level job somewhere. I had interned for the Governor's Office of Illinois (yup, that would have been the always-controversial Governor Blagojevich!). I interned for a documentary film producer. I worked for a small nonprofit arts theater. I volunteered at a children's cancer hospital. But none of that really led me anywhere that I truly wanted to be.

So I applied for a program to teach english in Japan. I had studied Japanese for four years in highschool. Everyone told me I was a shoe-in. I put tons of effort into my application. I prepped for my interview for HOURS. I was determined to get the job. But....I didn't. And I was devastated.

I had to think of a new plan quickly. I followed my Poli Sci friends to the LSAT and, somehow, stumbled my way into lawschool. When I entered lawschool, I still had my heart set on a career of service. I was certain a J.D. after my name would provide PLENTY of opportunities to go abroad and serve the world through some fancy organization or other. I was crestfallen to discover that those types of job were ultra-competative. My average lawschool grades would not put me in reach of those goals anytime soon.

Then life happened. I met my husband. We got married. We started a family. We gained a mortgage. We had car and health insurance payments. I left lawschool with a huge student loan debt. Debt that will likely stick around for the next 1.5 decades. Somewhere in all that life, I lost sight of my original goals. I landed an awesome summer internship at a litigation firm. I followed that internship into a job and that job has now become my career.

My ambitious, adventure-seeking, philanthropic self has morphed into a mediocre, boring everyday person. A person who dresses business casual and sits at a computer typing documents all day. Routine has replaced spontaneity. Bills have replaced travel expenditures. Contentedness has replaced my abhorrence for boring everyday life. And a family tethering me home has replaced my heart's desire to roam.

Sure, if I really wanted to, I could probably dust off those old dreams and follow them to the ends of the earth. But I'm a different person now. I've accepted the wonder and beauty of a routine life. I live like millions of other boring people across this country. And you know what? I'm even OK with it.

Sometimes I wonder if I am a sell-out. I mean, I practice personal injury law instead of feeding orphans or saving people from AIDs. Don't get me wrong, I really do enjoy my work. It's just not the fancy, set-the-world-on-fire job I always dreamed about.

BUT, you know what? At the end of the day, I don't care much about what I long as I get to come home to this:


  1. We all set the world on fire in different ways at different times in our lives. You are changing the world by making a difference in each individual's life who needs you in your profession and, most importantly, by making a difference in your family's life. You are just at a different stage right now--and I am sure other stages will come in the future. :)

  2. Don't give up on those ambitions- you can do both things I promise.

  3. We all eventually get that ONE case, the one that makes such a huge difference in someone's life that it makes a difference in ours too. We are setting the world on fire, it's just a smaller (but not insignificant) world: ours and the client's.