Law School Melly: Scene 7: Great by Choice and No Regrets
“Most people will look back and realize they did not have a great life because it’s just so easy to settle for a good life” -Jim Collins
Today I ran into someone I used to work with when I was a school principal. He is now a principal himself and he asked me the same question that I get from many of my former colleagues when I see them now, “do you miss it?”
Do I miss it? No, I don’t.
Truthfully, I don’t think that is really the question. I think the question people are really asking is, “do you regret leaving education?”
Do I regret it? No, I don’t.
But that doesn’t mean what people seem to think it means.
It isn’t a negative reflection of my career in education or the wonderful people I worked with and for. I am extremely grateful for all of my experiences as a teacher and administrator. I am appreciative of the opportunities that I was given and while I feel I would have been better at law school 20 years ago, I believe that I will be a much better lawyer as a result of my almost 20 years in education. I didn’t dislike my job or the work. I wasn’t unhappy. But I knew that there was a different path for me, I just knew it. I felt it was the right time to shatter through the ceiling of education into something I had always considered doing: practicing law. I had a good life as a school principal. But I wanted to have a great life. And I don’t regret it for one second.
And people just don’t understand it. Skeptical people ask me, “so do you think you are really going to like being a lawyer, do you think this is really what you want to do?” I get it, they don’t know that I spent a year sitting in law school classes, talking with lawyers, professors, deans of law schools until I was really sure I was ready to apply. But it feels like they are really asking “how could you walk away from a successful and stable career where you were doing good work and making great money, do you regret it?” And the answer is NO. But, I can feel that way and still miss the people, my co-workers, the kids, the staff, the parents. And I do. When I run into a former colleague, parent or student, it fills me with joy and reminds me of a time when I did some excellent work with stellar people.
Yet most of the time, the conversation ends with that person saying something like, “well good for you,” which feels to me like the equivalent of when someone from the south says, “well bless your heart.” I don’t think people are being unkind intentionally but I do think people attempt to internalize my choices and wonder if they would be brave (or crazy) enough to do the same. I also believe that even in 2017, people don’t understand how a woman in her mid-forties could leave a successful career to pursue a totally different path.
I study leadership because it fascinates me. My favorite leadership book is Good to Great by Jim Collins. It has been my professional bible for years. The book is a study of how companies go from “good” to “great” and in it he breaks down the leadership tenets that effectuated the change. One of my favorite quotes from the book, “good is the enemy of great,” resonated with me immediately. Good isn’t good enough, and complacent just isn’t me. And somewhere deep inside of me, I knew that I needed to change paths to live a great life. I love to work and I work hard. I was ready to channel my efforts into the work I believed I was meant to do. And it doesn’t diminish the importance of the work that I’ve done-I will forever be proud of that. But becoming an attorney feels more like “me” than anything I have ever done before in my life. I hope that everyone reading this feels that way about the work they are doing because being true to yourself is the only way to become great.
And it isn’t easy. I am two-thirds of the way through law school and it was very difficult to start again. It is tough to sit in a classroom with people half my age who are smarter than me and try to find my place. It is challenging to go from being at the top of your game to being a novice. To go from being the boss to being the intern. All while having to deal with the responsibilities of my life. It takes humility and determination. But most of all, it takes courage. The courage to live the life that I know is right for me. You can’t be a great leader unless you are an effective leader of your own life, personally and professionally. Choices always come with scrutiny and I accept that but I have evolved into a truly great leader of my own life.
I wish I could come up with a concise answer to the question of why I left education, why I went to law school, will I be happy as a lawyer, but the answer is just too big, too deep and too personal to articulate effectively. For now, I can only say that I attend a great law school, have acquired a great amount of knowledge, have made great friends, work at a great law firm and am at the very beginning of what I trust will be a great career. Great by choice and no regrets.