By all accounts I’ve always been an easy kid and an easy student. I’ve always been curious and eager to learn, meaning that school was never much of an issue for me. I got good grades, I participated in extracurriculars, I had many friends.
University was a little different. I was one of those people who, thrust into the light of her own freedom, didn’t quite know what to do with it. Let’s just say I was… overindulgent. – I went out a lot, okay. I went out a lot.
My grades suffered, but not so much that it was a real problem. I still graduated easily from a very good school and soon I was on to the next step. Law school.
Now, going into it, I knew this was going to be tough. For as long as I could remember, I had wanted to be a lawyer. Choosing to study in the Netherlands, however, meant studying law in Dutch. Slight snag in this story: I’ve never had any formal education in Dutch – ouch. I managed to delay the inevitable for a few years by studying International and European Law (in English) first, but at 21 it seemed there was no way around it. Down the rabbit hole we go.
I spent the next 5.5 years struggling to make a 3 year program happen. That’s right. 5.5 and 3. Let that sink in. I failed courses. I had to drop out. I spent time working at a law firm to improve on my Dutch. I went back, studied hard, failed again, developed anxiety before each exam, reverted to just not studying at all -Not a good plan, Nicole, that is never a good plan. Suffice it to say, it was a difficult time.
I found support in my friends, family and art. I began creating again. Painting, writing, cutting, pasting.
I distracted myself. I distracted myself because I needed distracting. I distracted myself because it is extremely difficult to be confronted by your own inability to achieve something. It is extremely difficult to fail in an environment in which you have always thrived.
At this point, the years really blur together and in truth, the details are neither relevant nor anything I wish to revisit. I stopped and started and stopped and started and in 2016 I took the time to get a Master’s degree. European Law in, you guessed it, English.
I was a fish back in familiar waters. Presentations, exams, moot courts, it was all familiar and easy. I could breathe – In, out, in, out, ahhhhhhhh.
I graduated in 2017 (that’s where the magical yellow suit in the photo comes in) and was confronted, yet again, with the same deliberation. Back to law school or not?
It’s funny. You can watch other people make decisions that you know are wrong for them. You watch them and wonder: “why don’t they just quit the job / move out of the house / break up with the person?” You wonder why they drag it all on; make themselves miserable. And yet when it’s your own life, your own decision making, it suddenly seems much more confusing. When it’s your own life there is no longer black or white. There’s no more right or wrong. And there is definitely no “easy.” It’s all a wishy-washy mush of difficult.
I went back to law school. Even now I can’t explain why other than that I was like a dog with a bone that I just couldn’t let go. I simply could not accept that I couldn’t do it. So I started again, but I made a vow. If you fail even one more exam, that’s it. You’re done. I thought that would make it easier. Spoiler: it most certainly did not.
I studied and was extraordinarily miserable. “Screw the exams, maybe I’ll just quit.” – No Nicole, we had a deal.
I didn’t study and felt extraordinarily guilty. “If I fail I’m free, right?” – No Nicole, that’s not how the deal works. By now it was like talking to a child who simply can’t figure out why they aren’t allowed to touch electrical sockets.
I took the exams and in the meantime looked into what the procedure for dropping out definitively was. Turns out, it’s the click of a button. I toyed with the idea of dropping out but I made myself wait until my exam results came in. They did.
I had failed, but not so much so that there was no hope. You see in the Dutch system, there’s always a second chance – redemption. I didn’t know which of these two options made me feel worse.
I cried. A lot. How could I have let this happen? I texted a friend and was offered advice on ways that it could still work out.
I cried even harder. I don’t want it to work out. I don’t want to be able to resit. I don’t even want to be a lawyer anymore, why am I studying law?
It’s difficult to describe what happened next. The feelings, the grieving. It’s difficult to explain how you can grieve something that you never had. How you can grieve over something quite as intangible as a career. It seems silly, somehow. An overreaction. Shallow.
And to some I suppose it always will – that’s okay, I understand. But to me this was a very real process. A very real process that I had to go through whilst also quickly figuring out logistics. When do I de-register? Now. It’s almost the new month, you don’t want to pay tuition unnecessarily. What will I do? You’ll figure it out. I need money. So you’ll work.
I took two days (really that was all I had) and made my decision. I logged into the website and went through the motions.
When the time came to click, my finger was trembling. My heart was pounding. That pounding you hear in your ears and taste in your throat. It does not taste good.
Just like that. After years of struggling, years of kicking myself over my perceived inadequacies, it was gone. Just like that, a chord cut; a most immediate release.
My heart didn’t stop pounding for a while, but the taste was different. This taste was sweeter. This was hope.
I had never before felt so weightless. A weightlessness that was scary and equal parts exhilarating.
If only I knew what I would do next.
This post is part two of a six-part story. Go ahead and click through to read the first part.