A Year Wasted?

In (un)Professionalism on May 21, 2013 at 8:20 am

In a few weeks, it will be the one-year anniversary of my college graduation. Thinking about this brings a mass of complex emotions to the forefront of my mind. The cause of my complicated feelings about one year in the real world? The reality that I have yet to actually enter “the real world.”

My suspension between Animal House and Working Girl is far from straightforward. It requires just as much untangling as that ball of graduation emotions, but I promise to bare my soul if you promise to bear with me.

The seeds of this lost year were sown long before I received a B.A. I spent the better part of college preparing for law school, fully intent on sitting for the bar three years after graduating with a degree in literature. I signed up for writing-intensive classes, took the LSAT, applied to schools, and sent in my seat deposit.

At commencement, I remember my dad gently disparaging the summa cum laude on my diploma with comments about grade inflation in the humanities. That felt good. However, on that day, nothing could tarnish my happiness. I don’t think I had ever been so proud of myself in all my life. Later, my mom sent me a picture of the whole family taken after the ceremony – me in the middle, grinning euphorically in my cap and gown. It sits framed on my coffee table, a reminder of past achievements and present failures.

Though I did end up attending law school, it was only for one semester. From almost the beginning, I experienced this horrible disconnect from the subject matter, from my fellow students, and from the prospect of practicing law for the rest of my life. It seemed limiting; I felt boxed in. Many people have asked me why I withdrew, and the short answer is: it just felt wrong.

With a semesters-worth of the year accounted for, you might be wondering what I’ve been doing since January. Here’s another short answer: not much. To be fair to myself, that is an exaggeration. I have been job searching, following up on leads, and securing a few interviews. But I have not been working nearly as hard as I should be, and this makes me feel guilty as hell.

This guilt stems from luck. I’m so, so lucky in a multitude of ways, and when I’m lazy, I feel undeserving of the privilege I acquired at birth. My father is a doctor. I didn’t really understand what this meant in terms of money when I was younger. We lived in a modest home, our garage housed Hondas, and the Morris children went to public school. My parents are what you would call savers. Big time. And their kids are the primary beneficiaries of this frugality. None of us have any debt from college, and I have had enough money to live on while I job-hunt.

At long last, this guilt-ridden search has led me to an unpaid internship at an art museum. I will be starting it just shy of a year after that proudest of days, and while I’m excited for this opportunity, I wonder if I have just wasted an entire year of my life in the interim. I can’t deny the unsettling thought that I could have been in this exact place 12 months ago if only I had decided against law school. Or maybe I would even have a paying job (the idea!).

Hopefully, I will look back on this time and be able to draw some wisdom out of all the tumult. Right now, I’m at a bit of a loss; it’s too real, too raw. The disappointment in myself is still there, but I know that this can be a fresh start, a new chapter. And perhaps I will create some luck of my own, so that my kids can look back on their college graduations and feel guilty for all that I gave them.


Leah Morris

  1. I UNDERSTAND SO MUCH. EVERYTHING. Up to and including the guilt and the internships.

    It is coming up until a year after I graduated, and I’m in exactly the same place. I spent 3 months teaching English in Asia (can you say ‘no idea what I’m doing with my life’) before even that fell fantastically apart, and I ended up coming home with a giant now what. I haven’t been lazy either, but it hasn’t yielded many results. So far, my frantic search has gotten me a bunch of low-paid (or no paid) freelance work, unpaid internships, a good score on an entrance exam to schools I’m no longer applying to, a lot of stress and any number of headaches.

    It has definitely been a lot of disappointment and definitely been a lot of guilt. But if it helps, I don’t feel like it was a wasted year. For one thing, we’re so young and I hear from everyone ahead of me in years and careers that they wish they’d taken time off before starting work so that they could be good and lost for a while (though I’m not sure they knew what it entailed) :P. Secondly, while it feels awful to be living with our parents now, it’ll be worse in 10 years, haha, so it’s good to gather as much work experience as we can for when that job finally does come around (and it will). As long as we’re not taking it for granted, it isn’t like we happily hopped home after undergrad into our old bedrooms, thrilled to not have to work. Third, I think people like you and me – (I’m guessing from the fact that it was law school right after undergrad, and summa cum laude) – who are used to security and achievement and a bit of prestige in terms of occupation (my parents are doctors too) have got a huge amount of work to do before we mentally reconfigure ourselves to figure out what we actually want vs what we think we want, and then are going to have to do a lot of dull and low-paid and living-with-our-parents level work to get there.

    It isn’t a wasted year – you’re ahead of the game! Some people quit law school after they’ve gotten their diplomas, and some quit after they have a full mental breakdown at a firm. You were smart for getting out early. I know it is a huge mental shift to make, but everything we’ve learned this year is valuable, though it doesn’t feel like it, and it’ll be stories for the day we have our own kids and they’re struggling to get a job, and we can tell them exactly what an ego-bruising, drudge work ride it was for us. ;)

    Hakuna Matata. It’ll work out.


    (PS woah long comment sorry!)

    • Don’t apologize; I really appreciate all of the points you made in your comment! It’s great to hear from someone in a similar situation to my own who knows what I’m going through. Everything you say makes sense, especially the part about wanting prestige and security, but needing to reconfigure how we think about all that as we realize it’s just not the reality for us. At least for now – while we work our way up and gain more experience.

      Deep down, I know this hasn’t been a wasted year, but sometimes my creeping self-doubt gets the better of me – like, right now for instance. I know I made the healthiest decision about law school, and you’re right, I’m happy I figured it out early.

      Thank you for all the insight and positive reinforcement!

  2. Maybe you could have been in this exact same place 12 months ago if you’d decided against law school earlier, but then you might have spent your entire life wondering whether you should have gone to law school. We all have to make wrong moves to know what the right ones are. I sometimes think, I could have finished grad school 3 years ago instead of now. But that would mean not having had all the really important (some amazing, some awful) experiences I had in between — and looking back, I wouldn’t want that at all. You have SOOO much time — don’t stress!

    • You’re so right, and at my most rational I am able to recognize all of the truths you point out. Recently, I feel as though I have this distorted vision that causes me to radiate negativity at times (maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but you get the idea). It’s so unnecessary.

      And it’s very true that I would have wondered about law school had I not gone. I was SO set on it for years. In the past, I know that my wrong turns ended up taking me to good places, so I should really know better than to think otherwise.

      Thanks for your wisdom! I’ll try to chill out. ;)

  3. God I feel like this is probably going to be me in the future. I’m studying poly sci and philosophy as a double major going on a law track. But aside from the philosophy of law (which I love) I don’t find much love in the nitty gritty details. I love constitutional law and the ideas surrounding rights, privileges, et cetera. If I had half of a brain and no conscious I’d go into politics. Unfortunately, both are there in full force.

    I’ve decided (secretly) that I’m going to be a writer/educator for the rest of my life. I could teach law, I’d love that because it would open conversations and such. Or I could teach philosophy. However, what I’m really hoping is that my blog will eventually be able to earn me enough money to sustain myself. Well, that and a few projects in tandem being revealed soon. But I just know that law isn’t going to be for me. So I’m working my tail off at something I actually love doing.

    I hope that you enjoy working in the museum. I get the feeling that you’ll thrive in that sort of environment.

    • Thank you for the well wishes! The art museum environment does seem well-suited for me (I’ve always enjoyed art and art history), and I’ll be writing for their website, intranet, newsletters, etc, which is along the line of work (communications-type stuff) that I’m trying to pursue career-wise now. Hopefully, I can wrangle a real job from it or get the necessary experience for a job elsewhere. (My boyfriend lives in a different city, so ideally, I want to move nearer to him – not that you asked, just thought I’d share some more personal information haha)

      You sound like you have a very good attitude about the future. My downfall was not exploring other options while I was in college. I put all my eggs in one basket that seemed to offer stability and prestige. That sounds silly to me now, but 20/20 hindsight. It’s a great sign that you have thought about different paths you could follow after you graduate; I was too stubborn to do that.

      And I hope that gets big! It would be so cool to be a full-time career blogger.

  4. I read this today after you commented on my blog the other day.

    I applied to Law School fall of last year. Started hearing back from schools, but it just didn’t feel like a wise decision. There are so many depressing articles about the horrendous job prospect upon graduation, and it is evident as lawyers I know are not able to find full-time STABLE jobs. Why waste $100K if you can’t even pay that much off and remain financially stable? I can give two shits about the how the knowledge I gain will change my perspective…I want to earn money so I can someday support a family. I want to offer my children a better life as my parents have tirelessly done the same for me.

    Anyways, I hope everyone in our situation can find peace in something, anything.

    Great post, btw. Definitely resonates.

    • Thanks! I feel the same way. And good for you for choosing not to go through with law school. It’s a hard decision to make, and I wish I had given it more consideration before I enrolled.

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