November 7, 2021
Emily Mabey is an attorney who, went to law school at age 40. A mother of 4 she is now a practicing attorney and former freelance writer and editor.
Emily says that “for as long as I can remember, I have liked stories—mostly stories about real people. I remember my mom getting frustrated that I didn’t want to read all the fantasy books my sisters were reading. She thought it meant I didn’t like to read. But then once she told me, “Emily, I have finally realized you are reading a lot—you’re just reading all the magazines in the bathroom.” She was right: National Geographic, Sports Illustrated,Time, Newsweek, People. That’s what I was reading. From then on she made sure we had lots of good magazines, and suggested historical fiction or non-fiction to me instead of fantasy.
I always liked to ask a million questions. It was insatiable with me. I felt like I was good at conversation. (Which I always felt was a weird talent, because how do you show that to the judges in the Miss America pageant?! Hold fake conversations with manaquins? That’s how I thought about it when I was younger.) And people said I liked to argue, though I always felt indignant about that. How unfair! I just like to discuss things! People always said I would be either a journalist or an attorney. I hesitate to say I always liked to write, because I feel like people always misunderstand that. They think that means you find it fun to sit down and write. I know few people who do. In fact, it’s an agonizing experience for a lot of writers. It’s more like I always felt a need to write. It was like if I didn’t write an experience down, in my journal, or in a note to someone, or nowadays a text or email or journal app, I didn’t yet understand what had happened. It’s as if I process by writing, or at least by thinking the words aloud in my head.
Anyway, that is all prelude to explain part of the reason I am where I am today. Why I have evolved the way I have.
I felt that need to write, but I didn’t know what to do with it. When I was in the groove, I was good: I had one high school teacher call me in and accuse me of plagiarism for a paper about The Scarlet Letter. She didn’t think a student could have written it. But when I wasn’t in the groove, I wasn’t in the groove. I didn’t want to focus on writing, or major in it. I thought this meant I wasn’t a real writer. My ideas only flowed when there was a real story to tell, or ideas to discuss. I wasn’t someone who sat down and wrote fiction for fun. That made me feel like an imposter. In college I majored in and loved American Studies. It was a really broad field that gave me all kinds of things to think and read and write about, from history to government to literature. But when I graduated from college, I still felt that imposter syndrome. I know most people thought I would go to law school. But I really fought that idea. I didn’t want to go do what everyone expected me to; I didn’t feel like anyone really understood me. I think we all feel that way. I decided if I ever wanted to know if I really had the stuff as a writer, I had to study it in grad school. I wanted to challenge my creative side once and for all. So I put together a portfolio and applied for two writing masters programs in Boston—one in journalism and one in creative writing. When I toured the programs, I realized my lack of desire to confront people or make them uncomfortable ruled out the journalism program:)
After my masters in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College (I graduated in 2000; there were some experiences there that had a profound effect on me), I worked as a freelance writer and editor for about 15 years. I think it was a really important part of my life. I learned what I liked and didn’t like about the writing world. It was kind of a crappy time to enter it, because it was a time when long-form journalism and the world I loved was being overtaken by bloggers with no experience. Pay was way down, and desire for quality or experience was way down. It was discouraging. I did a lot of editing and found I had a real knack for it; but I was never satisfied. I wrote a lot of bios of people, and also felt dissatisfied. Ultimately, over many years, I realized what I wanted was a voice and a reason to have one. I was purpose-driven. It was a flexible gig for a mom, but I was never satisfied.
Throughout this time, I was raising a family as the primary caregiver. We were living through some really tumultuous times in that regard. We had two bio kids, then a baby who died, then adopted two girls from Ethiopia, and then had a failed adoption, then adopted a boy at birth from Flint, Michigan. By 2015 and early 2016, I felt like I had lived through hell. I was facing the fact that, after six gut-wrenching years, hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in counseling, our adoption was failing. Our girls did not want to live with our family. My perception of myself as a mother was in the toilet. As I got used to the idea that I would have to move out of their way and let them have another path, I started looking earnestly for a more fulfilling path for myself outside of home. I needed to separate my love for my kids from my desire to be fulfilled. Not put that pressure on my family. I am a spiritual person, so I prayed my guts out while I researched everything. I thought I wanted a PhD—maybe to teach. I kept thinking of one line from a talk in my church about mothers banging on the windows of heaven. That was me. I was banging. I was desperate for answers for help. Law school had always been in the back of my mind, but I had fought it. I thought it wasn’t creative enough. I had taken the LSAT 10 years earlier, but I had never felt good about going to school and had let my score expire. Then one day I realized, “I need to find my people. A PhD is lonely and I need a cohort.” I decided to apply, but told my husband not to pressure me to go. I studied for and took the LSAT, and got a significantly lower score this time. I didn’t even take the LSAT until after the application deadline had passed. But my parents and a friend encouraged me to apply anyway, as a trial run. So I submitted my application in mid-July. I got an acceptance call from the dean of admissions over the phone while I was driving kids to soccer—less than a week after I applied! I had just a month to prepare before law school started! At the time I had five kids at home, with my youngest being 5 and my oldest 16 (I know:) Different from the 4 total I have now).
My first day was two days after my 40th birthday. It changed my life and fulfilled me in so many ways I could never have anticipated.”
#evolveafter40 #growthmindset #law #lawyer #womenempowerment