I made a promise to a friend to decide about pursuing law school by March 24th. I half-assed that decision because of nagging doubts about what the right course of action is for me. Two main options present themselves. 1, go to law school and proceed into as high paying and prestigious a job as possible afterwards. 2, learn everything I can about brewing and try to start a microbrewery/distillery. Both options have a lot to recommend them, but in very different ways.
Option 1: Law school.
This option is probably the safest bet in the long run. I have the grades and capacity to get into a top 5 law school. From there, assuming I am actually a decent law student, I should be able to get an associate position at a biglaw firm. From there, I should always have an income from the legal field unless I choose to exit. However, it is a life/soul consuming amount of work. It pays well, but demands a lot in return. I will not have much freedom, but I will have security, though as I progress, I can move in a way that gains me more freedom. I will have challenges, something I am acutely feeling the absence of at the moment, though they may be extremely tedious and/or boring.
The things I most fear are the overly competitive nature of the firm, the formal/professional dress/behavior requirements of the job, the lack of control of my schedule, and my own inability to not shoot myself in the foot when it comes to interviewing/job acquiring. I think, but I am not certain, that my fear of the competitiveness of the biglaw firms is only partially justified. It is likely that I can weather the petty bullshit better as an older, more mature person, and hopefully rise above the fray by performing well enough to not need to play games. This will, however, require building relationships with partners, which might be easier as someone closer to them in age as we might have more in common. The professional dress thing can be fixed by spending money, and I do like to look good. This is an attitude thing, and I'm moving in that direction anyway, I just need to devote energy to it consistently. Lack of control is irritating for anyone, especially me, as I like to control things, but I also recognize the need to pay dues and earn your place in a hierarchical organization, so I should be able to play off military experience as good preparation for biglaw. That leaves interviewing. Fuck interviews with a rusty knife. I hate the fuck out of them because I am bad at them. I hate being bad at things, especially things necessary to getting places in life. I can probably do everything necessary to build a good/great career except interview. For some reason I lack the narcissistic streak needed to really pull off a good interview. I also never really devoted myself to preparation for the job market. I guess it is entirely my own fault, I hobbled myself, then shot myself in the foot. Pretty bad plan. If I am going to do law school, I must correct my basic approach. Before I start classes and try to build up a law school resume, I must build an interviewing toolkit. My experience is very different from the legal field, I must learn how to relate what I have done to what I want to do or I will not be successful landing the jobs I want during and after law school.
So, nagging fears about law school aside, the final, and most important, unresolved question is, do I even want to be a lawyer? This question vexes me. I want to do something important, something difficult, something people respect. I hate being a drone in a corporation that no one cares about or even considers worth listening to. It makes me feel small, unimportant, and it is an affront to my sense of self-importance that grates on my ego constantly. I want to shout at them that I am probably the smartest person in any given room, give me a task where I can flex my intellectual muscles and help you idiots sort out your problems, but I know they don't give a shit about anything I have to say or any credentials I can list on my resume. So, it may be childish, it is immature, but fuck it and fuck them. I do not need them past when my wife graduates and gets her debt paid off or has the means to make the payments on it herself. After that, I need nothing from this job, and I want nothing from them. I made a series of mistakes to end up here, I talked myself into thinking those mistakes were good ideas, and, though it took a while, I know now I made a huge mistake. So, although it feels very self important, the basic fact is that I 4.0'd an ivy league college, I owe it to myself to do better. I am wasting a lot of brainpower in a job that does not want me using it, I must remedy that basic problem. I will go insane and grow very bitter if I do not.
But does that mean I want to be a lawyer? I don't know. That's the problem. I think it is a type of job that my brain is remarkably well suited to because of the way it handles small details and builds up the big picture on an issue, when I bother to do due diligence (Do you shit diligence?). I want to use my brain, and use it to the limits of what it can do. I have come up against my limits before, and I shied away from them. That was wrong, it was weak, and I must learn to recognize when it is and is not acceptable to back away from my limits. I think the key is that I have to have the right motivation to really push against my limits. It turns out, an ideological crisis that undermines the primary motivation for a course of study can do a tremendous amount of damage to ones motivation, which can lead to lack of effort when confronted with what you think of as your limits. I suspect my actual limits are further out than what I have pushed to. Law school will test the limits of my data absorption and synthesis capabilities. BigLaw will continue to push those limits. That is a good thing. Further, going in, I know my motivation is to pursue a profession, rather than an abstract ideology. That means I will be driven more by prestige and profit seeking than ideals. I am wired to follow the former much more than the latter. This makes law school a good option, but does nothing to resolve the underlying question.
I do not know if I want to be a lawyer. I know that I want a lot of the things that come with being a good/successful lawyer. I want the income, the prestige, the challenge, the chance to test myself against some of the smartest people on earth. That is something I value highly. Law offers that chance. Even if a hard science may have been a better fit, the truth is that I needed to pursue those the way Dane did, straight out of high school, not detouring into the military and then college and then a job and then grad school. In hard sciences, especially physics/astrophysics, youth is a huge asset. That ship sailed a long time ago. Today, law is a good option to achieve many of the same ends by a different means, and make more money in the process. I like money. If I could save up fuck you money by 55, that would be awesome, but that means a very intense 20 year legal career, since I'm already 10 years behind everyone else. I can do that, I think. So that's really why I am thinking law, I think it plays to a large number of my strengths and offers me a way to utilize my brain in a way my current work never will. That's not a bad reason. I do also find the law interesting, though I'm not necessarily passionate about it, yet.
Option 2: Start a microbrewery/distillery
Holy uncertainty Batman! I joined the Navy because I thought submarines were way cool and didn't want to go into debt to go to college. I still don't regret the decision, at the time I think it was a good one, but only because I botched so many other decisions and formed so many bad habits during middle school that it took half of high school to break half of them and start actually studying. By the time I graduated, I was very smart, but lacked the resume to get where I wanted to go. Couple that with a strong debt aversion instilled by very conservative parents and joining the Navy seems, in retrospect, like an inevitable decision. I was primed for the military from a relatively early age. I used to idolize Patton (He was a huge dick. I would have hated having him as a CO in peace time, but loved him during wartime), Rommel, and Dick Marcinko. God, I was such a tool as a kid. The Navy did a lot of important things for me. It helped me grow up and grow out of a lot of stupid notions I held as a child. It helped me discipline myself, though I have since let much of the discipline lapse and will have to rebuild it. It taught me about bureaucracy and changed me from a conservative parrot of my parents to a libertarian, and laid the groundwork for my eventual rejection of any political or religious affiliation. But I never learned a lot of valuable professional skills, call it a personality defect that I never practiced them or bothered to cultivate them. Now I need them and I'm less flexible mentally than I was, more habituated than ever, as habituation gets worse with age. But I know I can change those habits, I have changed habits as recently as a year ago. I'm still as distractable as ever though, so I've got that going for me. The point is, I hate uncertainty. I am very risk averse, hence joining the Navy (Odd, right, submarines are less risky than student loan debt? Maybe I am stupid.).
Starting a brewery is a very uncertain venture, and one I am in no way ready for. I lack years of knowledge and experience, probably 3-5 years, at a minimum. I also don't have the disposable income to allow me to just buy and play with stuff like I would need to in order to get ready to start a brewery. Further, there are 4000+ breweries operating and 6000+ license applications pending. For perspective, there are only 14500ish McDonalds in the US (but 27000ish Subways and 65000 bars). 10000 operating breweries is an insane number. The craft brewing market is growing, but it is not growing that quickly. There will be a lot of breweries going out of business very soon. Entry into a market that is rapidly saturating is a very risky venture and requires an unusual degree of luck and skill and marketing. I can probably obtain the skills, but at the cost of time, which is not on my side in this market. Further, that time closes the door on a lot of other opportunities. I see professional brewing and law school as an or choice. I like brewing, I love craft beer, but I do not like brewing enough. Although I also lack someone to push me and to get excited with me. An accountabilibuddy is absolutely essential, and until I am in close proximity to one, I don't think I am going anywhere fast on this.
I like the idea of running a brewery very much, but there is a lot of physical labor and mental energy that goes into the operation. I do not really want to be a manual laborer anymore. Although it is very rewarding to build something like a brewery, the pride of ownership would be tempered by the very big problems looming in a very crowded market. Add to that the location Mike is proposing is less than ideal for building a customer base. I see very real, very damning obstacles in the path of a potential brewing operation. But, I would so love to be a successful brewer. It is the most appealing fantasy career I have right now. I think a part of me will always regret not trying and may even become very bitter about not trying it. That is a problem. I don't know if I can be successful, I mean I think I could be, but there are a lot of smart, talented, experienced brewers entering the market with a lot more knowledge and experience than me. That is intimidating as fuck, especially to a risk averse person like myself. I cannot in good conscience commit myself and my wife's financial future to a venture as likely to fail as a brewery until I have a lot more information and experience. But, law school demands a decision now and a lot of time working on getting ready for law school now. I fear that committing to law school also closes the door on brewing, at least for the foreseeable future. There may come a day where it is in play as an option again, but not for at least 5-10 years, minimum. It may however be possible to operate a nanobrewery that would scratch the itch and allow me to still do the law school thing. I don't know, though, the distraction may be more than I could afford.
I still have no idea which way to go. I do not want to close the door on either of these options. To go to law school, I need to start studying for the LSAT now. To open a brewery, I need to start studying and brewing a lot now. No matter what, I have a lot I have to start doing now. I want to try to balance both for at least the next six months, but I don't know if I can. I do not know if I have the self-discipline left to pursue both. As much as it pains me, the brewery just sounds like too much risk for me to bear. I can do many things, but go way way out on a limb for a maybe is not one of them. With that knowledge, I know that I will probably always bow out of the tough fight for the certain fight. I am not that person who changes the world, I am that person who keeps the world functioning. I am, in a lot of ways, hopelessly conservative. This saddens me. I feel a sense of loss, thinking I am closing off the option of my own brewery. But when I close off the law school option, I feel terrified. Which is better sadness or constant fear and doubt? This conflict has no easy resolution. I will start studying for the LSAT tomorrow, but I will also be ramping up the scale and complexity of my homebrewing efforts in an attempt to learn more about brewing to see if I can even realistically contemplate my own brewery. So, basically I am kicking the can down the road. I cannot, with the knowledge I have now, decide what I want. I hate being an adult. I thought for sure by 30 I would have this sort of shit figured out, but nope. Ugh.