How a friend's Facebook status changed one young lawyer's life
When Renatta Austin thought about what it meant to be successful, she had a very specific picture in her mind: a job with a legal firm on Bay Street, spiffy suits, rubbing elbows with important people, and money.
It was a version of success she held on to from a young age, a vision that propelled her through law school. When she graduated, she managed to turn that imagined picture of success into concrete reality.
But something felt off. Renatta had a nagging feeling of doubt, a sense that maybe she'd missed something in the path she'd set out for herself. Surely there was something that would leave her satisfied at a much deeper level. Money and power are always nice, but what about passion?
Renatta was constantly turning the question of passion around in her head. She had a strong desire to pursue community-based lawyering, but she also knew she had bills to pay – including heaps of student debt – and the responsible choice always seemed to be sticking with the job that paid well. Then one morning, like any other morning, Renatta opened up Facebook.
A friend from law school, someone Renatta loved and admired, had been diagnosed with cancer. She had posted a status update to let her friends know she was sick. Over the next eight months, Renatta's friend documented her struggle with cancer: the appointments, the chemotherapy, the hair loss. And Renatta followed along, checking each update, waiting to hear some good news.
Life is completely unpredictable. Things can change in a matter of months.- Renatta Austin
"She was so humble, so graceful, so generous in sharing her experience with people on Facebook," Renatta remembers. "It really forced me to take a long hard look at my own life."
For Renatta, watching her friend's struggle in real time had a deep and lasting impact. She says her friend did everything right – she worked hard, made responsible decisions, was a decent and caring human being. But instead of enjoying the benefits of her dedication, she was fighting cancer. Renatta decided it was never a good idea to wait to pursue one's passions and dreams. The right time was right now.
"There's no guarantee that I'm going to be here 10 years from now. I realized that I have to start living now, so as a result I made the decision to leave the kind of work that I was doing... and pursue my passion of community-based lawyering and frontline work."
"Even though it doesn't look like the traditional success of working downtown and wearing a fancy suit every day, I'm really happy and it makes sense and feels right. This is who I am."