Remembering Your Why

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Doug Blaze
Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus
Director, Institute for Professional Leadership

At the end of the first week of law school for each new 1L class, I encourage each of them to re-read their admissions statement each night before going to bed.  My strong suggestion comes at the end of a discussion of motivation and fulfillment.  Using Dan Pink’s book, Drive, we talk about the three pillars of motivation:  purpose, autonomy, and mastery.  I try to explain, as effectively a I can so early in their law school experience, about the external forces (e.g., grades, workload, job searches) that can undermine their sense of purpose.  If they can retain a sense of purpose, I further explain, their law school experience and professional lives will be more satisfying and successful.

Each class responds, that first week, enthusiastically.  But as the semester progresses through memos, mid-terms, and outlining, memories of my suggestion fade.  Most forget, to use Simon Sinek’s articulation, their Why.  As a result, coupled with other influences, the students’ sense of well being suffers.  Some recapture their focus over time, or reformulate their goals.  Others seems to drift much longer.

Most of us, like the new students, had a strong sense of purpose in becoming a lawyer.  We wanted to serve others, be more effective change agents, or make the world a better place.  But along the way, due the more immediate pressures of law school, practice, or an increase in personal responsibilities, some of us lost our why.   And it shows.  Many of us are dissatisfied, unfulfilled, if not downright miserable.  But, like law students, we can fix it by rediscovering a renewed sense of purpose.

For me it is through teaching leadership and helping students develop professionally.   I revel in helping students grow as lawyers, find a meaningful career path, and take steps to be successful as they define that concept.  Because when that happens, I know they will be people of positive impact and influence in the profession and their communities.  While enjoyable, simply teaching criminal law or civil procedure does not give me that same sense of satisfaction and meaning.

Think about what drives you.  Think about your why.   I bet you can rediscover it quickly through teaching, mentoring, or taking on a pro bono matter.  Mentoring another means helping them identify and follow their sense of purpose and, in the process, you may just rediscover or reinforce your own.   Helping others, through mentoring, pro bono, or a hundred other ways, is the most effective way to increase your own sense of purpose and well-being.

I see it every semester when Buck Lewis connects with students, maintains contact after graduation, and guides them toward their dreams.  For example, a month or so ago he helped a former student concerned about jail conditions in his community successfully connect with a civil rights advocacy group.  He changed not only the life of the former student, but the lives of scores of others as well.  Buck has had an enormously successful career as a lawyer and bar leader, but I guarantee he considers his teaching and mentoring the most important and fulfilling work he has ever done.

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