"Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing with my life?"
It's a question commonly asked by those of us afflicted by the quarterlife crisis and can be made to apply to just about every area of the quarterlifer's existence. (For ex: Do I really want to marry this fool? Why haven't I moved out my mama's house yet? Was this degree really worth being $100,000 in debt?) In my circle the permutation of this question usually pertains to our careers: Did I pick the right one(s)? What career suits me best? And my particularly favorite question:
"What path should I be taking with my chosen career?"
You see, I have been fortunate to know my passion since the first grade. Since then, I've known that I loved to write and I loved to help and whatever I did when I grew up would involve either one, or both. And so for approximately two decades I've been slowly figuring out just what those two career choices meant:
1988: I had chicken pox - and my pediatrician was so nice and helpful that I thought it would be great to be one. This is also the year when I wrote my first story. It was about a girl named Mary and a boy named Mark. I also started to keep a journal at this age - it helped me cope with the unfortunate drama inflicted on me during this time. I wrote in my little red and blue notebook a lot.
1996-2000: 9th grade biology - as easily as it came to me - told me that my destiny did not lie in medicine. I took my first creative writing class in the 10th grade - and loved it. I took AP Psychology in the 11th grade and Psychology replaced my dreams of being a pediatrician. In the 12th grade did really well in AP English - and loved the combination of literature and in-depth analysis. I also took a class in Constitutional law. It was interesting - especially when we studied the Brown v. Board of Education case.
2002: Two years of college in and I had finally picked my major/minor pursuits - an English and Journalism double major, Political Science minor. Maybe a month or so after finally making the choice - during the summer - I was inspired to be an attorney. Thank Jonathan Harr and whoever decided to sell a New York Public Library book for that one. I picked up A Civil Action in front of this used book store for a dollar, because it stood out (it was HUGE and also was clearly marked with a Dewey decimal number) and seemed like it'd be great summer reading. Three quarters of the way in, I knew I was meant to do what Jan Schlictmann did for those people: empower them to fight against forces that seemed great - help them in a way they couldn't help themselves by virtue of his skill and abilities as an attorney (even though they didn't quite get all they wanted.) Attorneys have a tremendous power to affect social change if their skills are used with the right intention (if you aren't convinced of this, I refer you to the story of Mr. and Mrs. Obama.). Reading about what Schlictmann did for Woburn, MA (even after I read the somewhat disappointing end of their story) spoke directly to my passion to help those who need it.
Little did I know that A Civil Action is often assigned in 1L Civil Procedure classes (including my own when I finally got to law school) - not for the reasons that inspired me, but because Harr does an EXCELLENT job of describing trial procedure. Not for nothing - but I was intrigued by his detailed description of the entire trial procedure too - as boring and drawn out as it can be. What kind of attorney would I be if I didn't care about details?
2004: By my senior year of college I figured that my writing career was not destined find my name end up as a byline in someone's publication. Maybe it was the program I was in - but I was MUCH more interested in the Media Studies aspect of my Journalism/Media Studies major. I took a class in Communication Law and LOVED the copyright segment of the class - especially the cases involving entertainers. I also took an Africana Studies class involving race and the law and we studied Brown v. Board of Education there also. Learning of the work the NAACP did with education cases to chip away at segregation in the United States further inspired me to pursue a career in the law. So when I went into law school, I had in mind that I would check out entertainment law and civil rights law, along with immigration (As a first generation American I felt I had a duty to study immigration law!)
2007: I managed to not write one creatively inspired word for the first two and a half years of law school - with the exception of a poem I wrote for the boyfriend I had during that time. I loved him when I wrote it - but by the third week of 2007, I had enough of his bullsh*t and dumped him. About a month later I met someone who eventually ended up providing inspiration to get back into writing. It was divine intervention for sure. It started with him - and then I kept meeting people who pushed me to write. I started writing Tricia writes... and decided to make my writing a serious career pursuit. Late this year, when the taxicab drivers in NYC went on strike, I discovered that I had a thing for labor and employment law.
2008: I graduated from law school. I took the bar exam. So now I'm on pins and needles waiting for the results and I'm job hunting. My resume is all over the place in terms of experience in areas of the law. I started the year not really sure about what area of the law I wanted to practice - by this time I accumulated a number of areas of interest. You just don't KNOW how freaking annoying it was to be asked: "What area of the law is/will be your specialty?" It's a fair question - especially when it comes from someone who is either an employer or is helping me get employment - but I still hated it! An old friend of high school asked the question week before last Friday - I responded by telling him that I didn't have a preference - and then he asked:
"What's your passion?"
That was the right question for him to ask. It was stuck in my head ever since. What is my passion? Isn't that what lead me to the law in the first place?
I struggled with that question the weekend after. The quarterlife crisis beat me up HARD last week - thanks in great part to the question. Whenever I thought about it, I would see a picture in my mind of a clearly defined path painted in yellow. I wasn't sure if I was actually standing on that path, however, because in front of me was a fog. I could see the yellow path beyond the fog but couldn't find my way too it. All I knew is that I wasn't very far away. This image ate me up every time it came to mind - and the frustration was only encouraged by the job hunt. It's hard to look for a job when you don't know exactly what you want to find!
Thankfully, the fog is beginning to fade.
Last Monday I had a meeting with my new career counselor. After reviewing my resume, she asked me that annoying yet understandable question and the word "Government" flew out of my mouth. The response was pure instinct. Working for the government was, until that day, just one of the many areas I could see myself going into but it felt right as it flew out of my mouth. She was also surprised because I have NO previous government experience (Why not pick one of the many areas represented on my resume?) As I talked to her the idea of being a public servant via the government made PERFECT sense. Why didn't I see that before? The only problem with that question is that there are many areas of the government in which I could work. I went home after my meeting feeling sick (for unrelated reasons) and foggy. Working for the government felt (and still feels) right but for what agency?
Later that night, I was sitting watching the news in front of my laptop, with webpage open to Facebook - I wasn't doing anything particular on the site until I heard the "pop" sound of a Facebook IM. It was a friend of a friend, asking me to vote for his organization on ideablob.com. I had seen something about this ideablob contest on his page before - never really checked it out - so I decided to help him out. I voted and upon reading about his organization's purpose I was inspired to help promote it somehow - so I posted the contest and his organization's link on my page. I thoughth for a bit about the great work that his organization does - and that every educator that genuinely cares about the education of our youth does. And then the fog got that much lighter.
It's my belief that I would not be much of anything in this world if not for my education. I have been blessed to receive a tremendous amount of education in a country that doesn't do too much to allow for someone in my statistical category (black, female, child of an immigrant, from a lower socioeconomic community, raised in a single parent household) to receive a quality education, much less to pursue a doctorate. But by God's grace, showered upon me through teachers I've had at every level of my educational career, I've managed to accomplish quite a bit and have been given the tools to accomplish so much more. I'm thankful for all the opportunities I've received and it was in high school that I decided that at some point in my life, I would have to do something to help others from communities like mine receive the same opportunities to a quality education. Why should one's educational options be dictated by where they live or what their parents do for a living?
And that's my longwinded way of saying that I want to work in education law. The truth: I don't even know a whole lot about education law just yet but I'm in the process of figuring it out. I also realize that going back to school may just be in order. Maybe. I haven't worked the details out yet but I know that I desire my career in the law to effect change in our country's broken educational system.
Sunday morning's sermon spoke to my quarterlife career issues. The message: before we were born, God ordained a purpose for each and every one of us. Also, He gave us the gift of free will - so it is up to us to walk on the path God has set out for us. The problem: how do we know that we are walking on His path? The solution: you have to walk in faith (generally) and that faith includes faith that you are walking in the path He set out for you. An indicator that you are pursuing the purpose God intended for you is feeling passion for what you are pursuing. (I had a total "Aha!" moment when I heard the minister say that!). Knowing your passion is helpful to knowing your purpose and for me, the key to resolving this particular quarterlife crisis.
The problem: not everyone knows their passion. Many people in the quarterlife just don't know what they're passionate about - and may feel that they aren't passionate about anything. The solution: One suggestion from this ABC News article is to consider what you'd want to do if you won the lottery and money wasn't an issue. I think that tactic could be helpful, but I'd also add that one struggling with the question of their passion should look to do things they find interesting, even if it isn't related to whatever it is they currently do to make money. An interest, if it's nurtured, could grow into a passion.
The truth: I've written all that I've written not so much because I care for you, dear reader, to know about my quarterlife crisis but because writing this has helped me sort out my path up until this point and where I need to go next. One thing I have learned just by writing this out is how different areas of my life interact in ways I could never anticipate - for example, had I not broken up with my ex-boyfriend, I would have never met my friend who helped inspire me back to writing. (We aren't romantic but with the way things happened, I couldn't have met him if I didn't break up with my ex.) You just never know how changes in one area of your life can impact the other areas.
So while I'm still very much immersed in my quarterlife crises, my career crisis at least appears to be on its way to resolution. Thank God for the changes made, the blessings bestowed and those to come. And thank you so very much for reading! (I know, I know... it was long.)