Bailing Out of Law School

Hey Steph!
I’ll try and keep the fan-girling to a minimum but I can’t help myself. Aside from being an incredible and self-motivated athlete, you’re an all around badass. You live life on your own terms and I really value that. I try to never lose sight of how important that is.
Having said all of that, I want to ask how you made the move to quit law school.

I spent six months roaming around the country, living in my car and jumping from crag to crag. I ended up living at the Red for two months, and now I live in an apartment in Virginia. I go to school in Washington DC. I don’t think I’m adjusting too well.

I’m trying hard to be okay with this. Some days aren’t so bad and sometimes I’m even interested in what I’m learning, but most days I feel so lost here. I’ve literally cried in the library because I feel so disconnected. I don’t mean to pour my heart out to you, but you were ballsy enough to call it and quit school.

I guess I’m just wondering what made you think about quitting and what broke the camel’s back.

I think its rad that you’re down to connect with whoever comes across here and I know for sure that you’re busy doing really awesome stuff, but if you get a minute to drop a line my way, it’d mean a lot. Plus it’d be really dope to know that I got a chance to actually talk to you.
-Sandy

Hi Sandy,
I’m sorry to hear you’re in a bad place–I know how that is. It’s always hard to give advice to people about this kind of decision–stick it out or break loose. I don’t think there is a simple answer. I joke about it now, but the truth is it was really terrifying and really hard when I made the decision to cut away from my academic life (after finishing my Master’s degree and doing 5 days of law school…). I often make huge life choices very quickly, based on my feelings, and they haven’t steered me wrong so far. I had major doubts from the moment I decided to enroll in law school, and over the first days of classes the feeling that I was doing the wrong thing got more and more powerful until I literally had no choice but to bail.

I truly had no idea what I’d end up doing, and I was pretty scared about what I decided to do, which was live in my car and wait tables. It was also really frustrating sometimes working in a restaurant after I’d been teaching college writing as a teaching assistant, because I didn’t get a lot of respect as a waitress and I had no control over my schedule–if I was told to come in at 3 pm and roll silverware or vacuum, knowing I’d be paid $2/hour until I got my first table at 6 pm, I had to do it. I was super broke and made buying choices like a bag of flour instead of tortillas (I’d roll out my own on a square of plywood). Rest days were also tough because I had time to wonder what I was doing with my life and also get a little bored sometimes, feeling unproductive and wishing I had some work I could do on my own time, as I’d done when I was in school. But, the freedom I had to go climbing and to just spend time in places I wanted to be was worth all of the downsides, to me at that time. My life still is pretty nontraditional. I have a lot of control over my schedule and the work I do, but the flipside is that I literally never clock out, and I’m extremely busy all the time juggling a lot of different balls in the air. As a freelancer of any type, you never leave the office and you have to constantly hustle and do everything yourself, from creative work to accounting, which can be overwhelming at times. But, the freedom I have is worth it to me.

I generally think it’s a good idea to keep as many options open for yourself as possible (i.e., take a break from school at the end of a semester rather than in the middle of one), unless your feelings are so powerful that you have no choice but to follow them. I kind of struggle with my beliefs about following your passion (which I definitely believe in!!) versus making careful decisions so you don’t lose your freedom by being totally broke. My solution to this dilemma has been to keep my overhead low, stay out of debt, and value time over possessions. That’s why I liked living in my car–extremely low overhead.

Being completely miserable is never a good option. The final straw for me with law school was that I didn’t enjoy the classes at all (I loved school when I was a grad student). I’d almost chosen to go for a PhD in American Studies (which I probably would have liked better, but during my Master’s I’d figured out that getting a PhD in humanities would probably lead to a rat race of assistant professorships in places like Oklahoma, and that just wouldn’t have worked), and I quickly realized that I was more interested in the human stories and motivations behind the cases we were discussing than preparing myself to work in a law firm. I was only going because I’d scored well on the LSATs, I didn’t know what else to do, and I thought it might be a “good” career that I’d be happy with 5 years in the future. And then I realized that I actually had no idea what I’d want to be doing in 5 years, or even if I’d still be here in 5 years, and it didn’t make any sense to be miserable right now for something I didn’t even know if I’d want later. This is kind of the antithesis of having a 5 year plan, but it’s how I see things–who knows what you’ll want to do in 5 years! Personally, I think people who are smart with computers and language should learn coding, because you can work from anywhere and there’s seemingly endless demand for those skills.

These kind of choices are very big and very personal. Life is short, but it’s also long, so you need to listen to your heart and to your head. What I know for myself, is that if I don’t have passion for something I’m not going to have the dedication to stick it out when things get really hard or frustrating, which they do a lot. If I’m passionate about something, I know I’ll never give up and I’ll work as hard as possible for as long as it takes to succeed at it. I also know that freedom is my top priority, closely followed by security, so they both have to be considered. And that’s why I have to follow my heart first, but my head a close second.
Steph


  • Abbi Hearne

    Amazing post Steph. My husband and I recently made the terrifying decision to leave a secure community and jobs in Texas to live in our car full time pursuing photography. It’s still pretty scary, as we haven’t booked a single paid gig for 2017 yet and we’re turning down gigs in Texas, but as I type this I am sitting in our car at Glacier Point after watching the sunset on Half Dome while my husband shoots photos of the stars over the valley. There have been hard moments, but I’m willing to eat homemade flour tortillas on plywood if it means we get to keep making art out here!

  • Kay Dee

    Inspiring story and inspiring response. I’m a reluctant lawyer 7 years out of school/base jumper/has-been climber who realized too late (debt-wise) that I wanted nothing to do with the corporate law life. You CAN craft a life for yourself in the law that is consistent with your virtues and vagabond dreams, even if it isn’t as romantic as living in Moab or your van wherever you want and being outdoors full-time. It isn’t easy, and it comes with debt and other things that hamstring your choices, but it can be personally gratifying, even if none of your peers understand you.

    We are conditioned as a society to crave security, steadiness, and a linear path through career, mortgages, kids, and retirement, but it doesn’t have to be that way! The scarier the choice, the more likely it is the right one! Follow what inspires you wherever it takes you. Good luck.

  • Anna

    First of all – having a degree is not a nice road to money and well being. Full time job in companies is hard, no matter if you deal with a diffucult boss or a diffuclt client. (Even as a pro – athlete u can have a diffult sponsor). there’s lots of competition , and ridiculous pressure on the standard of your life (pressure to have new car, nice house and so on). Nobody wants a reluctant lawyer, dentist and so on. There are too many bad managers, lazy doctors and so on. Do something good or don’t waste ppl time faking it in the name of money. The biggest problem any of full time job is – lack of time. Sure, maybe u have some stable income and maybe some money in saving – but most of the time u have dramatically little time. There’s a price for being a professional.
    On the other side – climbing life is not free hippie. Maybe if you have 20 years. But let’s be honest – climbing ppl are VERY competitive. Most ppl who climb 7a will refuse climb with 6a ppl and so on. Few ppl can make living on if – some gifted and hard motivated athletes, – the rest must work as fitness instructor, outdoor gear sales ppl, waiters and so on.
    The world has many shades and colors. U can change the place u live – move to the town MUCH closer to the mountains, do part-time job, start your own comapany and often – take 1-3 year breaks – yes some ppl do it. U can go as far as start to open some business close to the mountains. There are many solutions
    The hardest part is always – figuring out what makes u tick, what u can do to be still quite ok and pay the bills and also how little money can u have and still be ok with this.
    The problem with little money is not just the debt – it is the stress – that once the car will break – u will not be able to pay for fixing, the lack of medical care – the lack of dentist, living in the poor district and often buying bad food. And poor life – can often make u frustrated. Each person needs to figure out – how pooor / economic is ok for them.

  • Horatio Algeranon

    .”The Path Not Taken (with apologies to Robert Frost)

    Two paths diverged in a Mary land,
    And sorry I could not travel two
    And be one traveler, as I’d planned
    I looked down one, with my baby grand
    To where it sank in the legal goo ;

    Then took the other, with all its ruts,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was rocky and wanted nuts ;
    Though as for that, the average putz
    On both, was really about the same,

    And I, that morning nervously paced
    Until my floors were trodden black.
    Oh, I opted out of the whole rat race!
    And knowing how crack leads on to face ,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

    I shall be telling this with a sigh
    Somewhere ages and ages hence:
    Two paths diverged in a land, and Iā€”
    I took the one that got me high,
    And that has made all the difference.

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  • Thank you Anna, loved hearing your thoughts on this šŸ™‚

  • It’s never too late Kay Dee, as long as you’re still here šŸ™‚ thank you!

  • Homemade tortillas are actually incredibly delicious ????

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