Yes, I'm two days in to being a paralegal student and it's going pretty well. There was a slight bump on Monday morning, not long after the start of my fraud class, and I feel compelled to write about it. The professor of the class had us split into groups and introduce ourselves, answering specific questions about what we were studying and what we did for work and fun. I talked about being new to the school, that I was a paralegal student and that I liked traveling along with a few other various things. One guy in my group, an older man who was really friendly and easy to talk to was surprised that I had already graduated from college but was going back to school. I briefly mentioned my inability to find a job and that I'd had a career path change. We had a break in class and I asked the man, who wanted to open his own business, what sort of business he wanted to own. He in response asked me what kind of law I was interested in. I described how I was thinking about employment law, but also social justice and international law, and possibly some forms of business law. He continued to ask what I wanted to do with it and how I would make money. I was confused and explained that being a paralegal paid really well. He agreed and said that there was no question that I'd get a job but that I should think about myself. He explained that he could tell that I really wanted to help people but I needed to think about how I was going to put myself ahead and make money. Perhaps because one of the questions in the group work was what we could really do in work if we could do anything and I said theater, there seemed to be some doubt about my career goals. The man told me not to box myself in and keep an open mind, as well as that I would be a natural at helping businesses understand different cultures. "I've been wrong before, but..." he qualified. I was kind of lost for words.
He was very friendly and very nice, but he'd only just met me and was questioning me on the very first day of class in an entirely new world for me. I wanted to politely explain to him that I'd been keeping an open mind for the last ten years and if I didn't pick a career - or at least a career to start with - I'd never chose one. I didn't know how to say that law encompasses so many of the things that I'm interested in and that it can be a rare chance to actually help people and make a livable wage at the same time. I didn't know how to explain that the whole idea of "getting ahead" is so hard for me to fathom because "getting ahead" does not mean to me what it does for other people. I wasn't sure how to politely say that he didn't know me and didn't know my life and that I knew I was making a good decision for myself. So I didn't say much of anything and am saying it all here instead.
This sort of experience isn't knew for me. People like to try and gauge what people are like from first impressions - we all do it. But for some reason, people repeatedly try and gauge my career options and tell me what they think I should do. My very first adviser in college was convinced that I wanted to be an anthropology major and could not understand why my forms said I was interested in music (he ended up being sort of right in the long run, actually - anthropology and cultural studies have their similarities). A man at a bar told me that he could see me being a social worker, but then decided no, I was too cerebral for that. A woman once told me I should reconsider being a writer because there was far more money to be made in the sciences. I have been told by many people what they think I should be doing with my life. I don't know if I look like a blank slate to mold into whatever career it seems strikes people's fancy, or if I sound completely perplexed and unguided. Yes, I did just make a huge change in my life and it might be kind of odd for a college grad to go to a business school for another degree. But things happen. Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans, John Lennon said. I couldn't agree more.
It's not like I claim innocence to this sort of thing. I've certainly given people career advice before - solicited or not. But I don't think I've ever really doubted someone's goals like this. I doubt myself enough, I don't think I'd instill this in someone else. I know the man didn't mean to do that to me, but it baffles me. I don't assume to know what someone should be doing with their life, especially when one's age, race, gender, and/or experiences are far different from mine as this man's were. It isn't that I don't respect other's opinions but that these seem so forceful, so assured that I'm doing something wrong. So what about me makes it so necessary to give me such direction time and time again? This is a question I don't think I'll ever answer.