I left a 6-figure law job due to depression. I always feared being a 'quitter' — but now I don't regret it.
- Henna Choi, 28, left a high-paying job as a lawyer to pursue making TikTok videos.
- She shares videos about her everyday life on TikTok. Her account has more than 470,000 followers.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Henna Choi, a 28-year-old lawyer who is on leave from her job. It has been edited for length and clarity.
As the firstborn daughter of an immigrant family who comes from a culture where education is the most revered thing, I always knew I was going to have a big job. What I didn't know was that I would leave that job after just two years.
I always felt the internal pressure that so many children of immigrants feel. I had to succeed, and I had to succeed in the ways that my parents would find impressive — basically, I had to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. I chose law because I figured that's what I would be best at.
In undergrad, I double-majored in women and gender studies and equity studies, with a focus on race and disability. I figured that I could use my platform as a lawyer to help people who really needed it, but that's not quite how it worked out.
Becoming a lawyer was expensive
I have almost $80,000 in student loans. The pressure to find a high-paying job to pay off your student loans is enormous, so when I was offered a job that gives commission on top of base pay, I took it right away.
I was still able to help disabled people in my position, but it wasn't what I dreamt of when I was in law school. Between the reality of how little I enjoyed being a lawyer and my mental-health struggles with depression, I knew it was time to take a break — especially since I hadn't been on a vacation in years after going straight from undergrad to law school.
Now that I'm on a break from my job, I'm freaking out
This is the first time in my adult life I've had this much unstructured time for myself. In the back of my mind, I keep reminding myself that I can go back to the structure and safety of my life as a lawyer, but something is pulling me in another direction.
The thing is, I've always wanted to do something creative for work. As a child, I wanted to be an artist.
A few months ago, I found a creative outlet that really worked for me: TikTok. I share videos of my everyday life as a self-described "depressed lawyer," and I have more than 470,000 followers now. My success on TikTok has made me feel like maybe I can do what I want with my life — or at the very least, I can try to. There's so much uncertainty in my life, but there's also excitement and beauty like I've never experienced before.
It's terrifying to leave a secure, high-paying job, and I wouldn't be able to do it without my family
They've been so supportive of me taking a leave from my job and of the content I post on TikTok, even though my upbringing and our family relationships are sometimes the source of my content. They watch my videos every day and we talk about what I share. It's kind of wild, but it's also very simple: they just want to see me happy.
I thought I had to be an extremely successful person within the narrow boundaries of what society sees as successful for them to be supportive, but that's not true at all. They want what's best for me, even if that means not being a lawyer anymore.
The financial aspect of taking leave is definitely stressful, but I live in Canada, and I'm lucky to be able to partake in the country's unemployment benefits. I make the rest work through savings and a little bit of family support.
If my younger self could see me now, her first question would be, "What do Mom and Dad think?" It's so nice to think I could answer that with the truth: They're being genuinely supportive and allowing me to feel safe enough to take this chance.
I'm trying to nurture the creative soul inside of me instead of suffocating it
When I tried to stuff down my creativity and desire to be a good lawyer, I was deeply unhappy, and it took a serious toll on my mental health. Not being who you really are is painful to live with every day. I think my inner child would be proud. She always wanted to be an artist.
I don't know what's going to come next. I don't know if I'm going to return to my life as a lawyer or if I'll make it in the world as a creative person, but I do know I have to try. I was tired of fighting with myself. Going forward, we're on the same team.
I was raised to think quitting is terrible and you have to finish what you started, but I realized that allowing yourself the space to change your mind is so empowering. It's powerful to choose what you want your life to be like. Quitting something that isn't working for you is a good thing. Trying for something new is even better.
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