Akin to many college students, I found myself at a crossroads during my senior year of college. I was barely old enough for adult privileges, but society expected that I would know what profession to pursue for the rest of my life. And if I were conventional and normal, I would devote most of my waking hours to that profession for several decades.
I sincerely and wholeheartedly attempted to comply with these expectations after college and law school. As a lawyer, I wanted to find my lifelong career in my early 20s. Some might say I failed.
Now, in my early 30s, I am unconventionally leaving my legal career to pursue a new one. I know I could be happier living a different life in a different career.
First, I want to stress to you, reader, that I love the law, and I believe that being a lawyer is one of the most honorable and rewarding careers. I hope that sharing my story about my own difficult decision to leave the law may encourage others to seriously consider following their dreams and passions instead of accepting a career that might not suit them perfectly, whether that means pursuing another law job or changing careers completely.
For most of my life, I had my mind set on a health care career. I found a passion and aptitude for science as a child. I wanted to help people, using science to do so. Particularly, I aspired to be a physician, because my beloved grandparents were successful physicians. Throughout my life, I also had an unusual fascination with teeth and oral health as it relates to one’s overall well-being and self-confidence and secretly desired to be a dentist.
As I grew older, I maintained these interests. I also developed an abiding respect and passion for the American legal system, as my family left their homestead in the former USSR during the 1970s in pursuit of a place where the rule of law allows equal opportunity for all. My family so understood the value of our legal system that they endured a difficult immigration and acclimation process to start from “scratch,” all for the remote opportunity “to be American.” This compelled me to consider studying the law, as it was the source of every opportunity I ever enjoyed. And I wanted to pay it forward by helping others navigate our complex, yet fundamentally remarkable legal system.
During college, I further realized I loved chemistry, so I majored in it. I enjoyed the logic behind chemical mechanisms; the transformation of theory to reality during lab; and using my knowledge of chemistry, coupled with working in a lab with my hands, to make a tangible product. Later, I also chose to major in religion, because studying religion means studying humanity and the ultimate origins of the legal system.
Although I enjoyed learning about these diverse subjects, I found that I entered a paradox of feeling intellectually fulfilled by my interests, yet frustrated about not pinpointing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life because of these varied interests.
In the beginning of my final year at my upstate New York college, the 9/11 tragedies took place. The aftermath of legal and political dialogue, coupled with my desire to find personal stability in a particularly unpredictable time, ultimately prompted me to make the “final” decision to go into law.
Attending law school confirmed my interest in being a lawyer. I thoroughly enjoyed my classes and appreciated the far-reaching impact of our legal system. When I started practicing, despite my enthusiastic commitment to the profession, a visceral, gut feeling questioning whether I was pursuing the right career always lingered. I also still yearned for “hands on” science, and helping people through that means, and I knew no aspect of law could ever completely replace or substitute for being a scientist.
I tried ignoring these feelings. I made myself believe that being a lawyer brought enough contentment to suppress my continued appetite to live and work in a science-based atmosphere.
I optimistically believed that a few changes in my legal career might alleviate these feelings: I exited my private sector job for the public sector—first as an Assistant Attorney General for Colorado and later as legal counsel at a federal agency, both in energy practices, which I believed could be a great way to commingle science and law.
Unfortunately, I soon found that no legal job, whether it is energy, health, or even patent law, could substitute for directly using science to help people.
After further introspection, I finally confirmed that dentistry was the perfect confluence of my interests—science and using my hands to make a concrete outcome (as in chemistry labs). In addition, just like law, dentistry was a means to help people and make a positive, lasting impact on their lives.
In my heart of hearts, I knew that to be fulfilled and happy, I needed to pursue the career that I felt I was meant to do.
When I experienced this epiphany, I called the Admissions Office for University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine and scheduled an appointment with the Dean of Admissions. I needed an unbiased perspective to see if going to dental school would prove to be a feasible endeavor. The following week, my heart fluttered while I drove to the Anschutz Medical Campus for my meeting. That day would be a pivotal one and would change the entire course of my life.
By Becky Bye, currently a first year student at the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine and a licensed attorney. She is a member of the William E. Doyle Inn of Court, a regular contributor to The Docket and former Chair of The Docket Committee, as well as former Chair of the Colorado Bar Association, Young Lawyers Division. She received her law degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and her undergraduate degree at Colgate University (no pun intended). You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.