A Conflict of Careers
Law school seemed to always be on the horizon for me, even before graduating from engineering college. My inclination while in school was also towards the eloquent use of English as opposed to being a numbers guy. Fast forward a decade later, I find out that I’m leaning towards a little bit of both. But that’s something I wouldn’t know about myself back then.
Back then, I was still torn between two general commitments that had to do about what I was going to do for a living. The first commitment was my day job – I had progressed from being a literal blue-collar worker during my first year out of graduation and eventually becoming part of middle management, which meant I could wear whichever colored collars I wanted to for work.
The second commitment was law school, which I had started shortly after quitting my first job. Before I started law school, I chose to give my first job up because the work hours (72 hours a week) simply did not allow any other type of life to get squeezed in. There was space for nothing else. Weeks after enrolling in law school, I eventually found a part-time job making calls for an online ordering company. It was a 30-hour-a-week job which meant I could find some time to study, and the pay wasn’t so bad either.
Balancing Work and Study
Fast forward a year, I started gaining this confidence that I could easily juggle both having a job and doing well in law school. By then I had been awarded employee of the month twice, not to mention be on a six-month-streak of perfect work attendance. And I was decent in law school – there were a couple finals exams where I had the top score, and there was a subject where I had the best grade. My personal assessment of my law school performance at the time was that I was at least in the top half of my class.
And so one year in, I’d developed this irrational hubris about my own capabilities. I decided to crank it up at work. No longer satisfied with my part-time job paycheck, I applied internally for a full-time spot. Once I got the job, the 30-hour workweeks turned into 45-a-week. So that’s fifteen hours that got obliterated the moment I accepted the full-time job.
And my overconfidence meant that I was downplaying this significant loss of time to study. My exam scores, and in turn grades, started to suffer. I no longer regarded myself as part of the top half – I was now barely making it in law school.
But the thing is, I still was – making it. And I was okay with that. And this was where things really got out of hand. Unsatisfied with my day job as a spreadsheet cleaner with tidbits of data entry, I started thinking about furthering my career as an engineer. On my first job I was a maintenance engineer for this huge government agency, and I could really only use that experience to put myself in a position to apply for a bigger role.
The Breaking Point
After three months of job hunting (and finishing up my second year in law school) I eventually landed a job as a facilities supervisor. My job was to manage the real estate assets of a call center that was expanding to another city. And I thought at first that the job was far above my experience and capabilities, but I nonetheless decided to give it a shot.
But as I progressed in my career as a specialist in the field of commercial real estate management (a fancy term for facilities upkeep), I began to consider my efforts of becoming a lawyer someday an afterthought. Once I decided to take a job that demanded not just a lot of time, but a lot of ‘mental load’ it was as if the balance was completely lost.
It was perfectly balanced back when I was working a mindless part-time job while fully-loaded in school. It started to tilt unevenly when I became a full-time employee, but nonetheless still balanced. Shaky, but steady. But the whole thing just fell apart when I decided that I was worth something as an engineer. That my five years of college plus studying, taking and passing the licensure exams – all stood for something.
There was always an inner conflict between engineer and lawyer-wannabe that I never fully acknowledged. It was a conflict that I never wanted to acknowledge at least until now.
Coming to Terms with Failure
As I write this, I am two years removed from law school, scarred by the two Fs that eventually led to my dropping out. But at the same time, I’ve arrived at a job that has fully appreciated me and my abilities, as shown not just by kind words, but in actual pay slips.
I can’t say I never imagined I’d be in this position professionally, because deep down I always believed I was capable of something as an engineer. My preference for words as opposed to numbers did eventually pay off. And my efforts in furthering my career as an engineer was totally worth it, my salary now more than three times it was six years ago. I can truly say today that I’m in a happy place professionally.
But the commitment I abandoned two years ago still keeps knocking at me. I miss the studying, the classroom recitations and the legal writing. And I miss the case reading, most of all. Therefore all this yearning means that finishing law school is something I haven’t completely closed the door on.
But I do remember when and why I abandoned it. Weeks, months and even a year after I had been in a law classroom, I didn’t know why I had taken law school for granted and what it was exactly that led me to my chosen path. But two years in I have come to terms with the fact that I had chosen to prioritize an ego that was hiding inside of me.
I’ve also come to accept the limitations of my own abilities. I now truly value the impact a group of people have together, as opposed to a single talent trying to make things happen all by himself.
And I’m no longer the person trying to carry with me two conflicting career choices, thinking that I was capable of pulling both side-by-side, without the whole weight of it taking a toll on me, or worse collapsing in on itself and leaving only destruction.
Two years after leaving law school I’ve come to accept that I just wasn’t committed enough. And commitment to the study of law is something no one should ever underestimate.