I recently had the chance to be a guest speaker in a class at my alma mater, the University of New Mexico School of Law. I loved my time at UNM and cannot say enough about how wonderful the professors were, how kind the staff was, and how many amazing friends I made there. I jumped at the opportunity to be involved there again, even in this small way.
The professor who invited me to speak said that I was someone who charted my own path, made some unconventional moves, and always fought for the life I wanted. I wouldn’t have ever said those things about myself, but as I told my story, I realized, she was kind of right. When I laid it all out, maybe that is a thread running throughout my career.
I backed out of going to a top 25 law school when I woke up one morning and felt like UNM was right for me. Mind you, it was April. I had turned UNM down, I had a house and roommates and a seat deposit in Virginia. But when I decided it wasn’t right, I made new plans.
I turned down a 6-figure job at a top 25 international law firm. That one was hard to swallow, especially after that firm gave me the summer of my life when I lived in San Francisco as a summer associate. But I knew after that summer that while I will always love San Francisco, and I learned so much about myself in that experience, I wasn’t meant to be a big city girl.
I said no thanks to a federal clerkship. To you lawyers in the crowd, I know this is shocking. It was a great opportunity and it is not lost on me how many students dream of this very offer. I just wasn’t one of them. I already had a job I was excited about lined up that would give me the opportunity to work with amazing people, and clerking just didn’t appeal to me. So despite a pretty solid campaign and pressure from people around me, I trusted myself to know what was the best fit for me.
I left a great law firm job right before huge cases settled for crazy money. I mean, money with enough commas I had to really focus to count that high. I loved that firm. I love those people. To this day I credit them with teaching me how to be a lawyer. I worked hard on those cases. But then…my dream job came open. And there are only about 5 similar jobs around the US, so I knew if I wanted it, I would have to go for it now. Conventional wisdom, and a couple of my mentors, told me I was crazy to leave. But I knew my passions and my heart aligned more with this job than the law firm. So I jumped.
Reflecting back on these events, they were super stressful at the time. But now, a decade or removed from them, every one of those decisions was right for me and led me right to where I am meant to be. Could I have been successful and happy had I taken other paths? Sure, I think so. But I don’t think I would have been as successful or as happy, because I just wouldn’t have been as much me.
So that’s the encouragement I offered the students. Follow your heart. Say yes to the things that lead you to your dreams, not the dreams someone else tells you that you should have. Trust your gut. You only get to live this life once, and you don’t want to waste it trying to do what everyone else thinks you should.