By Jessica Chinnadurai • October 05, 2016•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Law School, Pre-Law, Other Law School Issues
There comes a time in everyone’s life where the inevitable question comes up: how much does my past matter as related to my future? Call it my mid mid-life crisis, but I’ve been pondering this question a lot lately, related to both professional and personal endeavors. How much does what I’ve done, where I’ve been, and the experiences I’ve had lend itself to the places I’m trying to go, and the person I’m trying to become?
On the professional side, I’ve always asked my supervisors and been fortunate enough to receive feedback on how much my prior work experience will matter in my next position and what positions I should look for moving forward that will best utilize the skills I’ve gained. The resounding answer has been that any work experience is valuable in most employers’ eyes. Work experience helps people gain skills that are important in any position and I do believe that’s true – most companies or firms will want you to have good judgment, strong business acumen, and the ability to adapt to changing needs. All of this is bound to be learned in a job. Simultaneously being in pursuit of a legal degree is generally a great match for a position that requires someone to be inquisitive and eager to take on challenges.
Obviously some positions require a very specific skillset, like a doctor or an engineer. So your work experience in construction may truly not matter much if you want to transition into one of those fields. But if that’s the case, is work experience ever considered irrelevant to a future job you’re trying to obtain? It depends. I do think there are positions that require less communication with clients, for example, and if you’ve only been on the phone or in meetings in your prior position, then you might wonder what the use of that particular skill is now. In this situation, however, communication is one of those essential skills that can be used at a pretty basic level when it comes to interacting with co-workers.
And that’s what I think is key: looking at each job held and each experience as a new learning opportunity overall, and understanding how almost any work you do can help you in one way or another in the future.
If past work experience like this can be practically useful, why are we all so inclined to think the opposite when it comes to our personal lives? I’ve been accused, more than once, of living too much in the past, but the truth is that I truly value where I come from, and the experiences in life that have shaped who I am. It’s hard for me to forget about them, or act like they never happened, no matter how painful or bad some of them might’ve been. After all, we are supposed to learn the most from the things that hurt us the most.
Sometimes, thinking about the past can help you realize what you did right or wrong, and what you can do to change if necessary. Other times, a thought alone can quickly spiral into dwelling in the past, which isn’t healthy. I believe what’s best is a balance – everything in moderation. But I don’t think society today encourages people to truly go through a process of analyzing things that have happened to them and how they can shape them into positive experiences that play a role in building who they are as an individual. It’s easier said than done, and I think everyone’s process is a little different as well.
Most of the time, that process is shaped by lessons that we learn as kids from our parents, older siblings and the like. Obviously, these can stick with us for a very long time. One of the most memorable from my dad was “forgive, but never forget” instead of the standard “forgive and forget” that most children are taught. I think my appreciation of the past came from him because I, of course, wanted to believe and respect what he was saying as my father. Culturally speaking, I imagine he didn’t want to forget about a country that he moved from, a place he didn’t view so favorably, but he needed to forgive the transgressions experienced there in order to truly appreciate where he ended up. The point is, forgiving and forgetting are two separate things and while they often go hand-in-hand, forgetting doesn’t always mean that forgiveness has been given. So why forget all-together if you can learn from it instead?
“The past cannot be changed, forgotten, edited or erased… it can only be accepted.” Maybe it’s the element of accepting that most of us find challenging, myself included. So what does acceptance like this entail? For me, it’s become recognition of what happened and an earnest attempt to grow moving forward, even if that just means changing the way I think, approach or react to a situation. As my blog title suggests, however, I am certainly not flawless and law school continually reminds me of this on a daily basis.