In an interview a few years back a journalist asked me, “What’s the best decision you’ve made in your life?”
“Dropping out of law school after four days. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life when I finished college and law school was something I applied for and got in to, so I went. And even though I felt really cool saying ‘I’m going to law school,’ by my second day I knew that it wasn’t something I wanted – and if I stayed the only reason I’d be doing so was to prove to everyone that I could do it.
That was the moment in my life when I realized that at the end of the day, it didn’t matter what people thought or said about me, what mattered was how I felt – in making the decision to leave, I chose to live my life for me.”
Interviews are designed to get to the point but there’s a lot more I had to say about leaving law school.
It was in fact the best life decision I’d made, not because my life most likely wouldn’t be what it is today had I continued on that path, and I’m grateful to be where I am, but it set a precedent for how I was going to move forward – making choices based on what would make me happy.
It sounds so easy, but we all know that even with an unwavering voice inside saying, “This is or isn’t for me,” big decisions rarely are that simple.
I knew in my heart that I didn’t belong in law school almost immediately once I started classes, but I’d sacrificed a great deal to get there; including missing out on most of the fun of senior year of college plus Thanksgiving with my family studying for the grueling LSAT exam (Law School Admission Test). Not to mention moving across the country from my hometown of Ojai, California to Boston, Massachusetts.
I was happy in Boston too – I didn’t want to leave and I’d planned to spend the next three years of my life in school and then practice law.
What the hell was I going to do with my life now?
But law school was suffocating my soul. I knew I’d be happier selling pretzels at a stand in the Boston Commons I passed on my way to school than sitting through another Torts class.
What I wanted for my life, or really what I didn’t want, was clear, but the idea of my decision disappointing anyone and my fears of what others would think of me felt like knots twisting in my stomach.
I remember calling my mom, asking if she would be embarrassed when she ran into acquaintances at the grocery store and they asked how I was doing in law school.
I imagined conversations where my name would come up and people would say things like, “Did you hear Emily Florence dropped out of law school? Oh, she probably couldn’t hack it.” (As if I was the center of everyone’s world!)
The best part of giving weight to these imaginary conversations was they were between people I hardly even knew or liked. Talk about ego!
That’s exactly why dropping out of law school was such a paramount decision for me, because I finally cut through all the crap and went with what felt right in my gut.
As it turned out, I had all the support in the world from my family and friends. They just wanted me to be happy.
And as for the naysayers – it’s a funny thing that happens when you own your life; instead of being met with ridicule you’re met with admiration.
But the best part, it doesn’t affect you either way.
So many of us spend so much time being someone we’re really not. Then we wake up one day and find ourselves locked into careers, relationships, personalities, even sexualities that aren’t what we want for our lives.
It’s like we’re playing a part we didn’t realize we signed up for.
Sometimes it’s to please others or to fit in. We all want to be liked, after all.
Other times we simply don’t know any better. We haven’t questioned how we were raised or what we’ve been taught to be right or wrong. Sometimes we feel so stuck we simply don’t know what else we’d do.
Regardless, it’s no way to go through life.
In living life for you–you risk hurting people, security, and sometimes looking like a jerk. But at the end of the day, at the end of life, you’re left with you.
Which is why from the boardroom to the bedroom we have to do what and be with who feels right for us.
No matter whom we disappoint along the way, even those we love most.
It’s our lives to live, after all.
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