President's Message March/April 2018

The Practice of Law: Your Job, Your Career, or Your Calling?
Linda Rekas Sloan, Esq.

President, Rhode Island Bar Association

..the journey itself is the process I am advocating, not the destination. If you are self-aware, that growing awareness will change your perspective about how life should be.
Have you ever driven to work with thoughts preoccupying your mind and suddenly you arrive at work having no clear memory of driving there? Similarly, we often go through life on autopilot, only to realize later that we have lost sight of our passions and goals along the way.

I have heard that one’s work is either a job, a career, or a calling. A job is described as something that you do for money to make a living and support yourself; it is a means to an end. 

A career is sometimes described as a ladder that you climb for some combination of prestige, success, status, power and/or money; where your progress is tracked through your appointments and achievements. During your “career” phase, your internal compass and point of reference is usually based on meeting the expectations of others, not your own self-fulfillment.

Finally, a calling may include elements of a career such as prestige, success, status, power and/or money, but your internal compass and point of reference is yourself. It is personally fulfilling. It is when you combine your daily activities with your character which in turn makes your work meaningful. If your professional life is your calling, it is because you are in pursuit of your life’s purpose.

I believe that many lawyers start out after law school simply looking for a job which evolves into a career. There is absolutely nothing wrong if your current situation is any one of these: a job, a career, or a calling. At various points in my work life [and sometimes even at various points in any particular day], I too have viewed my work as any one of these orientations. Wherever you are along this path, I hope being a lawyer is or becomes your calling because I believe being a lawyer is an extraordinary privilege. You deserve much more, and the world deserves more from you.

Steve Jobs, who mastered living and working purposefully, asked himself one important question in the mirror every morning:

“‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ If the answer is ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

So, imagine that you are 100 years old and have lived your life exactly as you had wished. You are fulfilled, happy and at peace. Now imagine what your life would need to have consisted of, to bring you to this point. Did you contribute to your community? Did you have good relationships with your family and friends? Did you give yourself permission to follow your passions? If so, what were they? Did they include public service, charity, travel, music or art?

Is the life that you are living now likely to take you to that place of peace, happiness and fulfillment? If not, then why not, and what are you going to do about it?

I am urging you to pursue a path. Honestly, the journey itself is the process I am advocating, not the destination. If you are self-aware, that growing awareness will change your perspective about how life should be. Spend time with people who inspire, support, and nurture you. Avoid those who are toxic to you. You know who they are. From there, you become aware of your own inherent talents and good qualities. Hopefully, from this awareness, you learn of what your purpose in life might be. Remember that as humans, we are constantly evolving. As your purpose takes shape, something extraordinary starts to happen. You find an ability to identify goals and set priorities which support your purpose. Your ingrained autopilot habits start to fall by the wayside and your life comes into balance.

I have a friend, Pat Landers, who was a successful insurance defense lawyer in Rhode Island for almost 20 years. He was always passionate about animals and decided to make a major career change. He applied for and was accepted into Tuft’s Veterinary School. I remember him telling me that Vet School was the hardest thing he has ever had to go through; much harder than law school. I admired him so much for pursuing that path despite the difficulty he knew he would endure as an older student. He is now an Emergency Room Veterinarian. He also travels the world on safaris taking professional photographs of wild animals.

I tell you Pat’s story, not because I want you to leave the practice of law, but because I want you to enjoy your work. Our time on this earth is short. I want you to be able to look back and say I took steps to make my work fulfilling. So if you get anxiety every Sunday in anticipation of the work week or if you feel nauseous when you pull into the parking lot at work, please recognize that it does not have to be this way. I am not telling you to quit your job. What I am saying is to think about ways to modify your path to make your work meaningful. Talk to whoever you need to talk to: the partners at your firm, your contemporaries, your adversaries, a mentor, a therapist, your family and friends, a member of the Lawyers Helping Lawyers Committee, someone from the Coastline Employee Assistance Program, a volunteer on the Rhode Island Bar Association Online Attorney Resources Directory or me. And, if you find that your current work is not allowing you to follow your path, you may elect to change your workplace, your specialty, or even your career. If you feel a calling, answer it.