Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Calling in Life

In a recent comment, CJ asked me why I want to be a professor. Here's my (rather lengthy) response.

As a teenager, I envied people who knew what their calling in life was. I didn't know mine. My father is an engineer, my grandfather is an engineering professor, and I showed early aptitude in math and science. Naturally, everyone assumed that I would become an engineer as well. My parents never pressured me in that direction, but my extended family and teachers at school did. There was just one problem with this: I hate math!

I joined the debate team in high school and I loved it. I also joined the mock trial team and I loved that, too. I decided to major in political science and then go to law school. I figured I would be a litigator. I thought it would be fun, but I still didn't feel any sense of a calling.

When I was a senior in high school, the Army was trying to convince my boyfriend to enlist. Being the supportive girlfriend that I was, I attended the recruiting lectures with him just to listen. He was totally uninterested, but I was intrigued by the sense of higher purpose and camaraderie. However, I knew my parents would be extremely upset if I didn't go to college. The next week (completely unrelated), the Air Force Academy sent me some materials and invited me to apply. I seriously considered it, but I ultimately decided that I didn't want to leave home just yet. I got accepted to a local well-respected university, and I enrolled. I joined the ROTC and planned on becoming a JAG officer.

I liked the sense of purpose, and I began to convince myself that this was my calling. I had difficulty with the authoritarian environment. The lack of questioning really bugged me. Around this time, I took a philosophy class and fell in love with the subject. I changed my minor from music to philosophy. I also became a teaching assistant in astronomy. I found that I enjoyed teaching and I was pretty good at it.

Then 9/11 happened. The colonel in command of the ROTC unit asked us all to enlist. I didn't do it because I knew by this point in time that I loved college and did not want to drop out. I should have felt guilty about this, but I didn't. (People tried to convince me I was being selfish and immature. I was 19; I'm supposed to be selfish and immature at that age!) I stayed in ROTC for the rest of the school year, (making a total of 2 years) but then I left because I would have had to make a 4 year commitment at that point if I hadn't left.

I was walking out of a philosophy class one day. As I was headed to my next class, out of nowhere the thought occurred to me that I should consider becoming a professor. I dismissed the idea because I didn't think I was smart enough to get a PhD. (My IQ is high enough that if I wanted to, I could join Mensa, but in my late teens and early 20's, I suffered from extremely low self-esteem.) I started taking some classes on law and philosophy and law and political science. I really loved those classes, especially the Constitutional law classes. A few other times, the thought occurred to me to teach law classes, but I once again dismissed the idea.

I was approaching graduation and I decided to start applying to law school, even though I didn't feel any sense of calling. I started thinking that maybe I would like to become a judge. As I prepared my applications, I got a strong feeling that the time wasn't right. I decided to go on a mission instead. After my mission, I went to law school.

In the middle of my third semester, when the writing was on the wall that the school was getting ready to purge my class, I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was sitting in the foyer one day, and I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. I was starting to believe the people who were telling me that I wasn't cut out for law school, and I was trying to figure out what to do. The voice of the Spirit came to me clearly telling me that I should be a professor.

I was grateful for the divine vote of confidence, but I still wanted to be a civil rights litigator. I filed all of this away, figuring I didn't have to do anything about it just yet. Then I got kicked out of law school and I became depressed. I enrolled in some classes at a local community college to shore up my science education so I could take the patent bar. I hated the science classes. I enrolled in divinity school and planned on becoming a hospital chaplain. That lasted a month. Then I figured I would become a bioethicist. I took some bioethics classes as an undergrad, and I loved them. I looked into some graduate programs in the subject, but I wasn't able to muster the enthusiasm to apply.

The ABA has a rule that if you get kicked out of law school, you have to wait 2 years before applying to another one. I got a job with a temp agency and began working, since my student loans were coming due. About a year later, I got sent to a law firm to cover for one of the mailroom staff who was out on maternity leave. I spent the spring working 12 hour days around a bunch of chronically stressed lawyers. It was miserable and it cured me of my desire to work in a large firm.

One day, a lawyer in my ward asked me if I would be interested in interviewing for an open legal assistant position at his small firm. I said yes, and I interviewed. I could tell from the interview that it was not the job for me. That weekend, everything fell into place for me to go to paralegal school. I graduated in 6 months because my law school credits transferred in. My professor wrote me a great letter of recommendation and I got accepted to two law schools.

In the fall of 2008, I started law school again, older and wiser. By this time, I realized that I really do want to be a professor. I read law review articles for fun. I really enjoy discussing theoretical concepts with anyone willing to listen. I don't have the typical law professor background (elite law school, straight A's, prestigious clerkship, etc.), but that will make me better able to relate to my students. After all, 90% of people aren't in the top 10% of the class!

What's more, I'm actually passionate about legal scholarship. For the first time, I understand what people mean when they talk about their calling in life. I truly feel that academia is my calling.

I was thinking about Jonah recently. When I was sitting in the foyer at school, I received a calling. I rebelled; I didn't want to teach, I wanted to practice law! Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh. Those two years I spent wandering between my two law school experiences were kind of like being stuck in the belly of the whale. It was a dark and unpleasant time of my life, but I grew from it, and I'm willing (and excited) to answer the call now.

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