As an almost law school graduate, it’s pretty much intuitive for me to ask (about almost anything) if something comes with a guarantee. Amazon purchase – can I return it if I don’t like it or it doesn’t fit or whatever? A dish at a restaurant – can I send it back if it’s not prepared how I ordered it? Dating someone – how long will this last aka is this like that episode of Black Mirror with an anticipated expiration date?
It might not be the lawyer thing that makes me yearn for certainty; it might be the fact that 20-somethings have this penchant for wanting things to be the way they want them, and when they don’t, they experience this jarring feeling of uncertainty when the outcome unexpectedly veers from their carefully curated expectations.
Breakups are a great example of this, because for many people, they aren’t something in your immediate field of vision. It’s a blindsiding experience that I’d liken to being smacked upside the head from behind. You don’t see it coming, but when it happens, it hurts like hell and the headache lingers long after the assailant runs away.
Graduation will be here this time next week, but before it does, I want to take a moment to reflect on something that’s been weighing on my mind – the upside to a life without guarantees.
None of these are guaranteed in life, and if and when you do find some or all of them, they probably won’t be yours forever (and by that, I mean you might spend time looking for whatever it is, find it, lose it, find it again, or never find it at all).
Those of us with chronic health issues get glimpses of what it’s like to live a life without daily doses of medication and impromptu hospitalizations when we have “good days.” Some days I almost forget how fragile my body is…until I eat something I can’t digest or get overly stressed and my body goes into meltdown mode. That glimpse gives me hope that tomorrow might be a “good day,” which is relative because most days are anything but “good.”
I know some people that never get the flu, or when they do, it’s once every five years or so, and that’s the extent of their “poor health.” I’d say I’m envious (because I am), but the truth is, I’m sure they’ve got things that cause them pain elsewhere in their lives.
Some people gripe they can’t find that “one true love,” but the more reflection I’ve done, I don’t think that “one” person exists. I think we can learn to love several people, it just takes a little effort, attraction, and time. I think love’s an ebb and flow kind of experience. There are highs that are filled with intoxicatingly overwhelming butterflies and jitters, and lows that are inordinately lonely and isolating. I also think there are different kinds of love that find us at different points in our lives; some are just as fleeting as they find us, others endure for longer periods of time.
Anywhoo, as the concept of finishing school actually becomes a reality for me, I’m starting to realize how much a perspective can change over time. Four years ago, when I started law school, I was so optimistic about becoming an attorney. I wanted to make a difference in a system that didn’t help me when my life fell apart; I wanted to be that change for someone else. Fast-forward several years and I’ve learned that the legal system as we know it treats so many unfairly and with wanton disregard for the circumstances that brought him/her to the place they are at now; that doesn’t mean it’s without value, but it’s a precarious beast that can be abused if people aren’t careful.
It’s one thing to say “trust the system,” but how can you when you know there are so many factors you can’t control that could ultimately decide your fate? Needless to say, law school hasn’t left me jaded, but instead, with a more realistic perspective about how difficult it is to change law for future generations. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but look how long it’s taken for marriage equality to be recognized? To me, it’s a flat-out no brainer that if someone wants to say “I do” to another soul, the government has no right to step in and cherrypick who can have that right.
I guess after all is said and done, law school is an experience that’s forever changed me. There was a point in time where I didn’t think I’d be here, because how do you make a comeback after a leave of absence that has you on your hands and knees in the bathroom all day and night for months on end? How do you have hope in a future that you might be healthy enough to go back to school when you’re in a hospital bed more often than you’re in your own bed at home?
I’ll tell you how – you take every naysayer and use their doubt to fuel your drive, even if that means literally taking it one day at a time. I felt like quitting more often than not – and that’s the honest truth. I cried so often to my dogs (the first one that I got half-way through my first year to train as a service dog, but died at nine months later that summer; and the second one that I have now, who is trained as a service dog and is a huge reason why I was able to go back in the first place, because he went to every single class with me that first semester back).
I snapped at my then-boyfriend without provocation and he put up with my inexplicable outbursts with unwavering patience. I did the same to my family, and their support during my darkest times is something thanks and gratitude will never fully be able to acknowledge.
When I took the LSAT in September 2013, I was reeling from a PTSD diagnosis and the uncertainty of what that meant – but I still applied to schools and was surprised at all of the schools that wanted to take a chance on me.
Little did I know two years later I’d be in a similar state of uncertainty when I took a medical leave of absence from law school – I didn’t know if I’d ever be back again.
The following summer, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to/would be able to return to classes full-time, but I re-enrolled nonetheless. Worst case, I’d withdraw permanently, but at least I’d know I gave it everything I had.
Now I’m sitting here five years later from when I first thought about law school, and I think it’s singlehandedly one of the most grueling experiences I’ve ever gone through and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
It has tested my: patience, endurance, friendships, ability to love myself, ability to relate to and connect to others, among so, so many other things. More than anything though, it’s made me realize that there truly aren’t any guarantees in life.
There was no guarantee that I’d graduate once I enrolled – it was entirely up to me. There are no guarantees for success, love, happiness, or whatever you might be searching for. For the most part, life is driven by the person behind the steering wheel and that person is you.
Five years ago, I would have given anything for a roadmap of guarantees.
A guarantee that the boy I’d just started dating would still be here by my side; but he isn’t, and that’s okay because we were in each other’s lives for a reason and now we’ve found other people for the next chapter in our respective lives.
A guarantee that I’d get over my PTSD diagnosis and it wouldn’t affect me that much; but it did, in ways I would have never thought possible (in good ways and bad), and that’s okay because you can’t change the course of the seas, just how you navigate them.
A guarantee that law school would be easy (or at least manageable) because I was a hard-working student; but the reality is everyone works hard in law school, which makes it that much more of a formidable opponent, and that’s okay because it taught me time management and how to prioritize what’s important to me in life.
A guarantee that I’ll pass the bar exam on my first try; but the reality is I don’t know if it’ll take more than one attempt, and that’s okay because I’ll give it my all until I pass.
A guarantee that I’d know what I’m doing after law school; but I don’t, and that’s okay.
It’s okay because there aren’t guarantees in life. As my Dad would tell me as a kid, “do your best and forget the rest.” A few years ago, my best was relentless anger and irritation about daily doctor appointments without the certainty I’d be well enough to go back to school.
Today, my best is making concerted efforts to put kindness and patience ahead of my knee-jerk impulse to react with haste and frustration. My best is to recognize my physical and mental limitations before they have the opportunity to influence my words and actions. Today, my best is to share my story with as many people as possible because I’m not a super human. I did two masters concurrently with law school to distract myself from an inordinately painful state of being fraught with mental and physical symptoms I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.
For me, graduating from law school is a benchmark I thought I’d never make and it’s wildly overwhelming to be standing (well, sitting right now) writing this. I’m sure I’ve said this before in other posts, but if you scroll back to posts from a few months, hell, a few years ago, I was in a very different place. I can honestly say the tassel was worth all of the hassle (and then some).
On that note, off to bed to get some sleep before my MBA commencement tomorrow!