Welcome to the inaugural class of '29. We've selected 29 graduating college seniors, entering the "real" world in 2018, to write about the state of their lives. What are their hopes, dreams, fears, stressors, failures, and successes as they leave school behind? We will be releasing new entries on a daily basis. If you would like yours to be considered, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was always the kid with a plan. When elementary school teachers asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d respond without skipping a beat. “Well, I’m interested in becoming a District Attorney and I can see myself as a judge later in life.” The idea may have been inspired by watching a little more Law & Order than the other kids my age, but it stuck. By the time I got to college, I figured a legal career was inevitably a part of my future. I decided to major in political science and set my sights on LSAT prep.
I loved my college and my major. But what I loved even more was the satisfaction of knowing that I had a plan. I told anyone and everyone about my goal of attending law school after graduation. I looked at life like a series of checkboxes. The first was picking a career path. Once I got that out of the way, there was a whole new list of boxes that were waiting to be filled. I had get into college, to join clubs, take the LSAT, apply to law schools, get internships, and so on. All this would lead me to that last, big checkbox: becoming a lawyer. And then I would be done! At 17 years old, before I even stepped foot on campus, I was confident that I had figured out the key to life.
That is, until I realized that I didn’t want to go to law school.
In my four years as an undergrad, I took the LSAT twice, drafted personal statements, and gathered letters of recommendations. I was cruising toward law school. Then, this past December, I pulled the emergency brakes. I can’t remember the exact moment it struck me, but when I found myself Googling phrases like “how to know if you don’t want to go to law school” I knew something needed to change.
That doesn’t mean it was easy. Deciding not to go to law school was like ripping out something that was part of my identity. I had spent four years of college calculating my every move in order to prepare myself for this next step in my life. It was hard to feel like my years in undergrad — and the hundreds of hours I spent studying for exams and writing papers — weren’t a total waste. All of my hard work was about to pay off, but I just didn’t want it anymore. Looking back, I don’t know if I ever did. Maybe I just liked the security of having a plan.
I spent most of winter break panicking over what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t the only one surprised by this turn of events. My parents were in a state of shock, my advisor nearly fell out of his chair, and most of my friends thought I wouldn’t actually have the guts to withdraw my acceptances. But I stared down every last one of my law school options and I felt in my very core that I just couldn’t go.
My first instinct was to just pick something new to pursue, which was how I was starting to think I settled on law school in the first place. Everyone kept telling me that I needed to “follow my passion.” But what was my passion? I spent night after night laying in bed thinking about what made me happy and what made me feel like my life had purpose. My realization that I didn’t want to attend law school forced me to sit and actually reflect: What is my passion? What do I even like?
Well, I like writing. I like telling stories. I like comedy. And I like politics.
So what’s the perfect job that fits in all of those things that I can go out and get, right now? I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe there are dozens. I could be a speechwriter. I could be a columnist. I could write for Stephen Colbert. I could write for myself and be the next Stephen Colbert.
For now, I’m just trying to figure it out, as terrifying as that is to my old, plan-oriented self. For the first time in my life, I don’t have a traditional “checkbox-style” plan. Instead, I’m letting my passions be my guide for once. And that feels more exciting, yet somehow still more secure, than any boring old plan to go to law school ever did.
Sam Welch recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio. Her post-graduation plans are currently to be determined, but like a lot of soon-to-be graduates, she’s just figuring things out.