Today’s post is contributed by Bill, Figuring Out Fulfillment’s new Friday author.
I was very pleased to be invited to participate in Figuring Out Fulfillment because I love the way it uses storytelling for both teaching and self-discovery. Most people accept stories as didactic tools; we grow up with fables and morals and allegories. But, though some stories are crafted to convey a particular message, sometimes the message itself is only discovered, even by the storyteller, through the act of telling the story. Explaining things to others often forces us to explain them to ourselves.
Last weekend, I attended a book fair at which my friend Karen spoke. Like me, Karen was a lawyer for several years before deciding to be something else – a stand-up comedian, one who last year published a comic mystery novel. While Karen signed books, I chatted with another author, Wendi. When Wendi discovered that Karen and I were friends, she jokingly asked if I, too, was a lawyer. I told her that I was, but I explained (in response to her mock horror) that I was moving into professional development. Wendi looked thoughtful, and wondered aloud why it was that two attorneys who knew each other would both end up leaving practice.
Now, if Wendi had just asked my why I was changing my field, I would have given her my standard answer, one I had worked out over the past two years’ introspection and exploration, all about me: I prefer working with people over books, I am a good listener and teacher, etc. – all points I had gathered together in the process of figuring out where to go next. But Wendi had asked me a new question, one that went beyond my singular experience and brought in someone else I knew well enough to talk about. Suddenly I was being asked to tell a new story.
I described how Karen had gotten a job, right out of college, as a paralegal, and how she was fascinated by the intelligent people and fascinating conflicts she was exposed to at the law firm. It was her fascination, in fact, that led me to get a paralegal job myself, where I discovered both the intellectual depth of the law and the ways in which it touched individual lives. “The problem with the law,” I said, with no forethought at all, “is that it is so rich and wide-ranging that it’s easy to find some aspect of it that seems appealing and fulfilling. What Karen and I didn’t grasp is that the different aspects we liked each represented only a tiny percentage of what we would spend our time doing.”
This statement was as much a revelation to me as it was to Wendi – probably more so, since I have spent the last couple of years thinking about my relationship to the field of law. Such thoughts were mostly about how to get out of practicing. Because I was asked to tell a different story – how did my friend and I get in – I was able to articulate a new and useful truth.