I spent the better part of my time in law school trying to avoid those core classes we were all required to take on such topics as civil procedure, criminal law and torts. For every elective class I was allotted, I tried to make things more interesting by getting as far away from law as I could (which, as you might imagine, is a bit difficult in LAW school). But I did my best, taking classes like Children & the Law, Sexuality & the Law, or Basket-Weaving & the Law (well, maybe not basket-weaving, but trust me, I would have taken it had it been an option).
One such class on the topic of Business Ethics was offered jointly with the University of Texas McCombs School of Business. Given the opportunity to get away from the law school for a brief period, I jumped at the chance.
I don’t remember much that we covered, but I vividly remember a paper we had to write. Specifically, we were asked to write about our personal values and interests. At that point, I had long-since moved away from the Christian fundamentalism of my youth. And although I considered myself deeply spiritual, I really hadn’t ever articulated my new beliefs in a concrete way. This assignment in my Business Ethics class was the first time I very clearly broke with the dogma of my childhood by putting pen-to-paper and saying it somewhat publicly. It was by no means revolutionary, but it felt that way to me. And it was damn empowering.
I wrote that paper quite some time ago. And my spiritual beliefs have evolved and changed a great deal since that time. So when I came across the paper while going through some old files not too long ago, I was curious whether my current values would align with those I wrote about all those years ago. Turns out, I haven’t changed much. And I’m actually kinda proud. Not because I’ve remained stagnant, but because my younger self somehow had a pretty good handle on the important stuff.
In the paper, I described the principles by which I lived as follows:
- Do good.
- Do not harm others.
- Attempt to love others.
- Do not create or project negative energy.
These principles are by no means radical or groundbreaking. I’d say they’re standard fare for most of the major religious traditions. And as for projecting negative energy, I didn’t remember even being aware of subtle energies back then. Regardless, these are values I can get behind and ones that I live by today.
What was even cooler than discovering alignment in my values over time, though, was the part of the paper where I discussed my professional interests. I’d forgotten how candid I was with my doubts about entering the legal profession. Specifically, I wrote:
“Although I have not spent an extended period of time in the working world, I was a paralegal at [insert name of huge international law firm in Houston that shall remain nameless] for two and a half years before beginning law school. My time there not only convinced me that becoming a lawyer is not the best fit for my personality, but more importantly, it revealed to me what I truly value in a career. Namely, it is extremely frustrating to spend even such a small period of one’s life at a job in which you really cannot identify why you are there, other than to make enough money to pay rent.
I had a great desire to come home at the end of a day and simply feel good about my accomplishments. However, the work I performed was mundane, and even worse, I did not feel like I was making a difference in anyone’s life (except the large, soulless corporations for whom I obtained trademark registrations in obscure places like Algeria). It was after leaving this position that I knew an integral part of my professional life would have to be devoted to the aid of others. I need to feel good about what I do. The standard I have set involves asking myself the following question: If I were to die tomorrow, would I have made a difference in enough lives to feel comfortable and proud leaving this world?
Additionally, I would like my professional standards to remain in alignment with my personal ethics, regardless of whether I am a practicing attorney, or have been lucky enough to find a profession that better suits me.”
How gratifying it was to sit in my cozy little life coaching studio reading this paper, and realize that I was finally lucky enough to have found a profession that better suits me. Where pretty much my entire professional life is now devoted to the aid of others. And where I truly feel good about what I do.
Although I didn’t view it this way at the time, when I wrote that paper it was a set of intentions or a focus statement of sorts. By articulating those values and principles so clearly, I cc’ed the Universe on my hopes, desires and plans. And lo and behold, they came true.
So I would ask you, dear reader, what are your guiding values, principles, and professional interests? Even if you think you know them, have you taken the time to pull them down from the swirling cloud of thoughts in your head and clearly articulate them? If not, it might not be a bad idea. You might come across them many years down the road, and discover that they have positively affected the trajectory of your life!