One night last week when I was home in Wisconsin I was rummaging through an old box of photos and came across a Saturday Evening Post article from 1991. I was interviewed for a story in the magazine about Best Buddies, an international organization that provides opportunities for one-on-one friendships with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Growing up I worked quite a bit with people with developmental disabilities, first volunteering in middle and high school, then teaching swimming lessons, then being the founding Chapter Director of Best Buddies at UW-Madison, and then serving on the Midwest Advisory Board of Best Buddies when I was in law school in Chicago. I was passionate about this work because each interaction brought great moments of personal reward and growth. One excerpt from the Saturday Evening Post article read as follows: “For example, Christine Buckley, president of the Best Buddies chapter at the University of Wisconsin-Madison says she’s rethought her career plans as a result of her involvement. Yes, she still plans to go to law school next year, but now, instead of concentrating on corporate or patent law, Buckley hopes to find an area of law that is more people-oriented. Maybe, she says, she’ll find a way to advance the rights of handicapped persons.” When I read this last week, I flashed back to the conversation I had with the reporter who was interviewing me. I remember feeling completely committed to pursuing a career where I could make a difference in the world. Yet somehow, somewhere in the 3 year period between college and graduation from law school, I decided making movies in the perceived glamorous industry of Hollywood was a better idea.
When I left my parents’ house en route to Chicago, I stopped by a group home in Milwaukee to visit my Best Buddy, Cendra Hicks. Cendra has cerebral palsy and mental retardation. The summer before law school I chaperoned 3 women with developmental disabilities to a national Best Buddies conference in Washington, D.C. Cendra was one of those women and we have maintained a friendship for 19 years. Having a friend like Cendra is like giving yourself a shot of truth serum–when I walked in the first words out of her mouth were “You have so many wrinkles!” It made me laugh (after first looking into her mirror with a flash of paranoia). My time with Cendra has always opened my heart. She is so honest, so vulnerable, so full of love for me…and the feeling of love is completely reciprocated. I’ve learned through life that some of our most important teachers come in unexpected forms, and Cendra has most definitely been a great teacher of mine. When I left Cendra, I was initially hit with a deep sadness that I didn’t follow my Saturday Evening Post published dream to find a way to advance the rights of persons with developmental disabilities. But then, while I was driving, I realized that a career in this field wasn’t the only way to make a difference. Just as Cendra has enriched my life, I know I’ve made a difference in hers. It’s quite probable that the friendship between Cendra and me is just as valuable in the grand scheme of things as if I had in fact decided to work in this field. No regrets.
Another part of my life I’ve often regretted was my choice to attend law school. I’m still riddled with student loan debt. Almost $1,000 a month in student loan payments have been made almost continuously since 1996 and I still have $75,000 to go. The debt, combined with the fact that being a lawyer has never been my personality, has weighed heavily on my emotions over the years. I’m certain this is a reason why I remained an executive in Hollywood for so many years – I couldn’t afford to leave my job because I needed the pay check in order to meet my monthly student loan nut. After visiting Cendra I headed to Chicago for the night to visit with some of my old law school friends. The five who were able to break free of work and family obligations came to my hotel room for fried chicken, beer, and thanks to my friend Dave, Patron Tequila. Remember, Yoda has severe separation anxiety, and due to the cold weather I couldn’t leave him in the car. This left no option but to invite everyone over to my hotel. I haven’t seen most of these friends for almost 16 years. They’ve all become crazy successful. Linda is a disability lawyer who also happens to be a gold medal and record winning Paralympic athlete, published author, public speaker, and recently was part of the Chicago 2016 organization and presentation team that pursued the Olympic and Paralympic Games for the City of Chicago where she presented next to President Obama. Dave is VP and General Counsel for an international hotel chain. Ben owns a thriving elder law practice and was formerly an adjunct professor of law. Anthony owns a tool and die shop, and Sue has a part time practice while she raises two very energetic twins. We sat around talking and laughing, and eventually the conversation turned into a ride down memory lane. Law school was intense, challenging and a helluva lot of work. We were all broke, so even if we had the time to go out, none of us could afford to do much of anything. This made our relationships with each other more important and extra rewarding. We studied together, struggled together, laughed together, shared lockers together, and made that huge transitional leap from students to lawyers together. I looked around the room at my old law school friends, and it occurred to me that my life is better for having known each of them. We brought so much to each other’s lives during law school. While talking with them, I realized that my memory of law school over the years has been selective. I actually really did have a lot of fun, both with my friends and with my studies. Do I wish I didn’t have the debt-load that I carry? Yes. But do I wish that I never attended law school? No, I now realize I don’t regret it at all. An education is never wrong to have, and the relationships I made along the way were worth every penny of the exorbitant cost of my education. Both the education and my law school friendships helped make me who I am today. Although I’m confused about the direction of my future, I actually really do like who I am. No regrets.
It’s so tempting to regret past life choices if we don’t like where we find ourselves today. Yet once we take a step back and reflect on where each perceived “bad” choice has taken us, chances are we’ll understand why that choice had to be made. In addition to regretting law school and not pursuing disability law, I’ve often regretted moving to LA. Yet, if I hadn’t moved to LA, I wouldn’t have met so very many people who have influenced and touched my life in ways too great to explain in this blog. If I hadn’t moved to LA I wouldn’t have discovered my spiritual path or my love for health and wellness. And going back to my choice to take a job making movies over doing something more meaningful, well, I don’t regret that either. Working in the film industry was a dream of mine from a very young age. If I hadn’t worked in this field, I’d venture a guess that I’d be sitting in a different field wondering “what if I had pursued my dream?” No regrets. There are no wrong choices in life. I know it in my heart. So there is no option but to own our choices, we made them for a reason whether we consciously realize it or not. I have faith that one day it will all make sense.
Every step we take in life, in whatever direction it may be, is leading us closer to the realization of our authentic selves. And that was the most recent lesson of the road.
Read me on The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-buckley/