When I was sitting where you are, a rising 2L preparing for OCI and fall recruiting season, I got diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I was working as a law clerk for a state supreme court judge and the 22 year old hypochondriac that I was, I had already developed a habit of going in for routine physicals. This time, my physical was not so routine; the physician’s assistant felt a bump on my thyroid gland.
When you’re worried about something like a bump, the medical system moves relentlessly like molasses. While waiting for the biopsy, my worry was endless. I feared the worst. I googled “thyroid cancer” and found horror stories about the worst kinds of thyroid cancer. I convinced myself that I for sure had the most aggressive type of thyroid cancer that it is possible to have (and which pretty much only people over the age of 80 get). If it took Justice Rehnquist, it could take me too, right? I was totally going to die before finishing my 2L year.
I got the call that I had cancer the day after my biopsy (when the results are positive, they move FAST) while I was writing a legal memo for the judge in my cubicle. It was a really wimpy cancer. I literally had the 2nd best cancer, the kind that if you told a doctor she had to have cancer but she could pick the type of cancer, she would pick what I had. Two weeks before OCI, I had the gland that regulates human metabolism taken out of my body, requiring me to be on thyroid medication for life.
I don’t tell this story for sympathy. I am 100% fine today. Every check up I have ever had has been 100% negative, which a decade out from the whole ordeal, pretty much guarantees that I will never have thyroid cancer again.
I tell this story to tell you the ridiculous fact that despite having cancer and a major surgery, OCI was more stressful for me than cancer and surgery. And it was 100% self-imposed.
During the ramp up to OCI, I lost sight of myself and why I went to law school. My peers were so excited about firms and that was all anyone around me was talking about. They asked me if I had started bidding, what my strategy was, and which firms I was excited about. I didn’t really know anything about firms. I had not gone to law school to work for a big firm. Too bad. With all the excitement surrounding me and the student buzz about OCI, I got sucked in.
Quickly, OCI became my obsession. I eschewed what I really wanted to do (prosecution or at least a job where I would get to argue in court) for big firm work. When interviews started up, it was all anyone could talk about. I wore turtle necks to all of my interviews to cover the shiny new scar in the middle of my neck. Fellow students went around talking about how they well their interviews had gone. Callback invitations were loudly proclaimed. It was intense.
I worried endlessly throughout the entire process. I was young. I got several callbacks and did poorly in all of them. I had never been inside such a professional, polished office environment before. I was totally overwhelmed by the grandeur that is a big law lobby, the nice suits, and the fancy diplomas on the wall. When asked why I wanted to work for a firm, my answers were woefully awful because the truth was I didn’t want to work for a firm at all but felt so pressured by my law school environment to pursue it.
I was filled with doom and gloom and despair until I got an offer very late in the process from a smaller big law firm I applied to outside of my law school’s OCI process. (I went 0 for 9 or 10 in official OCI callbacks.)
Up until I got an offer, I had been going to talk to various career counselors in my school’s career office to talk things out, cry, whatever, and had felt humiliated every time I walked in there. You had to walk up stairs in the library to get to the career office in my school and I always imagined that people stared at me as I made that walk, judging me for not having a job, and thinking that I was inadequate. I learned later that all of this was insane No one judged. No one cared. No one noticed. People were too busy thinking about their own job searches and lives to care what I was doing and there was nothing embarrassing about seeking help.
With all of that worry and stress I had put myself through, when I finally started at the firm my 2L summer, I realized it was not for me. I knew almost immediately that the firm pace of life was not for me and started pursuing other career paths right away.
I had put myself through endless stress and despair for nothing.
When I reflected on it, I realized that I just got caught up in the OCI whirlwind and what my peers thought of me. I had completely lost sight of what I wanted, why I went to law school, and what my own vision for my life was. When I started loudly proclaiming that I was seeking a public interest career and that firm life wasn’t for me, no one cared or looked at me differently. I saw very clearly after that how the OCI stress cloud I had lived in was created by my imagination.
I don’t say this because I think going to a firm is bad. A job at a firm is like any other job. If it is the right fit for you, then that is great and you should pursue it wholeheartedly. I have many close friends who are very happy in their firm jobs and have built wonderful careers. But if a firm is not the right fit for you, that is OK too. Do your own thing.
I tell this story to remind you to stay true to yourself. Be completely selfish in your job search. Re-read your admissions essay. Talk to friends who are not in law school and ask them to remind you why you told them you were going to law school in the first place.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter what your friends, fellow students, professors, or anyone else thinks of your career path or choices. You are the one who has to go to work everyday. You will spend a lot of time at work. So make sure you like doing it and find it personally fulfilling.
If you’re feeling stressed by OCI or questioning what you really want out of your career, the CDO is here to talk things through with you. I promise you’re not the only one.