“Is This The Path For Me?” Three Tips for Discerning Career, School, and Big Life Decisions

I wish I could say that I had a lightening-bolt moment where the heavens opened up around me and harps played signaling that my life’s calling was to be a lawyer. Alas, that did not happen. However, what did happen, which I find to be all the more meaningful and personally empowering is the process by which I landed on this decision to pursue becoming a lawyer. The earliest I remember being interested in this were at various times throughout middle and high school growing up – random daydreams usually after hearing a lawyer talk about their career or seeing something eventful or interesting on television. Then the urge would dissipate as I became distracted by one of my many other interests.

As I entered the College of Charleston, I flipped back and forth between different paths (as most students do). I knew for a fact I wanted to keep my Anthropology degree but was lost in where to go from there (a subject I will dive deeper into in the future). I remember buying an LSAT prep book but never getting past Chapters 2 or 3 and never committing to actually signing up for the LSAT. The end of my college career was a whirlwind – I ultimately dropped a minor so I could move back home and finish my last few classes online a semester early to be close to my mother who was diagnosed with cancer. I don’t regret that decision.

Fast forward to 2020, it’s the beginning of the lockdowns in March due to COVID-19. I have a little more time on my hands since I’m working from home with no commute to work. I had spent the last year in my first “big girl” job as a leasing agent with full-benefits and good pay for a great company after facing around six-months of unemployment post-graduation, with the exception of part-time time gigs found by a temp agency.

One of the first days of lockdown, I remember texting my sister asking her opinion on what she could see me doing and if she could see me being a lawyer.

“Will it make you happy?”

“Yes, I think it could and I think I could be very good at it.”

I had my answer. I started prepping for the LSAT, which I would later sit for in November, finally feeling more secure in my purpose and the life I wanted to have moving forward. All that being said, there’s three MAJOR details that I want to emphasize for any fellow future-law students, college students figuring out their next step or anyone who is discerning a potential career change. Looking back on my journey, I’ve found that these three things played a large role in my decision-making process that I feel will help others too:

#1: Talking to People

Quick: who are the people closest to you that you can trust the most? Whoever came to mind, write their names down. Use them as sounding boards for your discernment process. These people should know you very well and should be people that you can go to about anything but who will give you honest answers. For me that was my Dad and my sister with a few very close friends. Ultimately, their opinion should NOT be the defining voice in your plan – you should be. So, even if they tell you some opinions you don’t want to hear, take their input and really mull over it. If it upsets you, reflect on why. If it excites you, reflect on why.

The other people you should be talking to are those who are doing whatever it is you want to do. When I worked for the temp agency, I landed a part-time job working for an Estates Lawyer which would later be very impactful in my decision. I got to see the day-to-day of one type of lawyer, the good and the bad that came with her position, as well as at least one area of law in practice. That experience, plus gaining advice and guidance from that lawyer and hearing her journey through law school helped me start mine. I also relied on other friends and acquaintances who are either going through law school or have already graduated and are out “in the world” (some working as attorneys and some not) to gain their insights.

This website also has a great outline for preparing and discerning law school: What Do Lawyers Do?

#2: Data Dump

If you’re going to pursue something, especially any sort of professional or graduate degree, you need to know what you’re getting into. More than likely, after talking with people who are in the field, they’re going to give you resources. Some more helpful than others.

Use them.

You don’t have to treat them like the Bible – after all, everyone’s experience is different – but they will help you get a more holistic idea of what you are or might be pursuing. I’ve read articles written by people who have been left in debt, embittered, and regretful of their time in law school as well as heard from those who are successful and happily running their own law practice or working in law now. Both help and are necessary to listen to for a fuller understanding of what it means to be a lawyer.

Research the different industries within law – trademark, cultural heritage, environmental, corporate etc. (If you’re pursuing a different field, do the same, I assure you there will be many different subsets and industries wherever you’re headed). Look at the current growth rate for lawyers, which sub-industries are booming, bar passage rates for your school (or those you are interested in applying to), different law schools in your area, day-to-day experiences of different types of lawyers etc. the list goes on and on. Take in as much as you can about the career you’re interested in and then see what excites you and what does not. If you start to get overwhelmed, step back, take a break, and pick up at a later time.

A great place to start, the American Bar Association.

#3: Visualize

So, this is going to be the part that is most ‘woo-woo.’ Yes, I want you to visualize yourself as a lawyer. Use all the experiences that you’ve heard and details you’ve researched to paint a picture in your head.

Here’s the catch: don’t just envision success.

You could pursue law school to find that you hate it, it’s not at all what you want to do and/or it’s much much harder than you ever thought it could be. The opposite could also be true: it may be something you love, it’s exactly what you expected, and although it is rigorous, you’re doing it. Most of us are already daydreaming anyways, the key here is to visualize both the good and the bad.

If visualizing the bad really makes you uneasy and question whether you want to move forward maybe you need to step back and explore more before making a decision. If you can’t even imagine what the day-to-day of being a lawyer means except whatever you’ve seen on Law & Order or Suits, then DEFINITELY step back and do more research. I’ve had many law students who look at me and answer my question: “how is school going?” with:

“it could be worse.”

Yikes! Granted, I don’t blame them – I’ve heard that law school itself can be very detrimental to mental health – I’ve had a couple friends warn me to not drink too much as they’ve seen many colleagues grow dependent on drinking for relaxation, coping with stress etc. Should this scare you or me away? Not necessarily! But that’s exactly why “visualizing” both the good and the bad of a profession will help you determine if it is truly the path for you – specifically focusing on overcoming the “bad” can also help profoundly.

If you don’t believe me on the power of visualization, check out “The Extraordinary Power of Visualizing Success” by Matt Mayberry, CEO of Matt Mayberry Enterprises.

Finally, Take Action!

So, those are the three main things that I’ve done and continue to do while preparing for law school! They helped immensely with my discernment over whether this path is for me. Although I am understandably nervous about starting school, I’m more excited than nervous even though it is extremely challenging, time-consuming, and mentally/emotionally taxing. If you’ve done these three things and nerves are still keeping you from pursuing a career or a dream that all-in-all feels like your next best step, here’s your sign to pursue it. Most people often don’t succeed or get the life they want simply because they refuse to take action. The steps above will get you nowhere if you don’t ultimately make the decision to try.

“The steps above will get you nowhere if you don’t ultimately make the decision to try.”

Actionable Steps:

  1. Talk to people you trust and those who have experience with what you’re setting out to do. Learn from them: listen, ask questions, take notes, and reflect on what they’re sharing with you – the good and the bad.
  2. Research as much as you can about your interests, create a full picture of the industry or career you want. You should be able to walk away knowing what you need to do to achieve it, the different paths to getting there, and to be able to explain to others what it is you want to do.
  3. Visualize yourself doing what it is you want to do – visualize success as well as failure, can you see yourself overcoming failure? Persisting with the career or idea in spite of adversity? If not, then perhaps you need to step back and take more time to research, shadow, and reflect before moving forward.
  4. Take action – make a decision!

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