Saying Goodbye to My Corporate Career and Hello to My Calling: Bailing on My Law Degree

Saying Goodbye to My Corporate Career and Hello to My Calling: Bailing on My Law Degree

This is part 1 of a series by author Paul Attaway

Words by Paul Attaway

I am a writer, but that wasn’t always the case. 

Jason Isbell, in his song "The Life You Choose," writes: 

Are you living the life you chose?
Are you living the life that chose you?

I am fifty-seven years old, and as I look back over the last thirty-plus years, it would be easy to conclude that up until a few years ago, I had lived the life that chose me. I was trapped—too young to retire but too old to keep doing what I had been doing.

For as long as I could remember, I lived life to meet the expectations of others. Nearly every teacher told me, "you should be a lawyer." At the time, I thought that was a compliment. I had success as a high school debater and attended college intent upon continuing in the activity. After my freshmen year, I left the team having burned out. But still, everything pointed towards a single career path: You should be a lawyer.

I went to law school, made law review, had success in moot court, interviewed well, and received multiple job offers. Thinking like a lawyer was easy for me. I got it. 

Lyn, my college sweetheart, and I married after law school and moved to Phoenix, where a job was waiting. I began my legal career confident I would be a success. Six months later: Huh? This is not what I expected. That’s okay. I’m low-man on the totem pole. Press on. Besides, I was one of the top hourly billers in my recruiting class, and I even saw the inside of a courtroom. I was succeeding.

Another six months later: Okay. This job officially stinks. What am I going to do?

My whole life I heard “You should be a lawyer." Six months later—after three years of law school, 18 months as a lawyer, and a lifetime of the same refrain—I was done. Now what?

I was lucky. I had a place to fall. My father had started a business and done well. The first of his family to attend college, my Dad was an American success story. He lied about his age to get into the Navy (he was only 17, not 18), served in WW2, and went to college on the GI bill. He struggled, persevered, and succeeded. I worked for him for five years and learned a great deal. I decided I wanted to build a company too. So, I struck out on my own.

I started companies and said, "Yes, I can do that," to pretty much anything and everything. Arrogant, to say the least—but I felt I was supposed to be a successful businessman and entrepreneur. I wanted to be known as a deal maker and a sure bet for would-be investors. I also expected to receive all the badges that came with the position—prestige, private club membership, single-digit golf handicap, vacation well, etc.… And, above all, I would work hard, as my father had. He earned it. So would I. And another thing—I was a Christian. The Lord would take care of me. I was the living embodiment of “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.” (Phi. 4:13)

An outsider may have concluded that I was succeeding. I was starting businesses and talking with the investor class, but the reality was different. I was exhausted, miserable, overworked. I want to be clear—there were many aspects of what I was doing I enjoyed. I met some fantastic people, and when we successfully met challenges, it was exhilarating. We had some great vacations and joined a private club where we made lifelong friendships. 

It’s just that there is a price for these things, and at times I think I may have overpaid. Simply stated, I was not happy doing what I was doing, and at times I was miserable. The worst part was that I was going through the motions at home with Lyn and the kids. On top of it all, I was a taskmaster and not much fun to be around. 

Lyn and I ended up in counseling. I had been diagnosed as an asshole. Our counselor confirmed the diagnosis. Sometimes we saw him together, sometimes separately. Once, when seeing him alone, I was broken, and I cried, "she might leave me." Our counselor simply said, "Yep."

That was twenty years ago. We recently celebrated 32 years of marriage, we have three thriving adult children, a wonderful son-in-law, and an absolutely beautiful grandson.

What changed?

I came to appreciate that I was valuable for the simple reason that the Lord created me and loves me.

This bedrock belief freed me to do what I enjoyed, and not what I felt I was supposed to do. It has taken longer to live my life in accordance with this worldview—old habits are hard to break—but I have, and I continue to learn. I am learning to choose the life I live, and it’s wonderfully freeing.

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Paul was born and raised in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Paul and his wife, Lyn, met in college at Georgetown University and were married after Paul graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law. They moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1988 where Paul embarked on a thirty-year business career before retiring so he could write fiction. Paul and Lyn raised three children together in Phoenix and now split their time between Phoenix and Charleston, South Carolina. 

Blood in the Low Country  is Paul Attaway’s debut novel. Writing this book, along with the move to Charleston, is a coming home of sorts, a return to the South. The history and culture of America’s South is rich, complicated, at times comical, sad, tragic, uplifting, and inspiring. Paul hopes that his novels can capture even a small bit of this tapestry.Learn more about Paul Attaway, and purchase his book, here: https://www.paulattaway.com.