Adversity Sample #2 —
Turning a Weakness into a Strength
Weaknesses in your file must, at a minimum, be explained. But often you can do much more than that. You can turn an apparent weakness into a strength.
This client had a 2.6 gpa, and had lived in a half-dozen cities in 10 years. Even with an LSAT at median, he hardly seemed worth the risk. There was no reason for an admissions officer to believe he would complete a three-year program.
By having him come out of the closet, we were able to adequately explain both his poor grades and his constant moves. We were also able to show the real continuity and advancement in his "career" as a gay activist. As a result, he was accepted at Case Western and American. Fewer than 10% were accepted in his numerical range.
One of the few things I remember about my childhood is my mother's beige linen suit. It was her "best" suit, and she wore it to work for years. The more it faded and frayed, the more it became a symbol to me of our poverty, and the more I hated it. Being poor made me feel like a second-class person.
We never really outgrew the poverty; I just left it to go to college. By my second year, I was working up to fifty hours a week to support myself. Looking at my transcript analysis, I guess my grades suffered a lot that year, until I learned to balance homework with my other responsibilities. But in truth, I don't even remember that. Most of what I remember about college had to do with learning to accept being gay. I guess I learned to accept it pretty well, because within a year of graduation I left my job as manager of a home for mentally retarded adults to become manager of Glad Day, the first gay liberation bookstore in North America. (A "gay liberation" bookstore is one which specializes in political and educational materials, instead of pornography). That's where I met Ted.
My next ten years are pretty much inexplicable without reference to Ted. What looks like the rambling of an unmotivated itinerant is really a fairly typical description of the spouse of someone with a career requiring frequent relocation. Ted is an optical physicist. He specializes in laser technology of the sort used to make holographic pictures and laser ("compact") discs. When we met, he was already well established in his field, while I had not yet really chosen a career. In the ten years we've lived together he's worked in half a dozen cities in the United States, and in France for two years. In each place we lived I've worked, gone to school, and volunteered my time for political causes, but I've always been willing to make my own goals secondary to his.
My life hasn't just been a series of odd jobs, however. When we moved to New Jersey in 1980, I got a job teaching emotionally disturbed adolescents. At the same time I began learning computer programming, helping Ted with some of the work he brought home. By the time we moved to Denver in 1981, I knew enough about programming to get a job at it. The system we were using was very poorly documented, so I began filling in the gaps. Soon I was promoted to technical writer. I took a number of courses at the University of Colorado, strengthening my writing skills and credentials. When we moved to California in 1985, I had no trouble finding work as a tech writer. When Ted's project was cancelled a few months later, we decided to pool our considerable computer skills and form our own company. We got a contract with DuPont to write a simulation program and the accompanying technical manuals for predicting changes in performance of laser discs with changes in the materials and production methods used. We moved to Pennsylvania while we worked on the project; when it was finished, Ted was offered a position in Boston.
While we were in Boston, Ted was offered a long-term project in France. We talked it over and decided to go, even though I would be in the curious position of a dependent (since I could not get a work visa). It was during these two years that I grew dissatisfied with my life. Until then, I had always had my own work, which I found rewarding, and my political projects, which were very important to me. In Colorado I had worked on the political campaign of Senator Wirth, who was then in the House of Representatives. In Pennsylvania I worked with the Democratic Socialists of America. In Boston I worked on Mel King's campaign for a seat in the House of Representatives. In every city, I was involved in projects in the gay and lesbian community. In France I really couldn't do anything. I wasn't allowed to work; I didn't speak French well enough to go to school (except to study French) or to become involved with any political issues. I studied French. I studied French cooking. Then I came home.
I worked on Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign in New Hampshire, and from there got involved in my most major political campaign, the recently, finally successful effort to pass state-wide civil rights legislation for lesbians and gay men in Massachusetts. I realized during that year that, while productive work and a caring relationship were important, they were no longer sufficient. I need a more continuing sense of purpose to my life, and a more purposeful sense of continuity that life as the "second" person in a relationship cannot give. These needs have always been met (to such extent as they have been) by my political activities. Slowly I perceived that the political activism I had pursued wasn't a hobby to indulge while searching for a career; it was my career. Once I realized this I changed my job focus, combining my political skills with my programming expertise to design a simulation model for voting patterns in Massachusetts. The satisfaction I've gained from this only spurs me to seek further self-realization, and success enhances my desire for greater challenges. I've talked to Ted about my need to be, if not "first," then at least equal, in terms of careers. He readily agreed to plan his life around mine for a while, so I can go to law school without having to worry about relocating.
I don't regret my life for the last ten years, and I don't blame Ted for my complacency. If anything, I blame that beige linen suit. Being poor and being gay both taught me to accept myself as less than a "whole" person in society's eyes. But in my year of lobbying the Massachusetts legislature, demanding that others grant me first-class citizenship, I've come to demand it of myself as well.