Mid-Life(law school) CrisisPosted: May 19, 2010
I seriously thought that when I left graduate school, my days of bursting into tears in front of my professors were finally over. I really thought that leaving academia, and putting the Sisyphean task of finishing MA research behind me would mean I would somehow be less ridiculous. Actually, this did not happen!
Well, to be fair, I lasted almost two years. So that’s good! I think…
Anyway, I went to pitch my paper proposal to my Chinese Law professor, because I am doing this insane thing of writing a very long paper instead of taking a short exam.. and anyway, we started talking. My paper pitch had to do with institution-building – I guess I was sort of camouflaging a sociology paper in the context of criminal law to make it sound more law-y, or something. Anyway this guy (who is great, by the way) totally called me on it. Once we got to talking about civil society, and alternative institutions to the state, and we were arguing about the role of criminal organizations in maintaining social control… ANYWAY what happened was he totally called me on even coming to law school.
He just out and said it –
Him: why are you here??
Him: No seriously, you’re really good at this stuff. Clearly you are very passionate about this work.
Me: I have a MA degree in peace and conflict studies… so I kind of have a background but…
Him: Alex… this isn’t law.
Him: This isn’t law. This is sociology. Why did you come to law school if you love this institution-building and civil society stuff so much?
Me: I left my field because I couldn’t get a job.
Him: But you’re good at this. Really good at thinking about these issues. The paper topic you pitched… it sounds like new research. It’d be a reasonably good doctoral dissertation. It’s not a short paper for a mid-level law class…
Me: //burst into tears//
Me: OH GOD WHAT AM I DOING HERE WHY DID I LEAVE IR OMG I SHOULD NEVER HAVE DONE THIS WAAAHHHHH //law student stress freakout//
He was very nice about it. He started telling me about PhD programs. And how there’s this one, in Amsterdam (holy shit.) that is totally perfect for me, and that it’s really great on rule of law and East Asia and civil society and ahhhrrgghhh I just had to tell him to stop telling me about it.
Because what am I supposed to do? I’m a 2L now, totally specializing in criminal law. Which I also love – let’s be really clear about that. But my professor is correct. I love academia. I love it. When he and I were talking, arguing about civil society and the role of the state, I freaked out because I felt like I was in a different place. It was transcendent. I was so happy. I haven’t had a conversation like that in years. It was amazing.
And it lit a fire in my mind that I put out three years ago when I left my field. When I decided JD over PhD, work in the “real world” over a life of perpetual student-hood.
It’s the first time in nearly 2 years of law school that I’ve fundamentally questioned my path. I guess I’ve been overdue for an existential crisis lately, but I was kind of hoping I was settled.
I had a flash – a flash of the future that was a near certainty for me three years ago – a life of work in other countries, travel all over the world, adventures and change and all the freedom that comes with impermanence. There aren’t really any jobs abroad, for a county prosecutor. Have I been telling myself that this new life is “good enough” – to kill the pain of leaving an old one behind before I was ready?
Now I’ve got Amsterdam stuck in my head. And PhDs. And floppy lampshade hats. And dammit, now who knows where I’ll be off to next – I’m so susceptible to my existential mood swings. I think I might apply, next year. As long as there aren’t any jobs here anyway, I guess I could just cast my net, and let the universe decide. I can think of worse things, I suppose, than the possibility of a “perfect” doctoral program in one of my favorite cities on this planet. Way worse things, actually.