Exactly a half-life ago when I turned 24, I spent my first — and until now– my only birthday away from home. Though I’d spent four years away in college, then three in law school, because an end-of-May-birthday falls between the end of school and start of a summer job or internship or travel, it wasn’t until 1988, when I graduated from law school and stayed in Ithaca to study for the bar that I experienced a birthday away from home. By the following year when I turned 25, I’d be living on my own in D.C., celebrating in the tiny rented tenement that I now called home.
Back on my 24th birthday, I couldn’t stop smiling at a whole life laid before me, an adventure just beginning. After the end of the bar, I’d depart for a three week trip to Europe with two friends (funded with the money I’d earned writing resumes and cover letters for classmates on my Mac ) followed by a move to Washington D.C. to serve as an attorney-advisor at FERC. But other than those fixed coordinates, I had only vague ideas of what would follow – a transition to private practice, marriage and children, law firm partnership (or maybe my own firm) and a career on autopilot.
What did I know? That’s the model I grew up with. My dad spent 35 years at the same company,my law school ethics professor waxed on about his geriatric colleagues still plugging away as senior counsel emeritus at the illustrious law firm of Shea & Gould, my close friends had already hopped aboard the partnership track during their second-year summers. It wasn’t necessarily a life that I wanted for sure but I enjoyed the law, embraced the writing opportunities it afforded even back then and figured that I could figure the rest out later.
Of course, life never flows as we expect. Within five years, I was unceremoniously booted from the partnership track, never to return. So I started my law firm, thinking it would serve as a placeholder until I got pregnant (which didn’t happen on schedule either) and not only built a law firm out of nothing, but built a new future for myself that I’d never anticipated working in practice areas and using technology tools that I never imagined.
Still, I sort of thought that at some point, I’d go on auto pilot. That realism would replace my naive optimism, that I’d become jaded and sophisticated and wise; full of insight to share about life’s lessons learned. The truth is, I’m still learning. I should have some of the gravitas that comes with age and practicing law, I should be a curmudgeon already! But that’s just not me. In many way, I still feel and act like the 24 year old girl who I was half a lifetime ago, clueless as to what might happen next but exhilarated and irrationally optimistic about the possibilities just around the corner.