At the age of 25, I thought I had substantially figured out my career. I was two years out of law school and had just landed a litigation associate job at the San Francisco office of a well-respected international firm. I had a six-figure salary with the promise of upward mobility, a top-floor office with a beautiful view of the San Francisco Bay, and support staff waiting on me hand and foot.
I had sleek business cards, my name on the door, and a dynamic caseload with plenty of opportunity for domestic and foreign travel. I had everything anyone in my position could ask for and more.
I also had the respect, prestige and power that came with such a position. I had the approval of my family and my husband’s family, who lauded my academic and professional achievements.
I had the envy of my law school peers, many of whom were struggling to find jobs in the midst of the Great Recession. I had the sense of self-satisfaction that comes with feeling like one’s hard work has all paid off. I had a flowering pride based on feeling that I had succeeded by all definitions of the word. I had an inflated sense of self-importance, which slowly but steadily consumed me.
As the months passed, the position produced other not-so-great takeaways. I had stress, and loads of it—from the hours, the commute, and the unpredictable and unforgiving nature of the work itself. And thanks to the stress in combination with little sleep, I had plenty of health problems. These included sickness approximately every other month and pain and numbness in my wrist, which I later learned was permanent nerve damage from typing. I had an obvious shortage of quality time with my then-new husband, who was also juggling long hours at a different law firm.
Most significantly, about six months into the job, I realized I had great disappointment and dissatisfaction. I had gone to law school based on an interest in combating human trafficking and violence against women, but I wasn’t making a tangible difference in the lives of anyone with real needs.
Instead, I was making money for already-wealthy corporations. It was the dream job; it was what I was supposed to want. I kept thinking to myself, “I should be happy.” Yet I was deeply unfulfilled, and I knew that if I didn’t change course, I would look back on my life in five, ten or twenty-five years with immense regret.
I have nothing against so-called big law attorneys (my husband is still one of them) or successful working professionals of other types. That is certainly the calling for some people, and I admire them for being able to handle that demanding lifestyle. But I very quickly realized that it was not at all for me.
The six-figure salary wasn’t enough to make it worthwhile. At some point, I realized I would rather be unemployed than remain at that job. In retrospect I know God was using my insurmountable personal discontent to lead me elsewhere.
Walking away from the legal field was both very easy and very hard. It was easy because I was undeniably dissatisfied and suffering spiritually, physically and emotionally. It was incredibly hard because it required me to grapple with questions such as:
Am I wasting my education?
What’s wrong with me—am I not smart or hardworking enough to do this?
Is this going to be career suicide in that I’m killing my chances of ever returning to law?
If I stop practicing law, what else would I do?
I felt low on faith throughout that decisionmaking process and ashamed of the ways my career had inflated my ego and hijacked my identity and self-worth. I knew leaving law was a necessary step of obedience for me that would nurture my trust in God’s sovereignty rather than my confidence in my own abilities.
Two years have passed since I resigned from that firm. Currently my “work” consists of a part-time unpaid development internship, volunteering at a shelter for human trafficking survivors, volunteering at a restraining order clinic for an anti-domestic violence organization, being a mentor and advocate for a foster child, and doing occasional writing and editing work with whatever time I have left.
I’m earning absolutely nothing, nor do I enjoy any of the perks that came with being an attorney, but I couldn’t be happier. I don’t know how to explain it any other way than what I’m doing now just feels right.
That’s not to say it’s been easy. I’ve spent many a night lying awake, wondering if I made the wrong decision. Every now and then I get frantic and start hunting for jobs out of a compulsion to do “real” work or self-imposed pressure to “get my act together.”
I think some of my family members, in classic Chinese fashion, still don’t fully understand or value what I do, which can be frustrating. I have frequent moments of confusion and self-doubt.
But that’s OK. Self-doubt does not negate calling, and I believe that right now, this is exactly what God wants me to be doing.
When people ask, “What do you want to do with your life?” I’m finally comfortable responding, “I don’t know.” As recently as several months ago, this answer left me downright terrified because I’ve never been one to welcome uncertainty.
But I’m slowly allowing myself to embrace it and capitalize on the flexibility and freedom I have during this season of life, and I’m excited to see what the next chapter holds.