The summer before my 2nd year of law school, I was working in Atlanta with a bunch of other interns attending local law schools. They would ask me about my experience at Harvard and make me aware of my immense privilege by telling me how they had to fight for opportunities that were handed to me on a golden platter daily. Some of them told me how only the top ten percent of students in their class got to attend on-campus recruiting for firm jobs and I thought about how when I returned to campus that fall, all of us 2Ls would be headed to the Charles Hotel for on-campus recruiting to have first-round interviews with any firm we ranked on our lists. I vowed when I got there to not fall into the traditional law student banter of complaining about our experience. We were blessed and doggone it, we were going to act like it.
Day one, I put all of my friends on notice. I was not going to tolerate any negativity. Be positive, even if you have to fake it. The first day, a few of us were sitting at one of the round tables, having breakfast before the interviews began and everyone was joking and laughing, carrying on as if we were at camp. It was beautiful, even if obviously forced at times. But then, one by one, people got up and started drifting to their respective rooms and I was alone at the table. I didn’t have a nine am interview, so I had some time to myself. No sooner than I was alone, a voice spoke to me, softly but assuredly, “You know this isn’t going to work out for you, right?” I heard glass shatter and I immediately dropped my head to my chest, partially out of habit for the act I was about to engage in, but also to hide the forthcoming tears. After all of my big talk that morning, I couldn’t be on the verge of falling apart thirty minutes into the morning.
I started praying and pleading, “Please, God don’t embarrass me like this. If I don’t get a firm job, that’s fine, but don’t embarrass me this way. I cannot go through this whole week and not get a callback interview. Pretty soon, everyone is going to be jetting off to other cities for second-round interviews and I don’t want to be in my dorm room, alone until school starts again. I can’t fail like that. Please, Jesus. Don’t play me like that.” Silence. I dried my eyes, scraped my confidence up from around my ankles, and got ready to go to work.
I love interviews because I thrive in them. I feel average on paper, but in person, I feel like the job is mine to win. If I make it to the interview round, I start celebrating in advance. And my interview skills were so on point that week. I was murdering those questions. In some of my interviews, the conversations became so rich, so profound. When my friends and I were debriefing later, some of them looked at me in awe, like what in the world, Andrea? I could see the wheels turning in their heads, dissecting and contrasting their interviews, and as much as I wanted to allow my ego to be boosted, all I could do was shake my head because I knew it was all irrelevant.
True enough, the round two interview calls started coming in, but my phone lay dormant. I watched this painfully awkward boy from my class schedule three interviews back to back and I realized that this week was nothing more than a formality. The grades had already decided who would get callbacks and with my grades, I was way out my league with the firms I had signed up to interview with. But all hope was not lost. I had interviewed with one firm where I felt my charisma could carry me where my transcript could not. One of my interviewers was also double Harvard and when she was an undergraduate, she had been a member of my college choir. We had a great interview and I went to the mixer that night hosted by her firm where I had the best version of Andrea on display for all to see. I went home and started praying fervently for that call. At the end of the week, it finally came and I headed out for Atlanta as soon as possible. While I was there, I had a couple of other interviews that my godmother helped me conjure up, so I had enough stories to tell about callbacks when I returned to campus that I was able to preserve my reputation a few days longer.
But then, the wait started. Weeks went by and I didn’t hear a word from that firm. Meanwhile, other students were getting offers from them. I essentially was waitlisted. My transcript was so weak that I couldn’t have been offered a position, but if other people said no, I would be their backup plan. By the point that I realized that, I didn’t even care anymore. I just didn’t want to get a rejection letter. As time went on, I started regressing into my nasty, competitive self where I started harshly criticizing others who I know had gotten an offer from the firm. One of them sat beside me in class and I would see her google the dumbest stuff. One time she spent the hour googling W-2 forms. What is a W-2? How do you get them? Where do they come from? How is it possible that this girl has not ever had a real job at the age of 26? At the end of class, she asked me for help because it turns out that google was too unwieldy for her to maneuver. A couple of weeks later she was googling how to make vodka punch and I wanted to fall out. Why are you looking for a recipe, you daft idiot? You pour juice, soda, and alcohol in a bowl and stir, you dumb –
One day she confides in me that she is choosing between my firm and the firm that she worked at the summer before, which she loved. For reasons that still aren’t abundantly clear to me, I started extolling the virtues of my favorite firm and all the while I was talking I was internally berating myself. “You stupid heifer, do you have Tourette’s? Do you understand that if she declines, you will probably have the job? Shut your trap!” But no, I continued on as if she were my best friend. The next week, she told me that she had accepted the offer from my firm and a couple of days later, I got a call from one of my interviewers, despondently telling me that there was no room at the firm for me.
I got the call around noon, just before one my afternoon classes. After I hung up, I collapsed onto my bed and got flooded by two of the strongest emotions I have ever felt in my life. The first was shame. “Oh my God, what will I tell everyone? What will they think of me?” Then came relief. I felt like I had been chained to an anchor and suddenly the weight had lifted and I was kicking my way back to the surface.
Oprah says that she doesn’t believe in failure in the traditional sense. To her, failure is just life moving us in a different direction. I cannot think about that law firm experience without hearing her words in my head. There was a time that I could not recall that memory without wanting to shrivel up into a tiny ball, but now it makes me laugh because with hindsight, I can clearly see that I had no business working at that firm and if God hadn’t snatched me up by my collar, I would be living out a miserable existence and too scared to quit because my identity would have been too tied to my comfort and stability.
I also love that story because it’s classic Andrea. I do really dumb things sometimes. As a friend pointed out to me (she waited until my ego was no longer so fragile), I had no business applying to any of the firms to which I had applied. I should have met with someone at career services and created a list of reasonable firms, but no, I had to aim high and apply to the top firms in all of my favorite cities. I did something similar the summer before. I had applied to this big-name firm for the summer and had not applied anywhere else. After I was rejected, I found an opportunity working in Atlanta’s juvenile court system, but it was real late in the school year when I figured out a plan. Meanwhile, all of my friends had locked in jobs months before. Later in the summer, I spent a few days visiting a friend’s mother and she told me how the friend had vented to her about how irresponsible I was being during my job search process. He told her that I was engaging in the kind of behavior that I would have fussed at anyone else for doing. She asked him how come he didn’t be that person for me. Why didn’t he put me in my place? “Because it keeps working out for her! Life keeps teaching her that it’s ok to be this way!”
That might be part of it, but I think the reality is that I’m just reckless. I don’t listen to people; I don’t play it safe, and as a result I fall hard and I fall often. And I’m learning to be fine with that because the constant failure keeps me humble and it keeps me creative. I feel most alive when I have to hustle. Uninterrupted success makes me complacent.
There is a baby mountain here in Xela here called Baúl that has a park at the top with slides built into the sides. A couple of weeks after I moved here, a coworker celebrated part of her birthday at those slides. It was my first time there and I took to the slides with reckless abandon. The first time I slid down, I was moving at breakneck speed and when I got to the end, I shot off and landed on my butt a clean three feet away from the bottom of the slide. All afternoon, I never managed to land on my feet gracefully, but I kept running back to the top. The birthday girl was laughing at me. She could not figure out why I was being so bold in my clumsy failures.
If my oldest brother had been there, he would have told her that it was because I am shameless. He says that my other brother and I are similar in the sense that we don’t have the shame gene. My other brother is ridiculous, so I was not pleased to be lumped in the same category with him. “I have shame!” I yelled indignantly, but he may be right. Maybe I don’t have shame or maybe my shame is not as loud as the other voices in my head that urge me on in my endeavors.
In some ways, moving to Guatemala has helped me grow as a person, molded me into a better version of myself, but in other ways, living here has just helped me to make peace with the woman I am. Every so often, I feel a twinge of regret that I am not a more sensible person. I’m trying to figure out when I became such a hippie. Why don’t I have a five-year plan? Heck, why don’t I even have a five-month plan? I have no clue what I’m doing when I return to the States in a couple of months. I have been trying to muster up some stress about the uncertainty of my future to propel me into getting my life in order, but the voice inside is just like, “Ahhh, girl, it’s all good. No worries.” Ugh, it’s ridiculous. But, this is the story of me. I’m going to chase some lofty goal. I’m going to run smack into a wall and I’m going to crumble to the floor (In my head, I see myself hitting the floor like I did at Sky Zone when I tried to side jump off the wall.) But then, I’m going to get up and something really exciting will be standing there waiting for me. I can feel it.