One night while I was in middle school, I came to the family dinner table and boldly announced out of the blue that Bert (of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie) was holding Ernie back. The record player scratched, dinner paused, and my entire family looked up at me completely confused. Their baffled looks didn’t discourage me. I continued with my prepared rant about how Ernie was the real show-stopper of the duo, and could do so much more if Bert wasn’t around with his negativity and unibrow. I have no idea where these thoughts were stemming from, or why I felt it so important to relay them at that moment, but I just had to get it off my chest. For the record, I still stand by my arguments. Ernie, I know you love Bert, but you could do better. Do you really enjoy finding pigeon poop all around your house? I’m just saying.
Allow me to interject here briefly with some advice for all you parents (and aspiring parents):
1. Please, please, please have family dinners together. You have no idea the kind of awesome things your kids will bring to the conversation.
2. Thank your lucky stars if the biggest rant your middle-schooler comes to the table with is about Sesame Street.
After my little episode and a bit of shocked silence from the whole table, my mom started laughing and said, “You’re going to make a great attorney someday.”
I latched onto that statement like it was a prophecy. I would be a great attorney? I would be a great attorney? I would be a great attorney? You get the point. If my mom, the greatest of all great and powerful women, saw even an inkling of a strong profession like that in me, I was clearly doing something right. Plus, it gave me something to look forward to since my future had been floundering post shattered-veterinarian-dreams.
I knew becoming an attorney would be hard work, but I was prepared to put in the time and started right away by picking fights. I’m going out on a limb here, but I’d put money on the bet that no description of a Pisces has ever contained the word fighter. I practically break out in hives the second I’m involved in any sort of a tiff. In truth, I don’t even need to be involved; I hyperventilate the second there’s any sort of a tiff within a square mile radius of me. I really don’t do well with contention.
That’s why I knew I needed practice, since as everyone knows, all attorneys breed contention. (This is not actually a true statement. I feel like maybe my sarcasm was obvious, but I’m clarifying just in case; you know, so I don’t get sued.)
I’d pick my fights by asking whoever I happened to be around if they felt like arguing with me. Isn’t that kind of me to ask first? Write that down, bullies: the people you pick on may prefer to be asked first if they want to be beat up. Just a bit of free advice. You’re welcome.
If my opponent was game for an argument, we’d agree on a topic and would each take a side. Then, we’d debate the topic either until one of us conceded, or until we both got too bored to continue.
It was like my very own debate team and it became a favorite pastime of mine. I know, big time nerd alert.
There were only two people who appreciated that phase in my life. The first being my boyfriend in college, who also happened to be an aspiring attorney. He got a huge kick out of “fighting” with me because he actually was the type of person who ran into contention with his fists up. As much as I’d like to remember it differently, I’m pretty sure he won every single argument. He’s probably a great attorney today.
The second person who would entertain my antics was my sweetheart of a father. I worked at his office for a summer during college. We’d get in the car together every morning to commute and would take turns picking topics to argue.
Now, let me remind you that my dad is also a Pisces, and therefore also longs for a world with no contention. So, our “arguments” generally sounded a little something like this:
“…and that’s why ‘Emerson, Lake & Palmer’ should not get nearly the credit you’re giving them for being a pivotal band in musical history…” I’d conclude a point.
“Hmmm…That’s a really good point you bring up.”
“I can’t say that I entirely disagree with you, but let’s remember that ‘Emerson, Lake & Palmer’ are human too and have feelings; and so maybe we shouldn’t be so harsh on them and just let them make the music they love.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I feel a little bit bad for saying such harsh things about them. I mean, they’re an okay band. I know you really like them, so sorry if I hurt your feelings, too.”
“It’s okay, I forgive you and I’m sure they’d forgive you. They seem like those kind of guys.”
“Yeah, I hope so.”
I’m not sure our arguments were really preparing me for law school, but those car rides with my dad were some of my favorite car rides ever. Probably because we were driving around in our own little sealed off Piscean bubble where contention couldn’t exist. Utopia—minus the car exhaust and AM radio that my dad loved listening to.
Come college, I proudly declared my major as “pre-law” to anyone within earshot. I’m pretty sure there wasn’t actually anything formal or specific about declaring a pre-law major, but I sure loved saying it. My real major was advertising…it just didn’t sound as badass as pre-law. I secretly loved advertising, though. I just couldn’t say it out loud for fear of getting labeled artsy instead of strong. Because, as we all know, the two can’t intersect. (Insert sarcasm.)
That’s also why I can’t say out loud that during my last semester of college, I almost peed my pants when I was picked to be part of a visual arts study abroad program in London. Clearly not something a tough pre-law student should be interested in. I know you’re feeling mildly offended at my extreme stereotypes here, but I’m over-exaggerating to make a point. It’s a writing technique, I think.
We obviously live in a world where there are lots of gray lines, and where you can dabble in a lot of different things without being judged, which is ridiculously awesome. But, I was a young, too-ambitious-for-her-own-good girl trying to find myself and define myself and in that moment, I viewed the world as very black and white.
That’s why, even after loving my advertising studies and peeing my pants in London, my mind was still set on auto-pilot toward law school. It never once occurred that maybe I wasn’t even excited about law and that maybe I should pursue something in the arts, which clearly spoke to me. The only thing that kept me focused was the belief that I’d be viewed as stronger and more successful if I held a law degree.
Pizza Delivery Guy.
Pizza Delivery Guy who?
Pizza Delivery Guy who has a law degree but couldn’t get a job and now I need to pay off my student loans.
In other words, we put way too much credit in titles, statuses, and stereotypes. Those strong words I wanted so badly to capture and turn into my own can’t actually attach themselves to anything external, like an occupation. Becoming an attorney would never make me powerful or successful.
Those strong words can, however, show up internally after two other words exist: confident and happy. You cannot truly be a strong person if you are not first a confident, happy person. And, you can only become a confident, happy person when you are being totally true to yourself in all aspects of your life.
“What about doctors who hate what they do but make billions of dollars,” you ask. I would say, if you hate what you do, you’re not successful.
Find what you love to do, people. DO what you love to do. Success and strength and power and whatever other buzz words you want to attach to yourself will seek you out like a balloon to staticky hair once you’re confident and happy. (Sorry, I said I wouldn’t do anymore italics for emphasis. I can’t help it, I just really like them.)
Enough about you; let’s get back to me and my life before I became such a genius with all these brilliant theories on happiness and billionaire doctors. After graduating, I moved to Washington DC where I knew all my dreams of becoming an attorney would undoubtedly come true. I know they say all your dreams come true in NYC, but I was too afraid of getting yelled at while ordering a pizza, so DC would have to do. I quickly found a job working as a legal assistant at a boutique intellectual property law firm, which I took to be a good sign. Then, I started successfully studying for the LSAT without falling asleep every time, which I also took to be a good sign.
Only after the fact did I realize that I probably stayed awake during my LSAT studies because of the triple shot lattes I had taken to enjoying simultaneously. So there’s that.
I worked directly for two attorneys. The first was a nerdy patent attorney who was bad at small talk, but great at anything that could be considered billable. The second was a female trademark and copyright litigator, which meant she’d go to bat in courts for her clients whose ideas were being infringed upon, or essentially copied. She was fantastic and fantastically entertaining. She lived every second of her life as though she had something to prove, and was in it to fight the good fight for female attorneys everywhere to have their voices heard. She had no problem speaking her mind, and really, really loved riling things up and ruffling the feathers of the older, more traditional male attorneys around the office. Being directly associated with her made me feel both insanely powerful and embarrassed at the same time.
My days usually looked something like this: Mr. Billable-hours would bring me several forms to fill out that I couldn’t even start to understand, because thanks to the nationality of our biggest client, they were always written in Korean. So, I would struggle through a few thousand pages worth of Hangul (Korean script for those of you who don’t have immediate access to Google) in serious attempts to complete all the forms before noon, the time we were required to file things with the patent office. Then, I’d turn my attention toward whatever random work the Feminist Trademark Litigator (FTL) had for me, which was always much more entertaining than the Korean patent work. Money-back guarantee. Sometimes I drafted letters to different people who FTL was pissed off at on that particular day. The reasons ranged from serious issues like misrepresentation, to slightly less serious issues like petty back and forth about someone’s choice of outfit in court.
FTL’s biggest client was a fabric design company that made nothing but Hawaiian prints. I’m actually pretty sure they no longer make anything, but rather spend good chunks of their time suing other companies who copy their designs. For me, it meant perusing catalogues and clothing websites in search of items with designs similar to this company’s retired fabrics. How great a job is that, by the way? I was getting paid to look for shirts with palm trees and hibiscus flowers on them. This whole law thing was too good to be true.
My best assignment came when FTL caught wind that a men’s underwear line was infringing on our client’s design name. She came by and dropped a stack of male lingerie catalogues (yes, they exist) on my desk to go through in search of this name. I spent the better part of a week looking at pictures at mostly-naked men with socks stuffed in their skivvies.
Nobody knew what to do with me. On one hand, studying oiled-up men in scandalous poses just had to be against any number of company policies. On the other hand, I was legitimately doing work in an effort to make the law firm money, so they couldn’t discourage it. In the end, they just left me alone. And that’s how I learned that you can buy men’s briefs with pre-padded butt cheeks.
Alas, as funny as my days were, somewhere between polishing up on my Korean and studying banana hammocks, I realized that law actually made me quite uncomfortable. I’m not saying that the world of law is bad, or isn’t a perfect career path for lots of other people, it just wasn’t fitting me the right way. I didn’t like writing nasty-grams to those tiny mom-and-pop companies whose shirt patterns matched our designs. I didn’t like pretending to be tough on the phone when somebody called begging for forgiveness for their unintentional infringement. And, I certainly didn’t like sorting through thousands of pages of Korean documents. Snooze fest. My hat goes off to all you hard-working attorneys out there fighting for justice in America (and Korea). Keep on keeping on, superheroes, but I won’t be joining your ranks.
That didn’t stop me from taking the LSAT though, because you can’t just quit after putting all those hours into studying. Of course, that’s not the real reason I still took the test. I really took the test because I felt confident that I would nail it. And, not to brag, but I did.
Taking the test was a mistake because it stroked my ego a little bit, and then my ego said, “Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt to just see where we’d get into school. Even if we don’t become an attorney, we could tell everyone where we got accepted to, and that’d be a big feather in our cap.”
Being brainwashed by your own ego is a tricky situation, because how do you even snap out of that? I continued down the path of filling out applications and collecting letters of recommendations and the whole bit. Then, right as I was rolling out the stamps to stick on the sealed envelopes, I saw the word LIBERTY across each little stamp and knew I couldn’t give my own personal freedom up to something I didn’t enjoy.
I made that part up, but that would have been pretty poetic, huh? What really happened is that my ego got tired of dangling a golden watch in front of my hypnotized eyes and I came to. I realized that sending those applications would only prolong an answer I already knew. So instead of mailing my applications, I threw them away. I, of course, ripped all the envelopes open and took all the deposit checks out first because that would buy me a good month’s worth of triple shot lattes, now that I was addicted.
People asked me right and left, “yeah, but aren’t you at least curious where you might have been accepted?” And I honestly thought, “nope, not even a little bit.” I was much more curious to know where my life would lead to now that the neatly laid-out plan I had created as a middle-schooler no longer existed.
For the first time that I could remember, I tiptoed into the ebb and flow of life’s running river. I allowed myself to start exploring what it tasted like to actually be that Pisces fish I was born to be.