My first semester of law school was hard. All of law school was a challenge, but I had a particularly difficult time in the first semester. My grades were not reflecting my knowledge and passion for the law. I needed to find out how to sync everything up. In search of professional guidance, I met with one of the deans at my school. Trusting that she had the knowledge and resources to get me back on track and help me move forward toward my dream of becoming a lawyer, I shared all my concerns, my fears, and my questions with her. I finished my story and waited for the pearls of wisdom to start flowing from across the desk.
Without even looking at my file or asking me a single question, she suggested that perhaps law school was not for me at all. The details of this life-changing event are still so vivid in my memory almost twenty years later. I remember this woman’s demeanor, the way she spoke, and how she delivered her verdict.
I felt like the rug had been ripped out from under me, and it was difficult to even catch my breath. After that, I did what so many other women do in situations like this: I took her words completely to heart and soon convinced myself that this woman must be right and maybe I should think of quitting law school. But then the “I” kicked in and, like lava out of a volcano, I erupted. I was furious! I thought, How dare she tell me what I am or am not capable of? Who is she to make these assumptions about me?
I often wonder and even try to guess why she did it and why she handled the situation the way she did. I wonder why she said these things to me without even bothering to open my file. From her point of view, as a professional in a position of authority, she may have thought she was carrying out her responsibility and simply conveying information and informing me of the risks inherent in law school. Or perhaps at one point in her life another woman treated her this way and she was paying the “favor” forward. I guess I will never know.
But what I learned was that women in positions of power should avoid handling similar situations like this. There is the potential of changing the course of someone’s life in the course of one careless conversation. They can still balance their professional responsibilities with their personal opinions. But in their position, they need to be reminded of their power to inspire a young person closer to their dreams or shoot them down before they can even get started.
This nearly happened to me. Here was this woman simply giving me her quick, offhand opinion about my situation, without really even knowing anything about me, and in my mind I made her words the gospel. I turned her opinion, probably one of hundreds that she gave every semester, into absolute, indisputable fact. At that point in my life I was very easily influenced by what others thought of me because I thought it was right to care. What an idiot I was! But this anger I experienced reawakened me. It made me snap out of my feelings of insecurity, and allowed me to refocus on my goals and tap into my inner strength that has never left me since.
I eventually realized that without the struggle, like the one I was experiencing in law school, what is something really worth in life? As a result of that woman challenging me, I accessed the strongest parts of myself and let my passion for the law help me soar higher than ever. I think this is when I really started to tune in to the gift of being a woman. This was the beginning of my metamorphosis.
I can’t help but wonder how that dean felt when I addressed the entire school at graduation as student body president.