Toward the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, I was in a panic. Not because of finals, not because of saying goodbye to friends for three months, but because I was trying to find work. I really wanted to aim high for the summer and find a job I would enjoy and make decent money. One day, I got the idea of messaging a guy I met a few years ago on Facebook. I wrote an article about his son and published it in the Houston Chronicle. After he read the article, he asked me to dinner. During our correspondence, I discovered that he was an attorney.
I messaged him with a simple request: did he know any other attorneys in the area who were offering jobs? I was (and still am) flirting with the idea of going to law school, and I figured that an internship at a law firm would help me decide whether it was a good idea. He got back to me and asked for my resume and transcript, then told me to call him later in the week. During the call, he asked me questions like, “Why do you want to work at a law firm?” and “What are your aspirations after college?” After answering these questions, a brief moment of silence ensued, followed by a simple, “Work starts at 8:30 AM, dress is business casual.” I was so elated and surprised that I had unknowingly taken and passed a job interview that I stuttered out my thanks.
Even though I was excited, I was a little embarrassed to send over my transcript. I had not taken any classes in law and knew next to nothing about the specifics of the legal system. But, since I had already landed the job, I knew it wouldn’t hurt my chances of getting hired. Later, my boss would tell me those types of courses don’t matter so much in undergrad.
When I started working, my expectations were blown away. I was working as a paralegal (a job that I was woefully unprepared for and required a lot of learning and improvisation to keep up) and had to use skills that I never thought I would be using in a law office. My boss was very trusting of me, but he never gave me a task that I was completely incapable of handling. He was tough, but fair (I should add that he was a Marine helicopter pilot who did three tours in Vietnam). He recognized my strengths and never failed to chastise me if I underperformed. However, my boss was understanding when I made mistakes, even though he always made sure I got yelled at whenever it was appropriate.
My boss chose to take a learn-as-you-go approach with a few tips of advice here and there. Personally, I would say that I learned more in three months at a law firm than I did in two years at Trinity. I am absolutely pessimistic about learning a lot of life skills in university. Granted, there are some departments that provide skills that are absolutely valuable in almost every job out there. The Foreign Languages and Computer Science departments come to mind. Throughout the course of my internship, I learned that courses in art, anthropology, economics, and psychology would be very helpful in law. That advice only gave me a small boost of optimism in my education, but I trust my boss a lot more than I do our education system.
Trinity has never taught me the skills needed to succeed in a fast-paced, high-level work environment. Aside from the level of computer knowledge needed in a paralegal capacity (most of law is actually not spent in a courtroom, but in front of a computer working with data), most of the skills I developed and needed to use were skills that can never be cultivated in a place like Trinity. A school that doesn’t trust its own students to take care of their needs is not the best place to learn accountability for mistakes and learning when to voice complaints (in my dad’s words, “This place is like a resort!”). Habits developed here can be disastrous in a real job. Skipping a class has far fewer consequences than skipping out on work. Small mistakes here are not the same as small mistakes in a job. Arguing with a professor is way different than arguing with a boss. You get the point.
I imagine that’s the reason why college students are constantly urged to find work while in school. To that end, I’m grateful to my boss and my coworkers for being patient with me and willing to take the time to teach me what I needed to know while working. I was misty-eyed on my last day of work: I really found a sense of purpose in what I was doing and my coworkers set a high bar in terms of what I expect out of any future coworkers. I really enjoyed working at the law office. I will never forget the cases I worked on, the clients I met, the trips I went on, and the evidence I sifted through. Those moments where I felt like I was doing more than being productive and earning my pay, but doing something meaningful: bringing justice where it’s due. The best days were those where I left work in a good mood, something I never thought possible. But I imagine that’s what a dream job is like: productive, meaningful, and worthwhile.
The week I was due to leave, I was helping my boss carry items out to his car in the garage. He wasn’t much of a small-talk guy, but he knew how to make use of whatever alone time he had with me.
“So, are you excited to go back to school?” He asked in his usual flat, brittle voice, accentuated by a light country accent.
“Not really,” I responded.
My boss hits the elevator button. “Why is that?”
A million words zoomed through my head, there were several ways to respond to that. Don’t want to go back. I hate going to school. I prefer living in Houston over San Antonio. Have to say goodbye to family. Of course, one reason stuck out.
“I’d rather be working here than going to school.”
The elevator doors opened, and we both got in. I continued.
“I just absolutely loved working here. I have a lot more motivation to work here than I do going to school.”
My boss gives a quick glance in my direction, furrowing his bushy eyebrows. “Yeah, it’s not going to be the same without you.”
At that moment, the anxiety of not knowing whether or not I had done enough at my job was lifted. And I knew I had done something right.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.