I’m moving to Kathmandu! For work – I’ve had several people ask me if I’m just traveling or on some extended vacation. So, no, though I do try and travel frequently out of whichever city I’m based in (particularly when I was living in Europe, because I have friends scattered throughout the continent and the flights are cheap). The short explanation is that I’ve accepted a placement in the Canadian Bar Association’s Young Lawyers International Program (Facebook page here – please like and share, and you will not only get updates from me, but from the other thirteen participants, located in Guyana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, and Vietnam! Also, there is currently a terrible photo of me on their Facebook page that you can laugh at). The program is funded by the Canadian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development, and for those lawyers/articling students legally entitled to work in Canada and under 30 years of age, they will be recruiting more participants in the spring. The placements are focused on the promotion of human rights and access to justice, including spots with legal aid clinics, legislative development organizations, and law societies, among others. So if any of that is of interest to you, please get in touch with me and I can hit you with the 411 (do people born in the 90s get that reference?).
My placement is with the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), in Kathmandu, Nepal. Nepal just put its new constitution into effect this past September, and IDEA played a huge role in its drafting. My role is to be a legal consultant, and I’ll be assisting in the assessment of the new constitution (how does it compare to other constitutions, what are its strengths and shortcomings, does it meet international standards, what are the best ways of implementing its policies), as well as with the logistics of organizing a global conference regarding gender audits of constitutions (ie, ensuring that constitutions reflect the equal promotion and protection of gender rights). As I’ve mentioned before, my end goal is to work in athletes’ rights from a gendered perspective – be it through league education, ensuring equal access to sport for girls and women, or support for LGBTQ athletes, among many other potential options – so having the chance to work in a policy position is such a huge move for me, and I’m so incredibly excited for this opportunity. Also, how sick is this conference gonna be???!!!
On a lengthier note…
I consider myself to be very fortunate to have the opportunity to live on another continent and immerse myself in another culture (for those keeping track, this will be the fourth continent I’ve lived on in the past four years). I’m constantly amazed to see the way in which our lives can turn out, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that, more often than not, what I’ve thought I wanted hasn’t always been what’s best for me.
I wanted to be a doctor since I was probably 7 years old. In my Grade 12 Creative Writing class, one of our final assignment was to answer a series of questions, reflecting on our lives up to that point. One of the questions also related to our ‘dream lives.’ I said I wanted to be a neurosurgeon (I even picked out the hospital I wanted to work at – the Mayo Clinic, specifically in Rochester, Minnesota, because who doesn’t want to live in Minnesota – for my #triblyfe friends, “Minnesota: only slightly better than Michigan” should be the tagline for that state. I kid, I kid), and that I wanted to own a villa in Spain for my downtime (I’m still pretty down with that goal, past Melissa). But the first thing I said, before my bizarrely specific goals, was, “After I graduate, I plan on becoming very successful.”
Success is an interesting thing to measure. I went through some tough times during my undergraduate degree, specifically, in my second year; it really made me stop and think about what I wanted from my life, and led me to write the LSAT. Honestly, becoming a lawyer wasn’t a way for me to change the world. Being a lawyer seemed cleaner than being a doctor. I didn’t want to see people hurting and know that, at some point, I couldn’t do anything else (this is not to diminish what doctors do at all stages of illness, I just knew it wasn’t for me). So being a lawyer seemed like an easier way to help people solve clean, business-related problems. And once I made the decision to go to law school, a lot of the problems I was dealing with became more manageable. I switched out of a Kin and Health Sciences Degree into a Kin and Fine Arts degree, and started drawing again. I actually enjoyed studying for the LSAT (standardized tests are a huge strength of mine, and I love puzzles), and I ended up spending two years researching and then writing my honours thesis about immigration laws and the social and legal effects and roles they play in relation to Olympics athletes. I felt in control again, and I graduated first in my class.
So, of course, my goal once I got to law school was to crush it and end up on one of the biggest firms on Bay Street making bank (non-law friends, Bay Street firms are what you think of when you watch Suits. Suits is unrealistic, mainly because lawyers are not that attractive… but they do film in Toronto on Bay Street, so you get the picture).
And that didn’t really work out for me. One, I got to law school and felt like a moron, completely regretting my decision to switch from a Health Sciences minor to a Fine Arts minor (I constantly berated myself for choosing what I then saw as an absolutely useless minor, even though, looking back at my undergrad, the chance to spend two years of my life working out, making art, and studying things I genuinely was interested in was what helped me gain control of myself after what I went through). Two, everyone seemed to know way more than me about law and the world in general (if you’re just starting law school, trust me, they don’t, they’re just faking it. And if they actually do know a lot about law the first day of 1L, they’re probably a huge wiener. And if you happened to do a Kindergarten degree like I did – gym and art what what – you are one of the luckiest people out there because you have so many cool hobbies to distract you from reading cases filled with words you don’t understand). Three, I was completely average in law school, if not below average, marks wise. I remember someone making a crack to me about how awful it would be to get a B-, right after our first term public law mark came out. Guess what was on my transcript?
So I tried really hard, and I think I came out of first year with one B+ and a slew of Bs and B-s. But, I still thought I needed Bay Street to be successful, and even with my completely average marks, that’s where I was determined to go.
So I got one OCI (for non-law people, they’re these terrible on campus interviews with the bigger firms that last like 18 minutes and are terribly awkward, and people in law school often treat them as a measure of success because, well, it is, and it determines whether or not you’re going to end up with one of the high paying well-named firms) and I blew it, because I had never been on a job interview in my life (I had a treeplanting interview for my second season in BC, and was asked how many trees I planted each day, and whether or not I stashed trees – my answer, only when I was told to). So, with no job and everyone constantly talking about theirs, I felt like I was stupid and that I had no self worth, and debated dropping out of law school. Then I had to apply for jobs in Ottawa. One interview, no job. Then Toronto again, then Ottawa again, then Calgary and Hamilton. I think in total, I had five interviews, in all those cities and cycles. And every time I was told no, I felt dumber and dumber, and worth less and less. I finally got an articling position, and then I wasn’t hired back. And again, it was the same thing.
I don’t want this to sound like one of those talks, where everything works out as it’s meant to, or one of those, look where I am, you can be here too! kind of things. I hated hearing those throughout my life. I never found it all that helpful, and, honestly, I don’t believe in ‘meant to be’ or ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ or anything like that. I believe in taking a situation and making the most of it. Who’s to say I wouldn’t be as happy as I am right now had I got a job at one of those huge firms? I could have loved it. But that’s not where I ended up. You can only control so much in your life before you have to let the other stuff go, and in letting that go, you have to look ahead. Don’t dwell on disappointments, because honestly? There’s no perfect job, or person for you, or house. There’s your life and what you make of it. And there will be great jobs, people, and houses, but those can always change, whether you want them to or not.
This is all to say that I clearly am not starring in a romantic comedy at any point in time, but also, that I feel very happy with where I am right now, and that, truly, some of the best things that have happened to me have felt like the worst at the time they were dealt. I don’t want to work for a giant firm (right now), and I definitely don’t want to do mergers and acquisitions (ever). That’s not to say that working for a big firm, or doing a type of work I’d never want to do is the wrong choice for anyone else – I really admire my friends who made it there, and can put in the hours, and can balance that work. It’s to say that, by ‘failing’, I was given the chance to reflect on what I wanted and to push myself to really seek out work that I find meaningful. And getting to do work that I’m excited about, and to see how all my experiences can build into something I’m even more passionate about – that makes me feel successful. But my success doesn’t stop here – it grows and evolves with all my failures and all life’s changes. Every step we take is just that – a step – and you can always change paths. I’ve been talking a lot about reflection lately, and seriously, it is so important to think about what you want and your own personal fulfillment. If you aren’t happy, take steps to make yourself happier (which is easier said than done). Satisfaction and success in our lives comes on so many levels; within our selves, with our relationships, with our work. Nothing will ever be perfect, so accept that, and find the things you can control. My main unsolicited advice? If you want to do something, come up with a realistic plan and just do it.
So yeah, right now, I think my life is really, really cool. I get to go work in policy in a foreign country on a super weird time zone (they’re ten hours and 45 minutes ahead of Toronto in Kathmandu). I had the opportunity to travel all over Europe while working on a really unique international criminal case. I lived in the world’s greatest city (Cape Town, you’ll always have my heart). I can see the steps I have taken and that I want to take in the future to get me closer to where I want to end up. It’s a process that constantly changes, but I don’t need to know all those precise details, like I used to. My life right now is amazing; I could have never specifically predicted or planned it, and I mean, it’s no Rochester, Minnesota, but I think I can handle that.
So, friendos, feel free to continue along with me on this next step. And for those of you in Ontario, I’m going to be in Thunder Bay this upcoming week, Dryden this upcoming Friday and Saturday, Toronto the weekend of December 11th, Hamilton the weekend of December 18th, and London until January 5th, and I would love to catch up with as many people as possible. Even if you won’t be in one of those places, send me a message! I really do miss the people in my life that I don’t get to see all that often, which is essentially everyone in my life.
Namaste pals. And for your time, I present to you a photo of me and two of my ICTY judges. It somehow does not capture the terrible awkwardness of the moment, but believe me, I was the most awkward turtle during the taking of this photo.