The Simple Way to Find your Life’s Calling, One Micro-passion at a Time
When I decided to go to law school it wasn’t because I had a burning desire to be a lawyer, right wrongs, or fight for the little guy. I’d graduated from college with a history degree, then moved to San Diego to try and figure life out at the ripe old age of 24.
After working as a process server for a year, I still couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. I was waiting for something — anything! — to grab me and tell me “This is what you’re meant to do in life, Jim.” It didn’t happen.
My decision to go to law school went something like this:
Dad: “Jim, you should go to law school.”
Jim: “But I don’t want to be a lawyer.”
Dad: “Why don’t you take the LSAT and see how you do?”
Jim: “Ok, but I don’t want to be a lawyer.”
Dad: “Why don’t you apply to some law schools and see if you get in?”
Jim: “Ok, but I don’t want to be a lawyer.”
It was the summer of ‘85 and about a month before classes were supposed to start. And boom: I’m accepted to California Western School of Law.
Six weeks into law school I constantly wondered what the hell I was doing there. Several times I almost dropped out. In fact, my most oft-repeated phrase was “Even though I’ll graduate from law school, I may never practice law.”
Lucky for me, my dad had a job waiting for me at his office. I practiced there for 9 years and made a good living. I liked helping my clients and had good mentors. I had all the outward trappings of a successful lawyer, but inside I was unhappy and feeling uninspired.
The summer of 1997, I gave my dad’s office 90-day notice that I was leaving. I had no idea if I was going to continue being a lawyer or buy a cooking store because that I knew I loved. The question that kept coming up for me was, Am I unhappy being a lawyer or unhappy where I’d been working?
I decided to give it one more try. If it didn’t work out, it would prove that being a lawyer wasn’t for me. I wanted to find that voice inside of me saying “This is what you were born to do.”
The strange thing is that never happened — at least not in a conventional way.
What I discovered were micro-passions. Not capital ‘P’ Passion, but passion.
I began to consciously notice throughout the day which interactions, situations and people seemed to bring out little moments of deep seated satisfaction.
When I started digging into my daily life as an attorney I discovered micro-passions. Most of them happened while I worked with my clients, or in conversations about life and happiness with other attorneys. Of course winning a trial or arbitration, getting a great settlement, or winning a tough motion made me happy, but that didn’t tap into what brought me personal fulfillment.
What brought me the greatest personal joy was when I knew my clients felt less stress because I was their attorney. I was solving problems that only an attorney could. My training and expertise was being used in a meaningful way for both my clients and me.
Following these bread crumbs led me to other micro passions. My goal became to make sure that at the end of every phone call or meeting that my client knew I cared about them: listening deeply and giving my undivided attention; answering their questions; returning their phone calls the same day; ensuring they felt taken cared for and valued.
My daily practice of law evolved into a series of micro-passions. It didn’t eliminate all the stress and anxiety that comes with being a lawyer – nothing can do that. What I discovered though was a deepening sense of personal fulfillment. And all those slivers of light united into one proverbial ray of light.
These days the practice of law is a calling. It just took 20 some years to get there. Who would have figured that? I don’t know how many feel like the work they do is a calling. Did they stumble into it like I did?
However you get there, what’s most important is to tap into what brings you meaning. It may not be the work you’re doing, but the way you do it.
I’m often envious of my oldest daughter who, before graduating from high school, figured out that she wanted to be neuroscientist. And my youngest daughter had what she believed was going to be her dream job this past summer, only to realize there was no way she could do the job for a living. She’s decided to go to law school.
One of the worst things we can do is to continue working in a way that takes away more from our life than it gives. Sometimes our calling finds us. Other times we create our calling.
How did you decide to become a lawyer? Was it a passion from the start? If not, has it become more meaningful for you with time? What made the difference?
And, if you haven’t found your calling (yet), think about the little things you love within your work. Your micro-passions. What experiences bring feelings of deep joy and fulfillment throughout your day? They are there, waiting patiently for you to see them and create a life of greater personal meaning.