road not taken decision quit job biglaw lawyer

The Road Not Taken: An Odd 4th Grade Experience

 

In fourth grade, the road not taken was forced upon about 15 or so of my fellow nine-year-old classmates when we were assigned to be in Mr. T’s class for the year. Strange does not begin to describe this man and his teaching style. While we did not learn any of the expected fourth grade curriculum, what we did learn was a lot of poetry.

We read, memorized and analyzed (as far as nine-year-olds are able to analyze) poetry every day. We read and then re-enacted Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” (I’ll never forget hearing PJ stand up and dramatically perform the famous line – “Et tu, Brute?”). We read the old English poem “Beowulf,” too, although I am certain that one was so far over our heads we might as well have been reading in German. Needless to say, our classroom experience was…different.

In addition to the odd curriculum, sometimes Mr. T would need to take breaks during the day. Without warning, he would take his glasses off, put his head in his hands and rub his eyes, not responding to any students’ questions for an indeterminate amount of time. At first this was really weird, but soon we got used to it. When he would emerge from his trance/nap/whatever it was, we would recite poetry out loud as a class.

One of my favorite poems we learned that year was Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” There was something magical about the rhythm of it, the images it evoked, the drawings we made based off of it, and how fun it was to memorize and recite it out loud. I still remember most of the poem to this day, so I guess fourth grade wasn’t a total waste. Of course we also learned absolutely nothing about multiplication, division or the solar system like the other 4th grade classes, but I doubt I would have remembered much of that anyway!

Since I have it etched in my brain forever, thanks to Mr. T., when Frost’s poem was evoked a few times for me when I left my Biglaw job last year, I was already very familiar with it.

 

Quitting Biglaw – Partner Reactions

 

Among the many things that terrified me about leaving Biglaw, other people’s reactions to my leaving was probably at the top of the list. I wrote about being surprised at how encouraging and genuinely happy (and jealous, I think) almost every associate was who I told that I was leaving. But what about the partners?

I was very nervous about what the partners would think and say. Overall, even the partners were encouraging and kind, if not confused and unable to understand my decision.

I was surprised by one partner’s reaction in particular. He was a partner in one of the specialty departments with whom I worked on a few deals over the years and with whom I genuinely enjoyed working and seeing in the hallways. He was (and is) very passionate about his practice area and his job, and I couldn’t imagine him ever leaving the law. I didn’t think he’d be able to understand why anyone else would want to leave. But he wrote me a very kind message in my going away card, wishing me luck and quoting the closing paragraph of Frost’s poem:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

He wrote me a nice note about enjoying working together and finished by saying: “Best of luck whichever road you decide to take next.” I was happy to see that even those who I didn’t think would understand my decision to leave actually did. It was my choice, nobody else’s and people accepted that and were happy for me.

When I first read the message last year, I thought – of course, I am taking the road less traveled! By quitting Biglaw, I am doing something unique and something different! But really, I wasn’t, and I don’t think that was the intent of his message or the message of the poem itself. In re-reading Frost’s poem as an adult and really thinking about it, it isn’t actually about taking the unique and less-traveled path. It’s about making a choice.

 

Quitting Biglaw Isn’t Really About Taking “The Road Less Traveled”

 

When I really think about it, staying in Biglaw and making partner is statistically the road less traveled. Only a handful of the hundred or so of my summer associate classmates will make partner at the firm we started out at in the summer of 2008. So aren’t those people the ones who are taking the road less traveled?

I guess it can be debated as to which of the many paths we all choose to take is the less traveled one. But whether the path is the less traveled one or not is not what matters.  Frost’s poem isn’t actually about what many people think it is about: that by taking the road “less traveled” we are expressing our individuality, we are being unique, brave and bold and that taking the less traveled path is the only way will we make our dreams come true.

The poem is about making a decision. While he calls one road “less traveled,” the two roads in his poem are actually described just a few lines above that as being about the same and as having been traveled on the same amount!

 

Quitting Biglaw (Or Any Job) Is About Making a Decision

 

No matter what you decide to do, one road will be the one not taken. And that choice is what will make all the difference in your life. “Difference” doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse, it will just be different.

Standing at the crossroads and making the decision to choose a road is really the important part. Know that the other road will be there if you choose to backtrack and take it, but like Frost, I believe that while it might be comforting to think that you are “keeping it for another day,” I doubt that you’ll ever come back to it. I know I’m not going back to Biglaw, even though the comfort that it is there if I want it or need it is there.

“Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.”

So, which road will it be for you? The road less traveled or…the road less traveled?

*****

The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost (courtesy of The Poetry Foundation)

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

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