Broadly Speaking: Law School or Babies

So my little brother went to his first prom this weekend.

My brother, Maxwell Christian Mueller Spaeth (he was born 6 weeks premature and my mom thought he needed a middle name that really struck a chord with Sweet Baby Jesus), shares a common trait with his older sister: we both suck at prom. Max’s story involves his prom group of 20 each shelling out $46 per couple to ride a trolley around downtown Fargo (the Paris of the Midwest), only to forget to tell their moms to come take pictures. As a direct result, we have no pictures of Maxwell at junior prom.

My story is either less or more tragic, depending on how you look at it. Less tragic in the sense that Mom was definitely there on time with plenty of camera battery taking pictures at my junior prom, more tragic in the sense that I was a pretty tragic-looking junior prom date.

But no matter what, Mom is great because she always loves you unconditionally, regardless of your lack of prom photos or lack of good-looking prom photos. This is great because you’re her baby, and Mom always looks out for the best interests of her baby, right? This concern was perhaps most aptly demonstrated in a conversation I had with my mom last week, as I explained to her how I would like to take a year off and work before deciding if I really want to go to law school.

Her response?

“Molly, I just really don’t want you to do that. If you take a year off before going to law school you’re just going to start having babies and then NEVER go back!”

As crazy as it sounds, Mom perhaps unknowingly illustrated a point that until her little outburst was unbeknownst even to myself: if you’re not moving up, you might as well get out. Here at Stanford, whilst constantly surrounded by such overachievers, the next and obvious place always seems to be up. Not sure what to major in? Well, then double major! Not sure if your paper is supposed to be five or six pages? Write seven! It is so easy to get caught up in the Stanford bubble and the up-or-out trajectory that perhaps sometimes we lose sight of ourselves, deep down and inside.

I visited a cousin of mine over spring break who does paralegal work at a law firm in New York. She, like myself, wasn’t really sure about law school, so she took a few years off to get some hands-on legal experience. As we walked through Greenwich Village, she remarked, “I see the new associates coming in fresh out of law school all the time. They haven’t worked a real job a day in their lives–most have no idea how to make copies, brew coffee or answer a telephone, and all but a few have no desire to respect anyone who does make copies, brew coffee or answer a telephone. They’re smart as hell when it comes to the legal world, but they have no perspective when it comes to the real world.”

I’m all for jumping straight into a post-undergraduate program right away if you’re jumping in for the right reasons. However, if you’re jumping in just because it seems like the next step up, perhaps you need to take the time to consider what you really want deep down. Are you going to marry someone you don’t love just to advance the relationship? Are you going to take a promotion in a job you hate just because it’s more money? Where will it end, and will you ever have the courage not to move up?

For as much as IHUM taught us that everything is gray, it’s amazing how much we still see our own lives in black and white. If we’re not advancing on the career path we’re homemakers; if we’re not producing briefs we might as well be producing babies. There is this inherent insecurity that if we don’t view ourselves as moving up, others will view us as moving down.

But perhaps the grayest, and most courageous, path involves breaking through this deeply entrenched but fundamentally superficial dichotomy. The tracks to career advancement and motherhood are far from mutually exclusive, but the difficulty in their convergence lies in the very nature of their familiarity. The logical paths leading to each are so predetermined, it’s harder to carve where and when you want those paths to intersect. But what our inherently perfectionist campus (and their parents) need to realize is that these paths do not and should not converge at the same point for everyone, and that doesn’t make anyone more or less successful than anyone else.

Mom, I don’t want law school or babies. I want law school and babies. I just don’t want either quite yet.

Molly just spent the last 20 minutes of lost productivity looking up pictures of babies online. Found a cute one? E-mail mspaeth@stanford.edu .

About Molly Spaeth

  • sam toh

    everything that’s been going through my head in the past week, right here in text. really enjoyed the article.