Success and Fulfillment

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Professor Doug Blaze
Dean Emeritus, Art Stolnitz and Elvin E. Overton Distinguished Professor of Law, and Director of the Institute for Professional Leadership

Several years ago, I was talking about leadership with an alumnus, David Smith, a partner in the DC office of a large national law firm. David suggested I take a look at a book by a Harvard Business School Professor – Clayton Christensen. I was skeptical. I thought to myself “we are a law school, not a business school. We are about service, not wealth. B-School is where you go if you want to get rich.” Despite my skepticism, I got a copy of the book – HOW WILL YOU MEASURE YOUR LIFE? The book is a relatively quick and very compelling read. Professor Christensen provides some invaluable advice about how to have a successful and fulfilling professional and personal life.
According to Professor Christensen to be fulfilled in life we need to figure out three things:
– How to ensure that we are successful and happy professionally;
– How to ensure that our relationships with family and friends are an enduring source of personal happiness; and,
– How to ensure that we live a life of integrity.
I think those three overlapping macro-level questions – and how one answers them – can provide a good rubric or roadmap both law students and lawyers.
With regard to the first issue, Christensen says that to be successful professionally you need the right balance of calculation and serendipity (or in business school language, the right balance between the deliberate and the emergent). In other words, it is important to plan and prepare – that is the calculation; that is the deliberate. That focus is how you got into law school and found a job after graduation. So continue to rely on your planning and preparation skills.
But open yourself up and balance the deliberate with the emergent, with the serendipitous, with the unexpected. To be truly successful and fulfilled, you need to be open to new opportunities and to new perspectives. When opportunities present themselves, grab them – whether that is a particular assignment, a case, a pro bono matter, or a different job. Seize opportunities whenever they are consistent with your goals and professional objectives. Just be true to your values and work toward what fulfills you.
What about Professor Christensen’s second requirement for a success and happiness: “ensuring that your relationships with family and friends remain strong and vibrant?” I think this is a bigger issue than just relationships with family and friends. I think it is an issue of finding and maintaining true balance in your life. It is an issue of committing fully to your professional work and simultaneously committing to the other equally important parts of your life – your family, friends, and those activities that keep you centered.
You need to keep your balance. The practice of law, especially during your first years after graduation as you try to find your bearings, can overwhelm and consume you. Don’t let it. You to need to stop regularly to rest, to relax, and to remember the other very important things in your life. You need to take time to get your bearings. You can easily get caught up in the day to day demands of the practice of law and learning your craft, and in that process to lose sight of other important aspects of your life.
Keep your balance. Your ability to do so will be absolutely critical to your professional success. Be sure to spend time with family, friends, and other loved ones. They are more important than your work and deserve at least an equal commitment. And do other things that enrich your lives. You know what things, people, or activities do that for you. Please and devote time and energy to those things, people, and activities.
Finally, turning to Professor Christensen’s last requirement for success and happiness: live a life of integrity. Professor Christensen actually includes the additional phrase – so you don’t go to jail. As lawyers, we should be thinking about integrity on a bit higher plane.
Regardless, Professor Christensen’s advice on how to live a life of integrity is very, very simple: Never, ever start making moral concessions in the first place. To quote C.S. Lewis: “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” To avoid that road, decide what you stand for and stand for it all the time.
Most of us think the important ethical decisions will be readily apparent – and very obvious. Almost everyone is confident that in those moments of truth, they will do the right thing. How many people do you know that don’t believe they have integrity?
The problem is life seldom works that way. Instead, we face a series of seemingly small, everyday decisions that challenge our integrity but rarely appear to have high stakes. But over time, they can add on one another with enormous consequences. Don’t cross that personal integrity line even once. For if you have justified stepping over the line once, there is little to stop you from doing it again. Or in the words of the always relevant Janis Joplin: “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.”

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