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The path not taken

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Jan. 17th, 2017 | 02:48 pm

I really should have been a lawyer. I could have been, too, if I'd only taken the advice of an old college friend, 42 years ago.

One day, when we were both juniors at UC San Diego, an ex-roommate and I were walking from a biology lecture in the Humanities Building on the Revelle campus to a psychology class over at Muir College.

We'd just gotten our grades on the latest Genetics midterm. I got a C, but Jim got another D. That was hard to take for someone with a genius-level intellect, and Jim had had enough. We were crossing Revelle Plaza when suddenly he said something I've never forgotten.

"Fuck Genetics! Fuck biology! I'm changing my major to psych and pre-law. I want to go to Boalt Hall." (U.C. Berkeley School of Law)

I don't think I said anything in reply. I was too stunned by the stark tone and determination of his announcement.

"You should go into law, too, Scott. You've got the mind for it."

"Nah, I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"I can't talk. I mean I can't talk in front of people. There's no way I could stand up in a courtroom and argue a case in front of a judge and jury. No way in the world."

"Forget that 'Perry Mason' bullshit! You don't have to be a trial attorney. There are lawyers that never see the inside of a courtroom. You like doing literature searches, right?"

"You know I do."

"Yeah, well, then you could be a research lawyer. They get paid a hundred bucks an hour just to do case work in law libraries, looking up legal precedents and stuff like that. That would be easy money for someone like you."

"Yeah, I guess. I dunno. I really want to work with animals. I want to study animal behavior."

"How are you going to make money doing that?"

I can't remember my answer; probably because I didn't have one.


Jim did go on to get his law degree at Boalt Hall. After he passed the bar exam, he went back to his home town of Brawley and specialized in agricultural law, where he's still in practice today. In the years since, every chance he could, he bought stocks and rental properties. His net worth now is doubtless in the multiple millions of dollars.

Me, I never did figure out a way to make money studying animal behavior, and now I'm poor as a churchmouse.

Believe me, not a day goes by that I don't think about Jim's advice from all those years ago, and how my life could have been vastly more remunerative and comfortable than it turned out to be. They say the worst regrets we have aren't about things we did in the past, but the things we didn't do. I know firsthand how very true that is.


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