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By: Jamie Collins
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.
– Rainer Maria Rilke
I’ll never forget the day I walked into my first law firm for “the big interview.” For the life of me, I couldn’t find the building. The firm was located in downtown Indianapolis, which is filled with busy, one-way streets, people engaged in the daily hustle and bustle of life, and certainly not the easiest place to navigate as a twenty-something, directionally clueless, one-way road fearing person.
The firm’s building looked a bit like a hidden, makeshift bunker, although it boasted a very cool and eclectic interior of vivid wall murals and sleek, modern furniture. It seemed like a great place one could either choose to hide out from an impending tornado or enter an invisible legal twister with deadlines swirling, people flying around the office, and lessons learned, in search of a career. I showed up about 10 minutes late (a big no-no, I am aware). Perhaps the fact that I was well-spoken, dressed to the nines, and interviewing on my birthday was my saving grace. After all, who actually goes to a job interview on their birthday?
I had no legal experience and absolutely no legal education. Thankfully, the firm took a chance on me, and 15 years later, here I find myself, working for a great firm, in an area of law I love, writing till my heart’s content for KNOW: The Magazine for Paralegals and various other legal publications, networking with some really cool folks all across Paralegal Nation, and typing this post, which you are now reading, on a blog I never knew I’d create. Certainly seems like a chief case in point for “life works out in the end” (although I certainly hope this isn’t by any means “the end.”) I look to it as more of a beginning.
While I am fully cognizant of how I ended up here, looking back, it certainly wasn’t by strolling down a clear cut path to end up where I currently find myself standing. There were certainly some deliberate and strategic choices made along the way. There were many forks in the road; those I walked down and those I passed by. The people I brought along for the journey and those I waved goodbye to, as I crossed that fork in the road. The same is true for each of us.
A number of years ago, I remember watching the movie “Julie & Julia” on DVD. It was a bit melodramatic, but overall, a pretty good show. I vividly recall watching the one Julie (the regular, non-famous one) blogging as she cooked her way through Julia Child’s (yes, the famous one’s) cookbook, and thought: “That is the coolest thing ever! This lady just decided to immerse herself into the cooking world with no experience, began writing about it, established a blog following, absolutely loves what she does, is now writing her own books, and really making a go of it – quite successfully, I might add.”
If you had told me back then that I would one day be a leading paralegal blogger or writing cover stories for a magazine – I would have probably laughed in your face. No disrespect intended. But, for starters, I wasn’t a paralegal, nor did I have any aspirations of becoming one (heck, I didn’t even know what a paralegal was or did). Secondly, blogging was a foreign concept to the masses back then, and certainly not all the rage; and lastly, while I definitely loved to write, I had no real intentions of becoming a writer. Granted, when a college syllabus listed “paper or essay,” that equated to a high A for sure, but actual writing aspirations? Not so much. So there you have it, the incidental fork in the road that leads you to precisely where you are intended to be. Here I find myself, fully-immersed in both worlds (paralegal and writing/blogging), brimming with enthusiasm, thrilled with my current spot in the parking lot of life.
Now, going back to my first firm, when I started there, the three attorneys I worked for were all in their late thirties; for purposes of specificity, we’ll say 36. They were established. They had families, formal educations, nice homes, nice cars and real careers. They had their stuff together or so it seemed to me, as a bright eyed, 20-year-old person who was unmarried, childless, career-less, dating a total jerk, still living at home with my wonderful father, and in search of a fork in the road of life to lead me somewhere worth being. I was definitely in search of greener grass. Who am I kidding? I felt like I was standing on a cold slab of barren concrete in search of any interesting path that could potentially lead me to somewhere, anywhere, more interesting. I remember viewing the attorneys as “old”; and not old, like pack your bags for the graveyard kind of old, but more like “have it all figured out” kind of old. I think that’s what I was in search of – the getting it all together part.
I also remember being awe struck by the one actual “paralegal” the firm had. She was an older lady, very established, professional, smart, and the one who told me how many copies of each thing needed to go to the court – because lord knows – it took me a good, long while to actually figure it out for myself. All I knew is this lady had a real career. She wore suits. If I managed to make it through the legal twister fairly unscathed, I could one day earn like $36,000!!! Woo hoo. The big dream. Or at least so I thought at the time. I now find myself laughing, as I remember fondly the day I blew by the $36,000 mark about 5 years later. I also remember the countless ways I intentionally dodged that legal twister many a time, in order to do so.
Why do I tell you all of this? Because today, I find myself entering the land of 36. I must admit that last year, at age 35, I fully realized the slide to that benchmark age of 36 was on its way…and fast. In my mind, it would serve as the personal marker for when I should “have it all together” or at least have a real good idea of what “having it all together” would look like in the event I didn’t. I was well on my way. Heck, I had aced the big interview, got the gig, dumped the jerk, earned a college degree, found a new legal gig, landed a great husband, purchased my own home, given birth to my adorable son with the biggest, cutest, double dimples you’ve ever seen, and was making my way down career row at rapid pace and into the high priced seats of the paralegal stadium. I was well on my way to “having it all figured out.” So last year, I decided to fend off complacency; step a bit outside the comfort zone; to put myself out there a little more; blaze new trails; try new things; open myself up to new opportunities; network with new people; write like crazy; help others anywhere and everywhere I could…and see where I ended up at that revered, self-perceived, “get it together” age of 36. That day is today.
The interesting thing about life is we don’t always know where we’re headed. Often, the fun lies in the not knowing, the venturing out, taking on a new challenge or bold venture, staring upon the big question mark that beckons to each of us silently calling out, “Who will I be, what will I do, and in that, who will I become?” Sure, we may know where our given areas of passion, personal interests and intentions lie…or at least some general idea of what we “think” we’d like to be doing in 5-15 years, but in life, the many scenic detours we take often leave us standing somewhere entirely different than intended or imagined. That’s the beauty of life. You can believe you know exactly where you’re headed and firmly plant one foot in front of the other to begin the journey there, but you unexpectedly encounter a new person or opportunity that shakes you awake, alters your mindset, helps to put you on a new track or otherwise encourages you to venture out just beyond your current self, into unchartered territory to try something new, and tap into a part of yourself that may otherwise have forever bubbled just below the surface, dormant and undiscovered. You find that you actually prefer the scenic detour over the plan.
In the end, who knows where you or I will be in another 15 years? I’d certainly like to think that somehow, some way, we will each find our way to that exact place we are each intended to be. Perhaps what we envision for one another would compel the other of us to laugh aloud, much like the thought of the Julie & Julia blogging concept sounded super cool, but so far outside the realm of reality that it would have compelled me into a fit of hysterical and disbelieving laughter…and I now sit here typing this blog post. Remember, half of the fun is in the not knowing; in the wondering how it will all turn out.
May the “you in 15 more years” look back and reflect fondly upon the “you of today,” and on the many turns, unexpected twists, scenic detours, key individuals who peppered the skyline with opportunity; helped to shift your mindset, encouraged you to venture boldly, live loudly, and arrive at the newer and better version of yourself in 15 years…whomever you may be. May the big question mark lead you to exactly that place where you are truly intended to be.
The you of 15 years is beckoning from the periphery asking, “Who will I be, what will I do, and in that, who will I become?” It is your duty to find out. I wish you ambition, grace, and a whole lot of fun on the journey, scenic detour or otherwise.
The journey begins today. Take the detour; walk the path; choose the best fork in the road; wave goodbye; enjoy the scenery; seize every opportunity; meet all of the key individuals who will embellish your life; embrace the passing days that will fill your time; and create the person who will be staring back at you in that reflection in the mirror 15 years from now saying, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” (- Douglas Adams) And may you like the person who is staring back at you.
“Who will I be, what will I do, and in that, who will I become?”
The journey begins today. Live life loudly, and search for your next fork in the road…