Current law students will attest to the fact that many are disillusioned with the cost of education. In fact, most leave law school with a healthy six-figure debt load and get jobs paying less than $65,000 a year to start. Thus, the financial cost-benefit analysis of pursing a JD is not immediately favorable.
I’ve overheard many conversations on this topic in the halls, and engaged in a few myself. Yesterday, however, I read an interchange on Facebook that inspired me to change this week’s blog post. The conversation was induced by a spoof video created by University of Calgary 3L Jon Ng (below). The related conversation was essentially an argument about whether education is worth the debt, which degree is best, whether entrepreneurship is a better option, and who is most likely to succeed.
These are important questions. Education is extremely expensive and our choices implicate opportunity costs. Of course, each person weighing in on the subject was advocating for a rational position, and any one of the options is easily supportable. This is problematic, however, because it renders the conversation extremely unhelpful for anyone searching for a more fulfilling work life!
In my opinion, the participants were missing a few very important points. If you’re frustrated in your current career, considering further education, or just irked by a more ephemeral dissatisfaction, there are at least three important realities to keep in mind before you take any action:
1) You have to take the good with the bad – I had the benefit of coming to law school after four full years in the real world. Most law students come straight from college. Aside from internships, these students have no idea what it is like to work 40 or 50 hours a week, year after year, without the comforting semester-to-semester, summer-to-summer routine. Imagine the shock when their law firm requires 60 or 80-hour weeks. Suddenly, it’s easy to see why frustration ensues and many lawyers become dissatisfied with their choice of career. However, no matter what occupation you’ve chosen to pursue, you are going to have frustrations! Maybe the grass really is greener on the other side! But, as Career Adviser Jeff Farmer says, “Sometimes the grass is greener because the septic tank beneath it is leaking!”
2) You have to keep searching – It seems a lucky few know exactly what they want to do with their lives from the time they are fetuses. For the rest of us, however, landing on both feet is distinctively trickier. We can find ourselves stuck in dead-end jobs or bored with uninspiring work, and the opportunity to truly experience the resonance of applying our talents to an area of legitimate interest always seems to elude us. Don’t give up! Resist the temptation to conclude that you’re meant to live life in a rut. Fight the urge to anesthetize yourself with shopping, designer coffee, professional football, or Xbox Live! Accept that success is generally a convoluted course instead of a linear, meteoric rise. Keep searching, even when it feels disheartening!
I can’t say where your efforts will take you, but I can tell you about my own experience. I started an Internet business during college that grew to grossing six figures before I graduated. After several years and a few setbacks, I lost heart, throttled down, and shifted focus to my corporate job. This quickly became very monotonous so I used my vacations to do volunteer/missions work overseas. As you can imagine, my adventures broadened my perspective. In Bangladesh, I met a University of Chicago MBA who inspired me to pursue a graduate education. When I returned to the U.S., I brainstormed a list of 34 questions and interviewed 7 individuals who had gone to law school, business school, or both. Then, at 27 years old, with a mortgage and no prospective renter, I quit my job and moved from the greater Milwaukee area to Los Angeles. During my JD/MBA experience, I took the lessons I learned in my early twenties and started seeking out mentors. These men and women asked me challenging questions, which helped me further define my goals and dreams and focus my efforts accordingly. I have more questions now than I did four years ago, but I’m also much closer to answers. More significantly, I’m starting to experience that resonance I’ve always hoped for!
3) If you’re wise, you’ll cultivate the long-view – Do you remember the first time you were asked that ‘fateful’ question: ‘What do you want to ‘be’ when you grow up?’ I think I was in 3rd grade and, out of the world’s panoply, I was aware of about 5 career options. When I was in high school, the guidance counselor took an alternative approach. Searching for my interests, she suggested I gravitate toward the activities I thought about most often… which all involved girls! Again, this was unhelpful.
Maybe you’ve experienced something similar.
Here’s a better alternative: What do you want your life to MEAN? In other words, what impact or legacy do you want to leave? This is a much more comprehensive question than the one I have been facetiously addressing above, but the answers you find unquestionably inform any occupational malaise you’re dealing with. My mentors have challenged me in this area, and it has taken all of my 20s to come to a place to even start asking this question seriously. Doing so is uncomfortable, because it exposes the significant disparity between where you are and where you hope to end up. But – here’s the most important part – if you make the investment of time and effort, and seek out the help required to develop the answers, you will find your North Star!
You will find the unique burden God has knit into your heart, and the essence that moves you. Everyone has such a burden, and anyone can unearth it! However, doing so requires you to intentionally keep yourself in the uncomfortable tension of your dissatisfaction while you explore its intricacies. What’s more, you have to find others – mentors – to aid your pursuit and support your efforts. Notably, this requires you invite them into your discomfort, which involves your insecurities and failures, as well. Finally, you’ll probably have to take some financial risks. Whether you’re investing your savings to start a business or accepting student loans to finance an education, the financial aspect is a reality you have to embrace.
It’s difficult – but it’s worth it… This is your life we’re talking about!
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” – Henry David Thoreau
So, is advanced education worth the money? Which degree is best? Is it better to start a business? And, where does ‘success’ fit into the picture?
In my opinion, if you haven’t considered the three factors addressed above, asking these other questions is pointless – but, if you have, then you can’t lose! Your well-considered search will move you steadily towards your purpose, and your investments of time and money in education, business, or both will pay off. Recognize that ‘success’ will undoubtedly require a lot more time and effort than you’d hoped! “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come” (Habakkuk 2:3b) – and you’ll find it to be much more strongly correlated to your effort, attitude, and intentionality than which path you chose.
Leave a Comment: How have you maintained perspective while trying to figure out how to ‘succeed?’ What other questions do you think people should ask themselves before making a career change?