My fingers shook, the palms of my hand screamed sweat and anxiety. I cursed the dial-up modem of my computer. My mom was standing over my shoulder wondering what the digital screen would reveal. “Ugh, so slow. Not now. I can’t wait much longer.” I flipped the ends of my hair in a twist, somehow convincing myself if I continued to do this, the internet connection would move faster. Typing with purpose, I pressed on the keys fast until I reached the Texas Bar Examiners website.
Would I be a licensed attorney today? Never one who aced any kind of exam, the slow churning creeped in my stomach. As a twenty-something, I clinged to an external definition of success. Perhaps youth, misperception, and ego guided so much of my thinking almost a decade ago. While I perused the list, I kept yelling, please, please, let me pass. Let my name appear on the list. Like the list guaranteed perpetual success. As I clicked on my last name, there appeared the familiar assembly of letters. My name. And the very unaware self that said, yes, you’ve reached absolute success. How, as I type this, I laugh at my old self and what I defined as reaching the “height” of my professional life.
The years following that digital success were grueling. Deadlines, billable hours, and angst over clients and mean spirited opposing counsel. Long hours combined with a very healthy coffee habit fueled sleepless nights. I saw a “successful” self become a person I didn’t recognize. And five years ago I decided to quit and embrace motherhood and a writer’s life.
Do I still have doubts that I made the right decision? If you crossed paths with me in my twenties, you would know this: I absolutely and unequivocally pursued a legal education with a single minded purpose. There was nothing I wanted more. The idea that my name would appear alongside the abbreviation, Esq. often fueled me to try harder even if there were signs indicating that perhaps the steering wheel pointed in another direction. That’s how I defined success.
And even now, I probably wouldn’t do anything differently. My legal education and life as a lawyer has taught me so much. Having a single minded focus. Dealing with combative personalities. Learning that I can only change my reaction, but not people. Always being on time. Being prepared. Researching issues. Not drawing conclusions. Understanding the power of words, both spoken and written, can have a profound impact on another’s life.
Today, after marriage, a child, witnessing losses of one form of another, and learning the limits of money lend to a clarification of what success is for me. I am comfortable acknowledging that I am still defining the meaning of success.
Finding success in a world where there aren’t clear markers _is_ tricky. And yet this world of motherhood, familyhood I inhabit is so much more satisfying than the life of clarity, financial reward and initials after my name. I’m a feminist; that I am fully in a traditional woman’s world gives me pause, but I don’t want to pursue something that’s less satisfying than what I have now. Kudos to you for exploring your own way of finding meaning.
There’s so much clarity in this very direct post.
We continue to redefine success as we gain more experience. At least we do, if we’re lucky.
Clear and direct. I think you found your path while on the journey. 🙂
Wow – I think we are on the same life-path, even the same state. I was licensed a few years after you but ended up making the same decision to leave full-time legal work. I remember that day and how important it was to me at the time. You captured it perfectly.
You know I connect with every word of this. As a still practicing lawyer, I recognize that I’m not that well-suited to it, but I never regret having chosen the path. It helped me realize that even if I’m “smart enough” to do something, that doesn’t mean it’s a good fit. I look forward to the day when I can write my own post like this- as a “former” lawyer turned writer.
Lovely post, as always.
Beautiful post, Rudri. I can relate so well. Motherhood is so amazing in that it really clarifies our world for us. I used to work terrible hours, coming home after midnight, then having a baby changed everything. We still work, but for ourselves and from home. We lead a very simple existence with the main goal to make enough money to have a family-centered life. I work with very traditionally “successful” clients (most of who don’t have children), and sometimes I feel so “simple” compared to them and yet, I don’t think I can ever go back to my former life. There are some successes that simply cannot be measured.
It’s funny – our paths couldn’t have been any different, but we’ve come to many of the same conclusions. I never would’ve thought my ideas of success, and the jobs I had over the years, would all come in handy as a parent, but they have. Not only that, but when I was in my twenties I never would’ve thought that success could be continually redefined. And now? Now I take comfort in the fact that it can.
Ah yes. Success. I was pondering this myself the other day, a post emerging in my head about these various definitions and measures of success.
I was so sure about one path, and then I pivoted only to find myself on another that I wasn’t quite sure of too. The only thing that felt right was being home with my girls and now that I am, I worry about how others perceive my life, even though I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It’s been a struggle, and I hope to get to where you are someday. Not sure. Just comfortable is good enough for me.
I guess we all have that desire to pursue a dream since we were young. Then we realize later that the defining success is really up to us, despite what people say. May you find your true value and significance in your own terms and not what others think it should be.
We must define for ourselves what success is to us…some happiness, others security. I’d say feeling comfortable in one’s own skin is also success.
I watched my Mom go through all of this…and I don’t know how she did it. You should be proud of how hard you worked!!!
There is no one meaning to success, is there? Though I must admit that as a twenty something myself, it’s hard to get away from the singlemindedness and embrace the world of possibilities.
I love this. It IS the journey, isn’t it? When we’re younger we think we’ve made it when: we graduate, pass the bar exam, get the corner office, etc. Our definitions of success change as we get wiser, older. But the journey? The journey is what should be savored.
Such a good place to be, Rudri, knowing that success doesn’t stop at one stationary place.