When I was a little girl, my dad told me I should be a lawyer. It was nothing more than an off-the-cuff remark, but from that moment on, I determined I was going to law school. As a kid I would watch Matlock obsessively, then pretend I was the one proving my case and causing the star witness to crumble and confess on the stand. In high school I was required to research a career. Naturally, I chose law. I interviewed local lawyers, spent hours reading every book I could find, and sent away for applications to all the Ivy League law schools, drooling over the stately brick buildings and thinking, Someday I’ll be there too.
In college I studied political science because it was the major that all the other pre-law students were taking, and I earned straight As because I knew I’d need them if I wanted to get into a good law program. Those dreams were put on hold when I fell into a two-year-long bout of severe clinical depression. But even during the darkest days of my depression, the allure of going to law school never really faded. When I finally recovered, I threw myself back into my studies. For the next two years I worked hard to finish my degree, study for the LSAT, and watched Legally Blonde every chance I got. At long last, I began applying to schools. My dream was finally within reach.
In the fall of 2004, I started law school at Washington University in Saint Louis. While the impressive campus was exactly what I had always envisioned, law school was nothing like I thought it would be. It was dull and tedious and fiercely competitive. I thought I was Type A until I went to law school and realized my own ambition was nothing compared to the people I was going to law school with.
Three-quarters of the way into my first year of law school, I was absolutely miserable. It took monumental effort just to get out of bed in the morning and to force myself to attend mind-numbing class after class. I couldn’t believe that this dream I had pursued for so long was so awful, and so very different from what I thought it would be. I had never felt more stuck.
Then one Sunday afternoon, [my husband] Chuck and I took a walk in the park near our house. As we walked, I rambled on about how much I hated school and how unhappy I was, and how excruciatingly dull it felt to sit there in class all day. He mostly just listened, without having much to say in return. Then suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks. He grabbed my shoulders and turned me to face him, looked me straight in the eye, and said, you know you don’t have to finish this, right? It’s okay to quit.
Until that very second, quitting had never even occurred to me. It simply wasn’t an option. I had worked so hard to get there! I had quit my job! And he had quit his job to come with me! We had moved halfway across the country and even bought a house in a city that we had no interest in. I had taken out massive student loans to pay for it all. Even with a few scholarships, law school was expensive. In my mind, there were no other options but to finish what I had started, even to the bitter end.
After all, if I quit, who would I be? This plan was all I knew.
But there he was, telling me it was okay. His permission to fail gave me just enough courage to walk into the Dean of Student’s office the next morning to tell her I was leaving. She said something I will never forget. She said, Normally I would try to talk a student out of something like this, but this is the first time I have seen you look genuinely happy all semester. You are doing the right thing.
It was an expensive but invaluable lesson, and one I have never forgotten.
I think sometimes we often become so fearful of making a mistake, of doing something wrong, of having someone else laugh at us, that we become paralyzed with indecision. I thought quitting law school would be the end of the world, but it wasn’t. Instead, the experience forever changed me. It taught me that failure is almost never fatal, and that life does go on and that sometimes you just have to put one foot in front of the other until the new path becomes clear. But even more importantly, quitting law school opened the doors to a whole world of possibilities, and the bold act of quitting gave me the bravery to try things I would’ve never even considered before. Eventually I was able to find my sweet spot not despite of my failure, but because of it.
Sometimes it is okay to fail.