Do the Right Thing

In my last quarter of college, I signed up for a four hour political film seminar on Monday nights. By the second meeting, I was deep in regret about my senior year enrollment strategy. Every week, I’d slink into the back row of a dark, windowless classroom in Kinsey hall, a building that didn’t even exist by the time I got to law school, three years later.

At the midway point, my professor screened Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” A year and a half earlier, I’d made my way through every Spike Lee joint, ever released. My mid-college discovery of “Critical Media Studies” led to a brief fascination with progressive film-making, and a related interest in becoming Spike’s young-white-lady contemporary. I studied his art on the weekends like my lifetime success depended on my mastery of the genre.

Mostly beyond my aspiring documentarian phase, I assumed my weekly position, flipped open my laptop, and set out to mindlessly pass the next two hours.

Between perusing articles on the New York Times home page and wondering why I didn’t eat more for dinner, my mind pulled me into a familiar anxiety.

“What the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life?”

I went to college, to study political science, to get to law school, to be an attorney. Back then, it was simple: I would effortlessly ace each of my college classes and make brilliant connections with influential professors and accomplished attorney alums. I would land the perfect internship, be a shining star of my academic department and the crown jewel of my national champion mock trial team. My post-college destiny would unfold as easily and obviously as everything else had for me, at every stage in my life.

But from the back row of the last class I needed to graduate, the future remained unclear.

I fell off the pre-law wagon during zero week of my first quarter. I was auditing information sessions for the fanciest ¬†clubs and organizations on campus. Even on his best behavior, the President of Mock trial was transparently a douchebag. Although it would be years before I had the language to name it, the “energy” in the room that night was tense and competitive. I looked around a space filled with buttoned-down white kids, saw a reflection of the high school community I just escaped from, and wanted to run as fast and as far as I could to get away from it.

A year later I became a mentor for a 10 year old girl named Cindy. I took more education classes and did less of my political science reading. I dove head first into UCLA UniCamp Mentorship and discovered a community of young people that changed my life. I bathed in service, and teamwork, and social justice. Every Teach for America Rep on campus stalked my every move. I felt the joy of co-creating with selfless, dynamic leaders.

Every day I woke up more and more inspired to change the world.

And one morning, on a Malibu beach, a year before I graduated, I forgot I ever wanted to be an attorney. For good.

The more I knew what I loved, the harder it was to decide what “to do.” I was haunted by perceived expectations and limited by an idea I had about myself, my family, my teachers, my friends. I battled an identity of “over-achiever” and a set of characteristics and professional ambitions I believed to be associated with it.

In my life, I’d never done just anything.

I had to do the right thing.

And eventually, I did.

I graduated from a prestigious professional school. I earned a fancy degree. I had a work wardrobe sponsored by J.Crew and a job description that elicited wide eyes and approving nods, gestures I interpreted as approval, affirmation and “I’m impressed.” My dad bragged to his colleagues and my mom proudly posted pictures to Facebook from the night I was sworn in.

It was everything I envisioned before college, and everything I resisted by the end of it.

Initially, I framed my departure from the legal profession as wrong, and risky and rebellious. People like me don’t give up power and prestige and earning potential. People like me ascend to greatness, climb the corporate ladder and relentlessly pursue their next remarkable achievement. People like me are lawyers, for their entire careers.

Leaving my job felt nauseating and terrifying. In my last two weeks as an attorney, I woke up every other night with an accelerated heartbeat and racing mind. 29 years of avoiding the uncertain and the unconventional, left me without experience, or a frame of reference, for this tremendous leap of faith.

But two weeks into my new life, I sleep through every night. I wake up motivated, excited and open. I feel loving and connected. I climb all four flights of stairs to my apartment with renewed lightness. My whole body feels different. I smile and laugh and dance. I sing at the top of my lungs, in my car, on the way to work. In moments of financial anxiety, or ego-driven discomfort, I breathe in gratitude for the miracle of my life:

The support of my mom and every, single one of my friends. The blessing of my professional mentors, and the encouragement of my community. The freedom to be who I am, and to live my fullest life.

The courage to transcend the idea of doing right.

To re-discover how it feels to be happy.

Black Pumps

Last night I wrote an entire blog while sweating and pretending to breathe in a yoga class.

Not my proudest 75 minutes of attention and awareness.

Blogging is not yoga.

The story in my mind went like this:

I’m devastated. Yesterday I left my favorite black pumps at the yoga studio and this afternoon they were donated to the Salvation Army.

I don’t know how to recover.

I find a mantra and keep repeating it: “It’s just a pair of shoes. Just an ordinary, everyday, totally replaceable, pair of black pumps.”

It’s not working.

I fight the new mantra creeping in: “It’s not just a pair of shoes. It’s my favorite pair of shoes. Not just ordinary black pumps. The perfect, most exquisite pair of heeled footwear I’ve ever owned. My go-to pumps. My run with the grace of a gazelle up the courthouse stairs pumps. My look sophisticated in a suit but feel like I’m wearing sweatpants pumps. My ‘damn it, I’ll never find another pair like them,’ pumps.”

It’s still not working.

My mind says, “let them go.” But I all over my body I can feel myself clinging. Tight.

I try a different approach.

I make a list of all my other well-loved shoes. The ones I didn’t absent-mindedly abandon in the Zuda lobby. The brave foot soldiers who will take up the battle of lady lawyer wardrobing without their humble, fearless leader.

The red patent leather pumps. The ones I always put on with my slim-fitting black dress pants. The ones I always take off before I make it out the door in them. “Red patent, leather? Most of my clients still poop their pants for god’s sake!”

The purple stilletos. The most recent purchase in a long line of vibrant wardrobe additions I’ve acquired since losing Heather. Damn could she rock a hot pair of shoes!

The snake skin peep-toes my dad bought me. I’m pretty sure my underwear is still stained from the moment he picked them out.

The five inch black ones. The ones I put on to experience what it feels like to be tall and beautiful. The ones that make it hard to feel grateful for the body I was born with. The ones I take off or risk serious bodily injury after my second drink.

My new black flats with the big bow, the shoes I danced in at Barrister’s Ball the night Whitney Houston died, the cream colored Mona Pumps and their natural leather counterparts.

It becomes clear the list is practically endless. Immediately I feel greedy, spoiled, and humiliated.

My frustrated edginess starts to soften into gratitude and a sense of abundance.

The softness brings acceptance.

“Goodbye my loyal servants, I wish you a long and prosperous second life of stylish comfort and killer job interviews.”

When I emerge triumphant from the studio, my black pumps are staring at me from the front desk. My incredible yoga friends rescued them from the back of a mini-van en route to the donation center.

So many lessons in a single night.

I grab them between my fingers and kiss the top of the pointy, leather toes.

I make one, final, mental note:

I owe myself a yoga class.