Growing up, I always thought that if I worked hard and got good grades, doors would open for me. Of course, I would have to work twice as hard as others to overcome obstacles of race, class and gender, but eventually, I believed, the results would come.
I spent most of my adolescence obsessed with achieving academic success. By the end of my bachelor’s degree in economics at York University, I had many different options to explore. I considered pursuing my interest in behavioral economics through graduate studies or taking a step back from academia altogether to gain experience in the non-profit sector. Instead, feeling risk-averse and wanting stability, I applied to law school. I saw my acceptance to McGill University’s faculty of law as the ultimate golden ticket. But things did not turn out as planned, and, by the end of my first year, I was feeling extremely depressed. I went into law school wanting career security, but I hadn’t stopped to consider whether law was actually the right fit for me.
Instead of the meaningful year of post-graduate education I had envisioned, my life was quickly reduced to a cycle of reading and partying. I had very little motivation, energy or time to do much else. It wasn’t just lectures and readings that I struggled with; I also found it difficult to sit through a TV show, a quick bus ride or a conversation with friends. By second semester, I couldn’t recognize myself. My depression and anxiety had become physically debilitating. I felt constantly exhausted, isolated and disinterested in my surroundings. Although I had struggled with my mental health in the past, this was the first time it had interfered with my academic success. It was shocking how quickly my priorities shifted when my sense of identity and self-worth was taken from me. This wasn’t easy to handle, especially in an inherently competitive environment. I always felt like I had to prove myself, to compete for things I didn’t want in the first place, all out of fear of falling behind. I wanted so badly to keep up with classes, but being in the faculty was suffocating and unbearable.
Eventually, I had to admit to myself that I found studying law to be extremely boring and that practising law didn’t seem much more appealing either. Law was just not the right fit for me, and no promise of prestige or financial stability would change that.
Fortunately, I was able to see someone at McGill Psychiatric Services quickly and receive the professional help I needed for my depression. But I know that many young people are not able to access the same services.
At the end of my first year, I decided to drop out of law school. I discovered the importance of being driven by passion and purpose and not simply an obsession with achievements. I realized it was unlikely I would make it out of law school as the person I wanted to be, and honoring that was more important than the perceived security of a professional degree.
Letting go of my golden ticket was terrifying. My decision came at an extremely high price, both financially and personally and I recognize this is not possible for everyone. It is, however, possible for all of us to consider our purpose and be more proactive about our feelings, desires and goals within our own constraints. If you’re unhappy where you are, take time to explore your options and give yourself permission to pursue them. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, take the support and accommodations you need. And if all else fails and you’re truly unhappy, it’s important to remember that for some, leaving law school may be the best option.