I shall always remember something that happened on my first day of law school. Actually, it was not the first day of classes, but rather a day of orientation, with a lineup of speakers (law professors) intent on stroking their enormous egos at the students’ expense.
Most of the day was unremarkable, but that afternoon, one of the presenters asked us why we had decided to attend law school. The answers varied, with most students citing lofty goals that they wanted everyone else to hear. One guy was honest, however, and stated flatly that he wanted to make money. Everyone laughed, as if the notion of making money were the farthest thing from their minds. I chuckled, too, but my memory of the incident remains vivid to this day.
Later, when I became disenchanted with the practice of law, I recalled the episode and began to reflect on its implications. At the time of the law-school orientation, I had not yet formulated a convincing reason for being a lawyer. Law seemed like a sound professional choice, offering attractive levels of pay, perks, and prestige. After more than a decade of law practice, though, I found myself accumulating reasons for not being a lawyer.
Finally, it dawned on me that I had not really gone to law school to become a lawyer. Sure, I had studied law, and as a matter of fact, I was a lawyer, but the desire to practice law had never been part of it. What I had sought, in reality, was a better life, and at the time, going to law school seemed like a good way to achieve that goal. Once I admitted to myself that being a lawyer had not resulted in the quality life I had envisaged, I decided to change.
The change was not easy. I made incursions into a number of fields and took perhaps too long to understand that I needed to focus on my strengths. My new direction generated less money than law practice, but it was far more satisfying and definitely worth it.
Whether they know it or not, most people study and work for the same fundamental reason. All of us have talents and motivations that take us in different directions, but it’s important not to allow these differences to obfuscate the underlying fact that we all seek better lives.
Of course, each of us has a different view of what comprises a better life. A friend of mine is a born lawyer, and I am confident that his highest contribution to the world will be through the practice of law. I’ve met perfect fits in other professions, as well, and those writers, carpenters, artists, physicians, dentists, architects, and school teachers are engaged in wonderful and fulfilling careers.
We need to pause from time to time and ask what makes us tick. The first step in that analysis, I believe, is to become aware that what we seek is a better life. Focusing on the search for a quality life will help us know whether we are on a path toward true happiness.