If You're on the Wrong Path, Find Another One

When considering my 16 year old self, I see a naïve, but ambitious, girl who wants to make her parents proud. At 18, she knows she is good at Law - her exam results say so - and she can't think of anything she would rather do at university. So, that's the path she chooses.

At 16 years old I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. That was a decade ago. Did I become a lawyer? Yes. Am I still a lawyer? No.

We are expected to make choices at such a young age. Choices that pave the way for the future we think we want. Choices that define who we become one day. Choices that could turn out to be completely and utterly wrong. But how are we to know?

When considering my 16 year old self, I see a naïve, but ambitious, girl who wants to make her parents proud. At 18, she knows she is good at Law - her exam results say so - and she can't think of anything she would rather do at university. So, that's the path she chooses.

They say university is the best three years of your life. That's a lie, as far as I'm concerned. My first year was a downward spiral of 9am lectures, morning naps, lunchtime viewings of Neighbours, and late nights. I did my best (and only) work at 2am. But they told me the first year didn't count. Another lie.

Second year wasn't much better. When the time for exams came, it all went to pot. My beloved grandfather had been diagnosed with cancer, I'd been diagnosed with alopecia areata (my hair was falling out in a large patch due to stress), and my exam timetable literally could not have been worse.

That year resulted in a 3rd. Disaster. That was never going to get me a training contract. I needed at least a 2:1. At that point, it seemed unattainable. Failure was new to me and I didn't like it one bit. So third year was about digging deep. Finding my grit.

As years go, it sucked. But on results day I remember seeing 2:1 on the screen and feeling undeniable elation. With that in my back pocket, I might actually have a chance of becoming a lawyer.

The path had thrown me a few sharp corners, but I was still on it.

Law school followed and I managed to bag an elusive training contract. Two years of showing your dedication to a firm in return for a nice remunerative job afterwards. Or not, as it turned out. 'We don't have any vacancies,' they said. I was devastated. What now? The legal profession is renowned for being competitive. But, fortunately, I managed to find a job elsewhere as a newly qualified solicitor. Life was sorted. Right?

Wrong. Cue enormous anti-climax. I'd scored the goal I'd been running towards and focusing on for so long, but had no idea what to do with myself afterwards.

As the months passed, I realised I had zero passion for practicing law. I'd talked my way into a job it turned out I didn't want. It wasn't just that it didn't satisfy me; it was the significant lack of confidence I had in my own abilities. That was terrifying.

The path was becoming dark, narrow, and thick with confusion. Everyone else had faith in me, but I didn't have faith in myself. I had everything I thought I wanted, but was miserable.

Something had to change. Unprepared to settle for a life that didn't bring me the happiness I craved, I went searching for another path and did something that was brave and crazy in equal measure. Quit my job.

That new path was a job in legal recruitment. A natural transition. Lots of lawyers do it. But my misery levels only increased. After four months I was dreading going to work. It was a phone-based sales job and I strongly dislike: 1) talking on the phone and 2) trying to sell things. My overwhelming desire to send elegantly constructed emails was getting me in trouble. So I quit that job, too, with nothing to go to.

Then I didn't have a path at all. Unable to face telling my parents on the phone, I sent them an email. How apt.

One positive outcome from this misdirection was the discovery of something that had been there all along. My love for writing. To write for a living had not crossed my mind before. But in reality that's what I did as a lawyer most of the time, in a dry and terribly dull way. What if I could write in a more creative way? Light bulb moment.

Two weeks later, I landed a position in an advertising agency as a copywriter and account manager. A position I'm still in eight months on. It's a world away from the path I first started walking down, but my goodness does it feel right. Work doesn't feel like such a chore any more, Sunday night blues are pretty much a thing of the past, and office attire is jeans. Jeans! Sure, I took a huge pay cut, but my renewed contentedness more than makes up for that.

The moral of my story? The choices we made years ago don't have to be the choices we resign ourselves to forever. My decisions as a 16 year old are not the decisions I would make now. I'm older and (a little) wiser. I know better. My current path is clear and straight. Strolling down it makes me happier. Life on this path feels bright and full of promise. And I wouldn't have found it had I not gone looking.

Just because you set off in one direction in life doesn't mean you can't change it. Turn off. Turn back. Find another path. A better one. Don't keep walking if you aren't heading somewhere you want to go.

Read more of Suzanne's work here.

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