By Lindsey White • October 29, 2018•Writers in Residence
In my first installment of this column, I wrote about purpose. The first of many commandments for all law students - always remember your audience and your purpose. Of course, this concept goes beyond our legal research and writing. It can come into play through our work and experience in client representation and advocacy. I would argue this question is thought of in both public and private sectors. To some degree, we are always asking ourselves - who am I speaking to, and why am I speaking? After all, lawyers of every stripe have a point they need to make, or a story that needs to be told.
Who is hearing what I have to say? Why do they need to listen? And moreover, why do I need to speak and be heard?
Lately, I’ve spent some time thinking about purpose. With law school in the distant past, there’s been a lot to revisit. A re-thinking, if you will. I once based my decisions on their relative, proportional benefit to me and what I thought of as success. Why this class? Can I get something out of a relationship with the professor? Why this internship? Will it look “right” on my resume, and sound impressive to others? Those questions came from noble intentions. I was trying to be smart about the opportunities in front of me, considering the time I had. Three years goes by much more quickly than you expect, even though stress can make that time stretch in ways it shouldn’t.
It was so easy to let an unsustainable definition of success creep into my decisions. Especially since I never really defined it for myself at the beginning of those three years. The healthier sense of ambition I had in the fall of my 1L year eventually snowballed straight into fear and unworthiness. It became something I couldn’t manage on my own anymore. The questions of purpose I asked myself morphed into something cynical. Why am I here? I’m not smart enough to do this. Why am I in this city, at this school? I’m so far away from everything I’ve ever known. Why this profession, even when the way forward seems unclear? This is so hard now, how am I going to keep going?
Anxiety warped my reasoning into something that didn’t reflect the truth. I’ve been privileged enough to be surrounded by people who told me over again, “You belong.” Over time, I’ve been able to acknowledge and understand it again too. The message came through gently, insistently, sometimes loudly, but always lovingly. I was consistently reminded of my purpose.
I used to really hate the phrase, “Remember why you started.” It’s not a belief I took much comfort in. Not when it felt like stress had rewired my brain in a way that wouldn’t let me recognize my accomplishments anymore. That advice seemed to pop up in every self-help book I tried along the way. I heard it in therapy, and from family and friends. I heard it from my parish priest, and in the new age-y meditations I tried. To this day, I cannot tell if that sentiment haunted me intentionally, or if I finally just stopped fighting it.
I’m not trying to suggest the way to feel better is that simplistic. It’s not. I officially arrived at Feeling Better through starting and stopping, trying every new wellness cure I could, having difficult conversations, breaking down bad habits, and slogging through a lot of terrible feelings. I do know one thing though - when the ground beneath my feet feels solid, it is much easier to return to a feeling of purpose. To remember that I am driven by sense of right and wrong. An interest in justice. It has taken me places I did not expect, and will probably continue to do so. I’m not sure I’ve found the audience just yet, but I remember my purpose.
Don’t forget your own purpose. Don’t surrender it to mental illness without a fight. Remember that you belong, and that you are needed. Let me ask you, in the same way I needed reminding, what are the reasons you set out to do this? What do you want to accomplish? What change do you want to be in world?
What is your purpose?