“I’m not really a waitress” – the refrain, almost a plea, of many an aspiring actress, as well as the name of a color of nail polish surely worn by many an aspiring actress. (How could you not love it?)
And then there’s “I’m not really a teacher.” It was my own refrain for quite a while after becoming just that, in a matter of weeks, once a year and a half of luckless searching for a position as a lawyer or anything in a legal-related field (not as a stepping stone, but as a conscious step back from the lifestyle associated with my previous position in a massive international law firm) had passed.
I said that the wheel turned.
And it did. In a way.
No matter how grateful I was for the opportunities presented to me by the turning of the wheel, it took me some time to accept the way that it turned when it came to my career.
To become a lawyer in the specialized field I chose, I spent nine years studying in institutions of higher education for a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and then a law degree. I passed the bar exam in the state generally considered to have the nation’s most difficult. And eventually my dream came true and I was hired by the same attorney who had inspired my legal career years before, when I was an undergraduate interning at a government agency that was imposing civil sanctions on his client.
All of this took huge effort, dedication, and sacrifice. And all of this, I will admit, resulted in my feeling a certain amount of pride. I was proud of what I had accomplished. I was proud to do what I did. I was proud to work with globally recognized clients on cases that were featured in the news. I was proud to tell others what I did because I liked hearing them say that I didn’t look like a lawyer, whatever that means. I was proud to hand over my fancy business card. I was proud to wear a fitted suit and high heels and carry a red leather briefcase stuffed with important files and Us Weekly.
For better or for worse, being a Biglaw lawyer was an integral part of my identity. It was how I made friends once my student days finally came to an end, it was how I socialized, and it was how I spent my weekends. (As I said, for better or for worse.)
To become a teacher, I spent four weeks doing teacher training that anybody with a high school diploma, a good grasp of the English language, and their wits about them could do. (To be very clear, this concerns training to become a language teacher to adults – completely different from becoming any kind of teacher to children.) I don’t mean that negatively towards the training program or the job that might result from it. What I mean is that for me, personally, it was a shock to find myself, an experienced lawyer with almost a decade of higher education, in that classroom with students like the cheery eighteen-year-old looking for something to do to fund her gap year.
Some basic questions and answers in the language-learning context are about personal details: name, age, nationality, marital and family status, and … job.
“What do you do?” I ask the students.
They respond, and I gesture for them to repeat the question back to me.
“What do you do?” they ask.
It took a long time for me to stop feeling like a fraud when I say, “I’m a teacher.”
“I’m not really a teacher,” a little voice would whisper back to me.
The whisper got quieter over time, and is now almost completely silenced. I’ve been in my current position almost as long as I practiced law, and those days of research and memorandums and legal briefs seem much longer ago than that.
If I’m not really a teacher, then what am I?
In need of a new nail polish color, that’s what.