Aligning with Your Purpose and Values
"Purpose" is showing up a lot lately. Maybe it is that time of year when we are examining our lives? In any case, I decided to rerun this:
In my most cynical times, I sometimes say that law school was a soul-ectomy. Our minds are well trained but to say that our emotions and matters of spirit are discouraged in our profession would be an understatement, at least in the law schools of the past. There is nothing wrong with thinking like a lawyer, which has many uses, but there is more to a human being than a mind. No one told us that after graduation we could return to those disowned parts of ourselves.
Why Are You Here?
Several years ago, I found myself in the buffet line next to Dean David Hall, then of Northeastern Law School. David Hall is a very tall, quiet man who exudes spiritual peace. I thanked him for the work he was doing in the legal profession, on behalf of all of us who benefited from that work. Humbly, he dismissed my praise and said he was called to do it. “Yes, but you answered the call,” I reminded him. So often, we hear the call and ignore it. It eats away at us. We know it is there. We feel it when we get up in the morning. We self-medicate to quiet it. What does your heart yearn to do? What cause or action would fulfill the promises you made to yourself before cynicism and despair took over? What difference were you born to make?
Purpose answers the question, “Why?” When I talk about life's purpose, I am talking about the why of your life. ...Why are you here? Who are you meant to be? What are you meant to do? —Tim Kelley, in True Purpose: 12 Strategies for Discovering the Difference You Are Meant to Make
Answering those questions can be frightening. My own answer had me give up my home and office and become an itinerant person for the past 18 months. It had me spend every dollar I had and seek more to fulfill my mission. It gets me up in the morning, hungry for more opportunities to transform the legal profession, to tell the stories of others who are doing that work.
Answering that question can be freeing. I have never felt more alive. This is what I was born to do. This is the world I want for my children. I no longer have the burden of doing work that isn't fulfilling my deepest purpose. All my time, attention, and resources are aligned for one purpose. I love what I'm doing.
Over the past 18 months, we've done more than a hundred interviews, heard more than a hundred stories of people experiencing transformation and going against the mainstream because their hearts and minds called them to make a difference. My purpose is fulfilled in sharing the stories, in giving attention to the courageous and creative lawyers who stepped forward as pioneers in a movement that has the potential to save the world.
Listen to the "Little Voice"
In the chaos of our chattering minds, there is a quieter voice that helps us know who we really are. It is the voice that tells us what is right and what is wrong for us. It isn't the same voice that is clamoring about the to-do list. We can hear it when we are quiet enough or when it is so agitated with us that it shouts above the din.
There are so many other voices around us asking us to do X, Y, or Z. They all want us to play the role they want us to play. Sometimes those voices clamor for attention, too. My father always wanted to be a lawyer, so part of me went to law school to please him. Part of me wanted the intellectual exercise. And there may have been a part that was destiny.
After law school, my little voice wouldn't "let" me practice law, even though it would have pleased my dad and certainly would have provided more intellectual stimulation and income than what I was doing.
I didn't want to be one of those adversarial jerks.
When I learned about holistic, peaceful approaches, the little voice leaped for joy! Finally—a way to honor the part of me that went to law school to make a difference!
Schizophrenic? It may seem so. My little voice tells me when I am in alignment with my purpose and when something isn't quite right. It knows when I'm selling out and when I'm honoring my own values. My little voice guides me and helps me shape my life.
It wasn't always so. I've done my share of people-pleasing. I stayed in relationships where the little voice was screaming for me to get out. I've gone to meetings because I was expected to. At times, my little voice still negotiates with my sense of obligation.
Seeing the results of ignoring it, I have learned to hear out the little voice and to honor its perspective, and I follow it most of the time. I learned that my busyness and the chatter made it difficult to hear the little voice and that the more I listened, the better my life worked for me. Contemplative time offers an opportunity for listening.
The stress of trying to please others dissolved when I began to please myself more and more. I love the life that I've created in partnership with my little voice.
Some people believe that we are born with a life purpose and it is our job to discover it. Others believe that we can create our own purpose. I think both positions have some validity. I first worked with my life purpose coach in the mid-1990s. At that point, I went through his process and created my life purpose as being a “catalyst for peace” and began my journey of bringing peace to the legal profession.
Over the years, I have questioned that particular expression of my purpose and have tried on different ways of saying it. I often believe that the words fail to convey everything I want to say, but I feel the whole purpose in my body. I can tell the difference between something that is aligned with my purpose and something that is not by checking my gut.
On our travels around the country in the summer of 2008, I had a purpose-related experience when we visited the Medicine Wheel, an ancient spiritual site in Wyoming. After a series of delays that proved opportune, we happened to arrive there when an elder, Ralph Redfox, the last survivor of a Cheyenne clan, was conducting a rare ceremony. I walked around the outside of the Medicine Wheel slowly as the elder conducted his ceremony and sent my good intentions toward them. When the ceremony was over, we were asked if we wanted to be blessed. (His companions said he never had offered blessings to bystanders before, so this was extraordinary.) He blessed us and a few others at the Wheel; then we visited with the individuals involved in the ceremony.
Our conversation focused on where we came from, and we discovered many commonalities among us: a member of the group had recently been in Asheville, our point of departure. The other members of the group represented other stops on our journey—Wisconsin, the Black Hills, Idaho, and Oregon. There was a feeling of serendipity and communing among us.
The Native American ceremony had included the traditional tying of prayer cloths or flags on trees and on the fence so that the prayers could be carried far in the wind. We were invited to choose a prayer cloth from the small grove where they'd tied their prayers at the end of the ceremony. I was immediately drawn to a particular red and yellow one, and I just knew it was mine. I had to climb through the trees --I got hooked on some branches, and was stuck a couple of times—but there was never a question that that particular cloth was mine and I was going to have it. When I came back to the cluster of people near the elder, I asked whose prayers I had chosen. I was told that I had chosen the Doorkeeper's prayer cloth, and several of the ceremonialists told me that it meant that I too am a doorkeeper for new thoughts.
When I went to meet the elder's apprentice, the Doorkeeper whose prayers I had chosen, I introduced myself by name. He looked deeply into me and told me that they had known my name for a long time. This man who had never met me and knew nothing about my life or purpose told me that I have much work to do in bringing peace to all two-leggeds and sharing new thought with all.
“Catalyst for peace” no longer has the juice for me that “bringing peace to the two-leggeds and sharing new thought with all” has. As I wr0te my book, I experienced the fulfillment of expressing that purpose.
Excerpted from Lawyers as Peacemakers, Practicing Holistic, Problem-solving Law, Chapter 4.