NOT OK THAT’S OK MOMENT BY: LEAH GERVAIS
I was lucky enough to have a big career change when I was only 24. You might be reading this and think, “career CHANGE? How much of a career could you have even had to change at the ripe age of 24?”
You make a fair point.
The truth is that I was quite young when I made the leap that I did and I acknowledge that it gave me a lot of advantage. Nonetheless, my career change was scary and the stress that comes with risk taking is real, no matter what age. But like with most risks, I feel so much stronger and braver because of it.
When and why the change occurred
Though I was only 24 when I decided to go a different career path, it meant declining my law school acceptances, which had been the plan of mine since I was about 16. I attended undergrad with the intentions of going to law school and worked as a paralegal a at a real estate law firm for two years following school. I studied my butt of for the LSAT (twice) and achieved some life goals when I received acceptances.
With those acceptances, though, came a heavy price tag. One that the voice inside of me, the one that was questioning this narrow, defined, and structured path, questioned. That’s when other questioning began. Would I really be happy as a lawyer? Could I really help people the way I desire to? I feel like some of my passions will be put on hold if I pursue this demanding path, am I okay with that?
In the end, I did decline law school completely.
Now I know that it was the best decision I could’ve made. But at the time, I was terrified! I was turning down this promising career path I had planned for so long, but for what?! I didn’t know what else I wanted to do, I didn’t really have professional experience in anything else, and I was working in the legal field, where lawyers looked at me like I had three heads when I explained I was interested in something more… eh… creative?
Even though I couldn’t put my finger, I knew that going to law school wasn’t right and that I had been doing this for reasons and people other than myself, which is so not ok.
The slippery pipe that follows pulling the plug
It sounds like such a “first world problem” (and it is), but it was one of the more confusing time in my life. I was feeling like I didn’t identify with this career field that I had planned on for so long, had spent so much time and money pursuing, and even spent 40 hours a week doing. Yet without it, I also feared I wouldn’t have a sense of identity. Feeling torn sent me into a further spiral of wondering why my career was defining my identity so much? Was that normal? I had so many questions and so few answers.
There wasn’t one “aha” moment for me that helped me chose.
It was a series of several small hints. But, one conversation was the biggest influence on my choice because it gave me the courage I needed to be “identity-less”. I had lunch with my favorite college professor and he explained to me that having a career you love or that is a big passion fulfiller will often mean finding your own way to get there. It won’t be a carved out path for you, like law school is, so you basically need to accept that should you chose to go that route, you’ll feel without identity a lot. This influenced me so much in realizing that being without an identity is NOT a bad thing. It’s hard, but it’s exciting knowing you’re in the process of finding your identity. And, it’s one you create, not one given to you.
After about 3 months of pros and cons lists, meeting with mentors, crying to my parents and my boyfriend, lots of tears, and hours of yoga to finally decide that I wasn’t going to do this. I was going to decline.
About only one week after I declined, I felt to empowered.
I felt free and like a weight was lifted of my chest. I quickly began questioning what I was doing at my job, then, if I already decided not to go to law school? There wasn’t one reason I could think of that justified staying at my job in the legal field (though in hindsight, money to pay the bills probably made sense). So, I quit my job one Friday without any plan lined up. I decided I wanted to do those passions that made me hesitant to attend law school; travel, explore digital entrepreneurship, meet new people, volunteer, read endlessly, etc.
Building my parachute while falling
I began researching ways to quit your job without another lined up and over and over I saw the same advice: have an emergency fund and/or have another job lined up. Don’t quit with no plan or no money. It definitely sounded like logic advice, but nonetheless, my intuition told me otherwise. I knew that even though I didn’t have the money to make that move, I had the resources, so I did what I now lovingly call a “resource audit” and it helped so much.
After reviewing what I did have in writing and letting go of what I didn’t have (savings) I found I had:
- A good credit score
- Frequent flyer miles that would pay for a trip on their own
- An apartment in NYC I could sublet
- A debit card the reimbursed all ATM fees
- A credit card with no international fees
- Membership to Rotary International
- A degree from a highly ranked university
- Experience and comfort traveling internationally
- Experience volunteering
Would it have been awesome to have several thousands in the bank before I did this? You betcha. And, honestly, here I am about 9 months later still scrambling to build my savings account back up. But to me, it was worth it.
So I did the only logical thing I could think of and bought a one way ticket to Cambodia by myself (yes, that was sarcasm). I was overwhelmed with both joy and fear, and then I spent the next 4 months in Southeast Asia alone.
Asia was incredible. Definitely not without challenges, but it was one of the greatest adventures of my life. It’s been about 10 months now since I made the scary decision to decline my law school offers. But within those 10 months, I traveled alone to Asia for 4 months, volunteered, started my blog, landed a job at a nonprofit back in NYC that fights every day to improve global human rights, and am making nearly 15,000/year more than I was this time last year.
Getting here was not easy; far from it. The last year was filled with enormous accomplishments, but equally large and stressful risks. I know now, though, that none of these accomplishments would’ve came true without the risks, and that all started with the risk that was my career change out of the legal field. I couldn’t be more delighted with where I’ve ended up, but what I’m most proud of is that I’ve become braver. I’m not so afraid anymore of what might happen if things don’t work out, and hope this will empower me to continue taking risks in my life.