Friday, February 27, 2015

How are things going?

“How are things going?”  It’s a standard question J asked, and I felt bad for the answer I was about to give.  J is a staff attorney at the legal aid office I interned for over the summer.  We had bonded over our frustration with the legal system – the endless problems with few solutions – and our can-do spirits and little patience for B.S.  We don’t know each other very well, but we live in the same neighborhood and care about similar things.  I was tired – it was 8 p.m. at night after a long day at school – and we had bumped into each other on the dark street. 
“Honestly, I’m exhausted.  I can’t figure out what I should do ‘when I grow up.’”  I know this isn’t the answer that folks expect.  They expect me to talk about my family life, not my stalled professional life.  My wife and I are new parents with a seven- and eight-year-old at home, who came to us via the foster care system.  While I’m first to admit that parenting is exhausting, it’s not what causes me anxiety.  What keeps me up at night is my lack of professional direction, not the awesome, rambunctious kiddos we have at home.  I find solace in their beautiful spirits, their amazing emotional and academic progress, and their resilience. 
I came to law school to become a community college professor.  I want to help students build critical thinking skills and feel empowered to create the change they want to see in the world.  Most people don’t seek out this position – community college professors often accidentally fall into the profession – and people are surprised by my dream job.
I enrolled at U.C. Hastings because of the great loan payback program it offered to students who worked in the non-profit or government position.  I didn’t think to check the red tape, assuming a government teaching position that required a J.D. would qualify for loan repayment assistance.  In my third semester at Hastings I discovered my mistake and have fretted about my career ever since.  My schedule is filled with a wide variety of classes in hopes that some area of law intrigues me.  Yet, every semester I feel the same lackluster feeling about law school and my future.   
I tell J all about these fears and frustrations that warm February evening, and eventually I admit my biggest frustration with law.  “I’m not serious enough to practice law,” I admit.  “It’s not that I can’t handle the work – you know I can – but I just don’t want to be responsible for someone’s problems like that.  I want to have fun at my job.” 
“We have fun at our job!  You can’t take it too seriously, otherwise you’d be too overwhelmed and exhausted constantly.”
“I know, but it’s different, you know?  Laughing and a good office environment isn’t the same as the heavy responsibility of having someone’s problems in your hands.  Plus, I don’t want to be a cog in an ever-failing system.  I want to help fix problems and create leaders!”   
The truth is, I don’t want to be anyone’s savior.  I don’t want that pressure on my back.  I want to be a guide, someone helping to build another person up.  I never liked doing things for other people.  I want to be a co-creator – to help people understand the world they live in, help make the world a better place to be, and help people achieve a happy and stable life. 
“There’s lots of ways to change the world,” J reminds me.  “You’re doing it right now with your foster daughters.  You’re changing their world.” 
“Yeah, I know, and that’s why I chose foster-to-adopt instead of having a bio kid or adopting a baby. Actually, that’s a lie. I don’t like dirty diapers, that’s why I didn’t adopt a baby. But one of the factors we considered in adoption was the idea of adopting kiddos we thought were awesome, and the ones who needed us the most because they weren’t “young enough” for most families. Which is awesome, and we got great kids, but I still need to get paid at some point in my life.”
“Yeah, but you have time.  You don’t need to have it all planned out.” 

It’s so hard for me to hear that message.  I have always had my life planned out.  But it’s true – right now my life is awesome.  I don’t need a plan to ensure future awesomeness.  I need to enjoy my life as it is right now.  The present is a gift that I should enjoy now.  Worrying about the future – that will come regardless of my planning – just takes away from the gifts of the present.  And yet I fret, because I am only human. But it’s something I’m working on. Our whole house is one big working-on, trying-your-best household, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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