As a first generation Canadian kid in Toronto, I grew up with my parents, the education system and society instilling in me the idea that being a ‘professional’ was the ultimate goal. I always had an underlying belief that if I didn’t become a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant I wouldn’t truly be successful or respected. This was hardwired into my brain from a young age and I don’t think I was alone in that, considering how many of my grade school friends are now doctors.

When I was applying for uni, I decided that science (and therefore medicine) was not for me and waved goodbye to my future as a doctor, prompting my mother to ask me why I had given up my dream of being a plastic reconstructive surgeon (based on one presentation I did in careers class in Grade 10). I actually just wanted to study English; I loved writing and languages, but it seemed too risky to get a general arts degree and I panicked at the last minute, opting for business to keep my options open.

Unsurprisingly, I hated business and was questioning all of my life choices within the first month of uni. But I stuck with it because I didn’t want to be a quitter and I still had that fear at the back of my mind that an arts degree wouldn’t be enough. I was pretty miserable throughout uni because I hated most of my business classes and couldn’t see what the end goal really was. But I made it through to graduation by packing in my love of languages where I could – I used all my electives for English, French and Spanish classes and managed to get work and study experience in french-speaking places. 

I felt very lost all through uni. Ever since I’d given up on the doctor front, my parents had been pushing the accountant and/or lawyer route. And it wasn’t just my parents. I remember having a conversation in the last year of uni with one of my closest friends from high school (and another classic overachiever). He had gotten early acceptance into med school and was already in his first year. I was telling him how lost I was and he told me I couldn’t waste my potential – if I wasn’t going to do medicine then I should at least be a lawyer. It seemed like everyone else knew what they wanted to do; like they were on a sure stead path and I was just floating around. 

My undergrad graduation in Canada – all smiles (and internal panic).

When I finished uni, my only goal was to get a job; any job that would get me started so I could eventually work my way up the corporate ladder and be successful. My main motivation was to escape the disappointment of my parents and the embarrassment of being unemployed for too long out of uni. I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do and applied for anything and everything. As soon as I moved back home, my mom started not so subtly trying to convince me that I was meant to be a lawyer and offered to pay for an LSAT prep course. I figured why not keep my options open? I hadn’t even started one career and was already looking into another. So while I was applying for jobs, I was also heading to an LSAT course a couple times a week. I actually enjoyed it; it basically felt like doing puzzles/brainteasers and it also helped that I had a cute tutor and a girl from my soccer team just so happened to be in the same class too.

A few months after graduation, after dozens of applications and several interviews, I landed myself a job working as a marketing assistant at a paper company where I was the youngest employees by a good 10 years. It was a lovely place with great people, but I was basically living the real-life version of The Office and couldn’t imagine staying for more than a year. There were people who had worked there 10, 20, even 40 years (in the factory) which seemed unfathomable to me. By the time I started that job, I’d finished the LSAT course and was cramming in studying before the exam on my commute to and from work. The LSAT seemed like an escape route from the endless suburban office life I saw as my future.

I was 22 and living at home with my parents, trying to fit into the corporate world Monday to Friday and heading out with my friends every weekend, testing out what ‘adult life’ felt like. Whenever I met new people, one of the first questions anyone would ask was ‘What do you do?’ and to be honest I was a bit embarrassed to answer. I didn’t feel like what I was doing was impressive enough or showed how ‘smart’ I was. I felt like people were judging me based on my profession, assigning a certain value to me and placing me in a specific box once they confirmed what I did. It made me feel really uncomfortable and I always wanted to qualify my answer with more context about who I REALLY WAS. But I didn’t actually know how to do that. Did my job really define who I was as a person? Was I a marketeer? It didn’t feel right, but what kind of person did I want to be and what kind of job did I need to have to be that?

Law school started looking more and more appealing, but I hadn’t really considered the reality of it. Was I ready to quit my marketing career after less than a year, start studying all over again, and go into significant debt? The only lawyers I knew were my friends’ parents and the lovely couple that I babysat for, and the one thing they all had in common was that I barely saw any of them because all they did was work. But being a lawyer seemed exciting! I’d be using my brain more, helping people, working on fascinating cases, making a difference, etc. I was talking myself into it because I didn’t like the life I was in and I couldn’t see another alternative. I remember Alex asking me if it was really what I wanted to do; I think she was scared to push it but she knew I was making the decision more out of fear than desire. But I steamrolled ahead.

Escaping office life and getting a taste of freedom in Santorini.

I set myself a deadline to tell my boss when I came back from a family vacation to Greece. That vacation sealed the deal for me. It was an epic adventure and made me feel alive again, something I hadn’t felt since my last stint abroad. I knew law school was not going to be a Greek vacation, but it would be something NEW. Honestly, I was so sad coming back from that holiday that when people at work asked me how it was I almost started crying because I couldn’t believe I was back in an office. I know that sounds very melodramatic and privileged, but it just made me realise how unhappy I was with my life. I felt like I was wasting away, 20 going on 40, resigned to office life and a mortgage already. Did people work so hard all year just for one week of vacation? What motivated them? I just didn’t get it. 

It almost felt like I was living in the Truman Show and I had been fed this narrative by everyone around me that all you had to do was be a good kid, get good grades, go to a good uni and get a job and then you’d live happily ever after. I’d been building up to that version of success my entire life without really questioning it because it was just the accepted path for everyone I knew. But when I got to the end of that road, I just felt empty and confused. Law school felt like a do-over, my chance to pick the right career that would lead to fulfilment, or at the very least delay the inevitable. Adulthood was not the promised land that I’d worked so hard to get to.

When I finally told my boss I was going to law school, I burst into tears. I felt guilty, like I had hidden some deep dark secret but I also felt a huge sense of relief. It was like I had hit the emergency escape button on ‘real life’, I didn’t care how much debt I would be going into (everyone does it right?) or properly consider the fact that I didn’t know any happy lawyers. At the time I could only see two options – work or school. School was my comfort zone and I was ready to head back into its warm embrace.

Stay tuned for pt2 and the realities of law school, coming soon! 

Written by Tory