Anything but an Attorney

“Anything but an attorney,” my mother said, collapsing on the couch. Most bright-eyed young parents parrot child-rearing experts and tell their children they can be anything they’d like. But my mother was no longer bright-eyed after her escape from an abusive marriage and lawyer-filled divorce into life as a broke single mother. When her lawyer sided with my father during a hearing, my own fate was sealed. “A brain surgeon! A professional grilled cheese sandwich-maker! A nun!” she said, wearily closing her eyes. Quickly snapping them open, she said, “I’ll help you as long as you don’t become one of those bottom feeders.” I can remember feeling uneasy during her proclamation of disgust, but I knew Mom only wanted the best for me. I liked science, loved a good grilled American and knew my prayers like the Pledge of Allegiance, so I began the road toward fulfilling my mother’s wishes.

In seventh grade, my teacher chose me to be an attorney in our mock trial, since he maintained I “had an opinion about everything.” Uprooted to hippy, homogenous Washington State from the melting pot of South Florida, I was usually alone in my conservative views. To challenge me, I was to be the prosecuting attorney against car manufacturers, requesting the banning of automobiles. Upon assignment, Mr. [redacted]  looked toward me expecting protest, but I was already scribbling notes. After the first use of actual roadkill in his yearly exercise, we successfully banned these harbingers of ozone decay. My mother’s reaction to the news, having seen my impassioned questioning of our bathroom mirror, was more of alarm than congratulation. But since I also excelled in our frog dissection, she brushed it off.

Upon completion of the final requirement of my International Baccalaureate diploma in high school, the extended essay, my biology teacher was impressed. She loved my analysis of the genetic profile of individuals with Williams Syndrome, but she pointed more to the social impact section where I had ardently extolled the virtues of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the benefits for my brother with the same syndrome. After coming home and excitedly telling my mom that my teacher had opined about the need for legal advocates, she spat that the best way for me to help was to be a doctor. She walked out of the kitchen, I made a grilled Gouda and that was the end of the conversation.

After four years at [redacted] University, I felt like I was at the culmination of a bad coming-of-age made-for-tv movie. Avoiding the fact that I was unhappy in my academic pursuits, I gained weight and occupied my free time with activities that fulfilled my want of writing, public speaking, and advocacy work. I campaigned for World Alzheimer’s Day as president of [redacted]’s student neurology group. I assisted pregnant teens at a local women’s shelter. After coming home one day from the shelter, I learned I had been accepted into medical school. Coupled with discovering my latent love of public policy in a cross-listed biology class, my acceptance was the push I needed to have the most difficult conversation I have ever had.

I was met first with silence.  Sitting on the steps of my apartment building, I fought back tears while a warm breeze blew in. “I don’t even know what to say,” Mom said, confused. Consternation and anger quickly followed. “How could you waste all the money we’ve spent putting you through school!?” I tried to explain that this career path was merely a different extension of my classwork, that I wanted to continue with a health focus in public policy. “I am so disappointed in you…” she whispered. That stung the most. I felt like Darth Vader, breathing heavily while trying to explain to my mother’s ghost my compulsion to join the Dark Side. At my graduation, we stuck to familiar topics: family favorites like the humidity and the abhorrent liberalization of the Catholic Church. Both subjects came in a far second to the disappointment that was still very obviously present for me.

Within a month of graduation, I was able to find a job at a DC law firm that specializes in disability policy and advocacy. “LOBBYISTS?!” she bellowed, “All attorneys are prostitutes…but lobbyists are the ones who work in Denny’s parking lots!” I assured her I would be serving no one pancakes of any kind in my new position as a paralegal. For all her bluster, she weathered thirteen hours with me in a U-HAUL to get to my new home. She stocked my apartment with my favorite vegetarian faux-meats. When she offered to loan me money to buy an LSAT preparatory book, I knew that things would one day be good between us again.

Continuing the theme of the made-for-TV movie, I learned a lot about myself when I was alone in DC. I still wake up every day and thank all that is holy that I am not in medical school. Not only have I confirmed that fact, but the success I have enjoyed in my job is a positive reminder. Despite my seemingly minor title as paralegal, my superiors trust my judgment and analysis. I have represented them at client meetings, helped organize and prioritize materials for my attorneys and am an integral part of the legislative group in my firm. In addition to abandoning the career path of the brain surgeon, I also have ceased my grilled cheese pursuits. I have, literally, run off about 80 pounds of grilled cheese and unhappiness. I’m now training for a marathon, but I’m no longer running from my future, I’m running toward it.


This candidate received multiple offers of admission; she chose to attend a small private school that also offered full funding in the form of a scholarship.

{Need more help? Check out our ebook Hacking Your Statement of Purpose for a concise guide to writing and revising your Statement of Purpose.}