January 17, 2003

By Michael Strickland

Finding My Passion

Today a huge weight slid off my shoulders. I've made a decision that will surprise some and confirm others' unspoken predictions. It's not a choice I'm necessarily proud of, but I believe it's the right one for me: I have decided not to continue pursuing a law degree.

Though my life might now become even more difficult (at least in the short term), I feel quite liberated. I have been struggling with this decision for months, and it has weighed on me heavily. I've considered the issue from all angles, have deliberated the decision backwards and forwards, have endeavored to look at all possible outcomes. I admit that looking into the future and making choices based on long term goals has never been my strong suit, but I've done my best this time to do just that. Only time will tell whether I succeeded at it, but for now, I feel a confidence that has been absent for a long time.

Many of my friends and family members found the decision to attend law school odd and out of character in the first place, and it took some effort to explain my motives. Many of those same people may now wonder why I have seemingly flip-flopped. Still others might think I'm making yet another in a string of rash decisions. A few of you may even question my sanity. I suppose everyone is justified in such thoughts, so an explanation is in order.

I did indeed have some academic interest in the law; my decision to go back to school was not strictly motivated by the desire to pursue a lucrative career. If it were, I probably would have considered getting an MBA (quicker and less expensive). But after a professional life that more closely resembled a seesaw than a career, the desire for a more financially stable life admittedly did factor into the equation. I did my homework, however, so I knew as much as I could about what I was getting into without actually getting into it. I entered law school with a wide-open mind, accepting the possibility that it might not be for me, but knowing I had to try it to find out.

As some of you in whom I have confided know, my doubts manifested early on. Though I found some of the material interesting, and got involved in some extracurricular activities, I grew more certain every day that this was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life (or any significant portion thereof). These feelings continued to grow, and soon became a major distraction. Each day, as I sat in class, I wrestled with the issue in my mind, questioning whether or not I was doing the right thing. Finally, I sought out the help of an academic counselor, who convinced me to just ride it out through finals, and use the winter break to come to terms with things one way or the other.

I did just that, but was still wracked with indecision. Every time I felt firmly one way, I second-guessed myself, and the pendulum would swing back the other way. On the one hand, a legal career might impose some stability and structure on my life; on the other hand, I would likely graduate with $100,000 or more in student loan debt (average for a majority of law students), a prospect which terrified me to the core. Of course, I knew this latter possibility going in, but at the time, I felt confident in my chances of earning another scholarship in subsequent years—a confidence that has since ebbed.

In addition to the stress induced by the indecision, I also felt the pressure of being thirty-six years old and not having my life figured out. I suppose, to some degree, that pressure has been a large part of what held me back from making any decision until now. I knew in my heart that law school was not for me, but I felt that if I threw in the towel, I would be taking a giant step backward into failure. It would be admitting that, in middle age, I'm no closer to success than I was when I graduated from college. It would feel like the sacrifices of the past year were all for naught.

But somehow, at some point this week, that pressure dissipated. I realized that I'm okay with not having it figured out. Life is a journey. It has a beginning and an end, but between the two, there are an infinite number of interconnected paths leading in all directions. Some are more well-traveled, and thus seem like the proper way to go. But they all lead to the same place, eventually. I've realized that, for me anyway, the path itself is the goal, not the arrival at some future point along the path. I've always known this, but have tried to deny my nature and push myself into some traditional notion of Career/Success/Business, into someone else's idea of what I should strive for in life.

I believe the events of the past year—the hardships in my personal life as well as the uncertainty about law school—have been necessary to get me to this point. I hesitate to use the term "awakening," because of its New Age/pop-psych connotations, but I do essentially feel "awakened." I feel like the losses I've endured in the past year have been less like suffering and more like molting. Without minimizing or devaluing them, I do think they've given me a freedom I haven't felt in a long time. A freedom to pursue my true calling (if I can be allowed to use such a trite term).

I've done a lot of soul searching to come to this decision, and I've realized that I have always had two passions in my life, no matter what else I may have been doing: writing and travel. I could fill this page with all of the different jobs or occupations I've worked since high school. Throughout all of them, these two pleasures have always been there. During high school, I wrote and produced neighborhood plays for Halloween. In the Navy, I wrote monthly newsletters and serialized sci fi dramas for my shipmates (all of whom starred as the cast of characters). In the post-college years, I wrote screenplays and made extra money on the side as a freelance writer. Even in my one semester of law school, I found an outlet by writing for the school's newspaper. And my love of travel has always been there, whether spending a year abroad in high school, seeing the world in the Navy, or using my severance pay from Disney on a two-month trip to Europe.

I don't know what my future holds; I don't have any unrealistic expectations that I'll be able to make a comfortable living as a writer (though I'll give it my best shot). Even in a good economy, it's a highly competitive (and often low paying) occupation. But I know I'll achieve success—my version of success, not anyone else's—as long as I give priority to those two passions. As long as I build my life around them, then I'll be happy, even if I have to support my writing and traveling habits by working at Starbuck's.


©2003 Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What is "The Daily Strick"?

I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year, I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

Today's Column
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1/16: Gulf War Memories
1/15: Meet the New Boss
1/14: Man's Other Best Friend
1/13: Sea of Fire
1/12: Back to the Books
1/11: America's Finest Climate
1/10: Sunshine in a Bottle
1/9: What Would Jesus Drive?
1/8: Southwestern Sojourn
Wheel of Fortune
Class Warfare
1/5: Very Large Dream
The New Nuclear Age
Going Solo
New Year, Old Cave
1/1: All Things End

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