passion & purpose

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To keep our law licenses active in the United States, most jurisdictions require that attorneys attend a certain number of continuing legal education hours every year. In Texas, that number is 15, and every year, I find myself scrambling to find an online course or webinar that I can watch or participate in before the deadline, so that my license doesn’t get suspended.

There are, of course, in-person classes as well, but I hadn’t attended one in years — like, years. The reason? Historically, they’re boring. And stuffy. And did I mention, boring?

But last week, as the deadline to get my hours loomed, it suddenly occurred to me that perhaps I should consider attending a multi-day in-person workshop. I mean, why not? It had been almost 10 years since I’d attended an in-person CLE, so surely things had improved. I go to conferences all the time — especially Mom 2.0 Summit, and ALT Summit — and I always enjoy myself. And besides, everyone knows that the best part of a conference are the conversations that happen between and after formal sessions, right? Actually attending one of these conferences — and meeting people in the evenings after the sessions — might be kind of fun. And since I coach executives and lawyers, who knows? I might even pick up a client!

So I decided to sign up for a two-day course last week from one of the state’s leading CLE providers, in downtown Houston. I even booked a room at the hotel where it was being held, so that if networking in the evening went late, I could stay overnight and wouldn’t have to worry about driving all the way home. By the time I’d dressed myself in my lawyer-like business-casual clothing and checked my bags into the hotel, I was almost excited.

Friends, there are not words to tell you how disappointed I was. First of all, let me be clear: the content was really interesting, and I actually learned a lot. (Who knew the medical marijuana industry was having such an impact on corporate law?). But the event itself was as excruciating as they’ve always been. None of the attendees spoke to each other, unless they were work colleagues and there was work to be done (I did casually chat to one young lawyer who sat next to me on the first day, but I think I scared her off — she was practically monosyllabic in her responses, and on the second day, she was nowhere to be found). There was no evening networking, and although one organizer told me excitedly that there was going to be an “ice cream social!” it turned out instead to simply be ice cream served during the 20-minute afternoon break, which people hurriedly ate before returning to the conference room. And at the end of the first day’s programming, everyone bolted.

But that’s not what disappointed me the most: with a few exceptions, I’ve not seen such poorly-delivered content in a long time. It’s astonishing to me that people whose job it is to communicate failed so miserably in their communication. Many speakers spoke in monotone, and way too softly to be heard. The slide decks that they used were completely illegible, filled to the margins with tiny writing.

Later, when I mentioned all this to a dear friend who is also an attorney, she chided me a bit. “I mean, Karen, you speak for a living,” she said, “maybe you’re being a bit harsh?”

I wondered if there was some truth to her comment, and for a few days I mulled over whether or not I was being too critical. In the end, I don’t think I was. It’s not that I expected to be entertained. It’s that in large part, the speakers looked bored. There were a few exceptions — a few lawyers who clearly were excited about their content, and passionate about what the law had to say — and they were head-and-shoulders more fun to listen to than those who seemed like they couldn’t wait to go home, illegible slides and all.

While sitting in that room, watching the speakers drone on and on and willing myself out of a stupor, I kept thinking about how lawyers are actually the most depressed profession in the United States. I find this really disheartening, mostly because even though it’s been a decade since I’ve practiced, I still hold the legal profession in the highest esteem — after all, any civil right you hold dear was probably won for you through the work of a lawyer. But the truth is that being beaten down by your job isn’t solely a problem of lawyers. After all, how many people do you know who hate their jobs, or who are completely stressed or burnt out?

The older I get, the more convinced I am that self-care is only part of the cure for boredom, stress or becoming burned out. (And make no mistake: I LOVE me some self-care and self-compassion. It’s what can carry you through the tough times, that’s for sure.) I think another huge part is ensuring your work has meaning and purpose. It’s clearly understanding what you’re passionate about, and having a mission: knowing how you want to change the world, or how you’re called to change the world. And then, understanding how your career can help you do this — even if your current job is merely a stepping stone to an ultimate goal.

When you understand this, then your work life has perspective. I think for those speakers last week who still find meaning and purpose in their practices, it showed — and it’s what made their presentations fun to watch, even in cases where what they were talking about was highly technical, and in some cases, way over my head. They were still a joy. And honestly, it has become my favourite thing about my coaching practice: helping people discover what it is that they want to do to make a difference, and how their careers can propel them in that direction. Because watching people get excited about they do is just a joyful thing to witness.

It’s what gives my work life meaning, without question.

I encourage you to explore your own motivations, gifts and mission — they could be the clues to how to add more meaning to your life and your current career, or even what to look for in a new career or employer. Here are a few questions to get you started — grab your journal and some time, and think about the answers to the following questions:

  1. What are you passionate about? What do you love doing? What kinds of things do you find yourself seeking out more knowledge about? What are the injustices in the world that make you angry?

  2. What legacy would you like to leave? When you’re gone, what are the things that you hope people say about you, or the impact on their lives that you left behind?

  3. What are you really good at? What do you know, deep in your soul, that you're good at? Is it throwing parties? Listening to friends? Cooking an amazing meal? Being still? Are you athletic? Are you artistic? Do you have an amazing math mind?

  4. What do people thank you for? This might coincide with what you’re really good at, but it might be something else as well.

Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.
— Victor Frankl