She introduced herself and patiently waited as I ordered hot tea and a bagel. Then we started the familiar dance of the mentor/mentee relationship: What college did you attend? What did you major in? Why did you go to law school? What’s your favorite class so far? What do you think you want to practice when you graduate?
The questions and answers rolled off my tongue casually. With ease.
I’ve done this before. Several times in fact.
And each time, I sit and I talk. I sip my hot tea. I try to provide what I can, though honestly, I’m never sure that I have much to provide.
She seems nice. Eager. Quick on her feet. I tell her that she’ll survive this. I feel truth in those words as they pour from my lips. But before we can make moves to throw away napkins and push in our chairs, the familiar question bubbles up from her mouth: “How do I get where you are?”
This time though, the question hits me differently than it has before. I want to scream “You don’t want to be where I am friend. My life is a mess. Everything is crazy.” But I of course, stop myself. This 1L did not sign up for my drama.
So instead, I smile and I tell a story.
An honest story.
The true story of me in 2013.
I was graduating soon. I was jobless and scared. I watched classmates accept job offers and I cried into my pillow — half from jealousy and half from despair. I prepped for a bar exam and prayed that something awaited me on the other side of it though I had no clue what that thing was or whether it would be what I wanted. And even though I didn’t know it at the time, I practicing a form of faith. I wouldn’t have called it that – I would have called it preparation. I prepped by studying ten hours a day, six days a week. I prepped by sending out cover letters and resumes and by asking for lunches with attorneys I’d met during my clerkships. I prepped by combing through online job listings and by casually dropping by career services just to say hi.
All of that prep — all of that faith — formed a path to good things. I got a job offer a week after I sat for the bar exam. That job served me well for nearly three years and I learned a lot from it. Met amazing people. When I left it for my current position back in 2016, I was once again unsure of the future but I now love my current job — nearly everything about it. What I do. The people I work with. The flexibility it gives me. Everything.
And as I poured forth this true story, I could see her taking stock of what I said but also what I meant by it all. What I meant was that there isn’t a “color by numbers” that will get her the career I have nine years from now. No — she has to form her own path. And her path won’t all be sunshine and rainbows. She’ll have peaks and valleys along the way. She’ll cry tears of angst and of joy. But that if she keeps laying the bricks, the path will emerge and it will lead her to the professional life that she is supposed to have — not mine; hers.
So we threw away napkins and pushed in chairs. We gave familiar handshakes and parted ways. And as always, I left not knowing if I imparted anything worth imparting on her at all. I’m just not sure. I never am. There is however, certainty in one thing. Because you see, as I recalled my true story aloud, I realized that my life is once again calling me to lay down bricks in faith.
Years later and scary things loom again. There is so much uncertainty on the other side of it all. Once again I see life unfolding for others and I’m left crying in my pillow at night — half from jealousy and half from despair. Once again I’m researching and prepping and desperately throwing down bricks and crossing my fingers that somehow, someway, they will converge into a distinguishable a path on the other side. A path towards good things. But just like before — I can’t possibly orchestrate it all. It has to unfold. In its own time. In its own way. All I can do is what I can do. That’s it. No more. No less. And just like the student I met today, my path won’t look like yours. And that’s okay. It’s mine.
So instead of falling apart in the cafe parking lot, I breathe deep.
I drive back across town in peace.
I arrive at my office. I tackle my inbox.
And I lay another brick.