By any other name

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People know that I have spent most of my life in the healthcare field. I think most people are surprised when they find out that I had briefly attended law school. I had actually wanted to be a lawyer since I was a kid, like a little kid.* My focus on what to do with it became clear as I got older. (Health policy and legislation) I generally tell them that I attended for a year, and that I ended up not returning because of personal issues. I may go on to explain that my mother had died unexpectedly in the fall, and my father was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the spring. (He’s fine now.) I reconsidered my priorities. What would probably surprise people even more is the truth of what really happened with law school. I am not sure that anyone knows the truth of why I didn’t go back other than my externship director and C.

In law school, your academic progress is measured through two exams, one in December and one at the end of the school year. We are graded on competitive curves. By all accounts, it would outwardly appear that my first year went well. I was invited to try-out for the mock trial team, which was one of the best in the country, at the end of the spring. In the spring, I interviewed for externships, and I was accepted for a federal court position, the World Health Organization in Geneva, and General Counsel’s Office at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA), which is one of the top pediatric hospitals in the United States. I planned on going to Geneva. A good first year? Not really.

Dad found Mom when he got home from work. She was dead. He didn’t know what happened. She wasn’t exactly healthy, but we didn’t expect her to just drop dead either. The cause of death on the death certificate is “cardiac arrest, “ which is a catch-all. Because I was in the middle of the term, Dad didn’t have an autopsy performed. I found this out later, and this really bothered me. He said that he didn’t want to keep me out of school any longer than necessary.

I don’t remember if I spoke at the funeral, but I know I didn’t cry. I remember that my Dad cried almost non-stop. I didn’t really process the death either. That’s what happens when you only talk on the phone, and your routine isn’t impacted by the loss. It’s really kind of fucked up.

My mother and I had a complicated relationship, but I was closest to her. While I had wanted to be a lawyer as a kid, part of the reason that I went to law school as late as I did was to prove a point to her. I didn’t pursue it earlier, because when I was young, she had told me I lacked the logic to be a lawyer. She actually said this a lot. The worst part is that posthumously, I ended up feeling like she was right.

She passed away at the end of October. I had met with my favorite and toughest (by general consensus) of professors, Civil Procedures, at the end of the term in December to tell her that I thought I needed to take a break. I was having trouble concentrating. (I had not yet been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.) She told me that she thought I should stick it out. I’d be ok. So I did. Dad was diagnosed with his tumor in February.

As it was, I had pretty much done enough to get by on my midterm exams. My performance in class, which uses the Socratic method of questioning, gained my invitation for the mock trial tryout. My interviewing had won my externships. But there was one exam that I totally tanked in the spring. When you combine that with the other exam grades that are average, you get a letter telling you that you are academically disqualified. You get kicked out.

I spent some time hiking in the mountains over the weekend that I had received the letter, and then I went once again to my Civil Procedures professor, this time in tears. She recommended that I reapply in a year, because I could do that, and that I would more than likely have no trouble getting back in based upon the circumstances. I told her I didn’t think that I would come back. I needed to rethink my priorities. She had said that this saddened her. She said that it is always the “good ones that we lose.” Two weeks before I was to leave for Geneva, I had decided to instead stay locally and opted to work for CHLA. I ended up telling them about my academic disqualification on my 3rd day.

This is my dirty little secret. (I have a few, don’t I?) At work, I say that I have learned more from my failures than my successes, which is true, and that concept is important for what I do. But I don’t talk about this. I should. Had I finished law school, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I’m not sure I would be as happy with my work. Most of my attorney friends do not love what they do, and they don’t have balance with their life. I was supposed to meet an old friend in Chicago this week. He was going to leave work to meet me for a drink at 2130, and then go back to work. Sure I wanted to work in a different area, but I would have had to pay off debt in a firm first. I know I could easily turn into someone who would work 15+ hour days without even thinking about it.

I think that I don’t talk about the truth of what happened because I associate it with what my mother used to say about me. I also associate it with my ex-girlfriend who made me feel intellectually inferior, and eventually left me for someone she felt was more her equal who also happened to be an attorney. Both Mother and K. became the primary drivers for me returning to school to pursue a law degree, so when I didn’t finish, for the reason that I didn’t, well, it became an issue of shame. Even if no one else knew that, I did. My residual anger from that is part of what still drives me today.

I think I consider this my biggest failure. It was something that I had wanted since I was a kid, and something that throughout my 20s, I had been conflicted about – whether to stay in healthcare, where the military landed me or to pursue a law degree, which is what I had wanted for so long but thought I wasn’t smart enough for. This is another one of those things that I need to let go.


*When I was little, I used to dress up, line up my stuffed animals on the bed, and pretend that they were my jury and play “court.”

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