“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
- Rabindranath Tagore
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
- Mother Teresa
This was a year spent with nose buried in the books, head firmly stretched into the clouds. It was a year spent in the ivory tower, filled with theory and a vague idea that we were learning “the law.” It was a year spent backing away from direct engagement in social justice, and focusing instead on myself. On learning. On studying. On surviving – and maybe even succeeding.
Law school demands such deep focus and commitment. The workload is intense and all-consuming: you spend hours in class, then hours out of class reading, learning, absorbing. There is competition to get top grades, join a journal (maybe compete for law review), to get prestigious internships and clerkships, to make yourself the strongest candidate for jobs – whether in public interest or corporate. Perhaps like all graduate school, the focus is on yourself – on gaining valuable skills and experiences.
This isn’t a particularly revelatory statement. School is, after all, about learning, and growing, gaining skills, and challenging yourself intellectually and personally. You go to school primarily to better yourself. And I love(d) every bit of it – the challenge, the material, the inward focus.
Yet, in that process, I felt like I lost a little bit of why I came to law school.
I lost, and missed, a mindset of service. Now, working and even volunteering is often about acquiring skills or accolades – and sometimes less so about the meaning of the work itself. Work has become less about service, and more about personal and professional achievement. Each internship / project / activity must fit into your professional puzzle, teach you new skills, or help you leapfrog to the next step.
Perhaps this mindset is simply reflective of what society values. And yet, I felt something missing. And it was that – the feeling of working late into the night, not poring over casebooks in the library, but on a grant to expand access to justice for women, or on solutions to the problems faced by an immigrant survivor of domestic violence. There is a magical feeling that comes with doing, implementing, acting – rather than solely discussing or debating ideas. And there is something incredible about serving simply out of a desire to serve, rather than a desire to further your career.
This summer, then, will be a process of rediscovery: of rediscovering why I hope to work on access to justice, rule of law, and women’s rights. Of focusing once again on others, and on the work I value – rather than just myself. Of serving out of a desire to contribute to the world, not simply to pad a CV. It will be a summer of living simply – without even regular electricity, running water, or Internet. It will be a summer where I re-learn how the rest of the world lives, and how much we have to be grateful for — and hopefully, of the commonalities we all share despite our differences.