One of my favorite documentaries is Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It tells the story of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master widely considered to be the finest sushi chef in Japan. Towards the beginning of the movie, Jiro says, “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”
As anyone who has contemplated attending law school knows, many well-meaning givers of advice emphasize the value of taking time off between college and law school. I worked three years in a profession completely unrelated to law, and I think there are many good reasons for heeding this admonition. But I am not here to reiterate those reasons. And at the end of the day, attending law school is an important life decision that no one can (or should) dictate for you.
But I think there is one key lesson that one can only learn after having a full-time job. The lesson? Work is often dull. That does not mean work cannot be simultaneously fulfilling, gratifying, and meaningful. But no matter what the activity, if you do it for 40 or more hours a week (and for lawyers, it will definitely be more than 40), for a long enough time, you are going to find it challenging to be fully engaged most of the time.
And I had a “cool” job, brewing beer for a craft brewery. I never sat at a desk, and I got to drive a forklift, grow a beard, work with cool machines, and score plenty of free beer. But being a small business, some days you come into work and you’re asked to clean, fill, and stack kegs for ten hours (or more). And you do it, because that’s what needs to get done.
But in doing the boring stuff, you learn what makes you happy. The answer to that question will vary for everyone, but here’s a hint—“what” you do does not dictate how happy you will be. For me, I found I was happiest when I had the opportunity to take on long-term projects and was given input on solving big-picture problems. Other people might prefer having a job that constantly puts them in front of new people, or to be given projects that can be solved by the end of the day. If you take joy in the daily tasks, then it will be much easier to fall in love with your work.
The legal profession has space for all types of people, but it’s easy in law school to be blinded by the “what” questions. What type of law do you want to practice? Having a prior career taught me we are starting at the wrong place. Instead the first question should be: How do I want to practice law?
Tex Pasley is a 2L born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated in 2011 from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, where he studied an all-required Great Books curriculum that began with the Iliad and ended discussing Minkowski’s concept of space-time. He is attending law school to understand the source of structural poverty in the United States, and wants to use his bar license to advocate for systemic change on behalf of the poor. Although the 21st century is pretty great, he is disappointed he wasn’t alive in the late 1800s to join John Wesley Powell on his surveys of the Grand Canyon and Colorado Plateau.