Law in Contemporary Society
This is a revision of JasonLissyFirstPaper.

Finding Meaning in the Face of Change

The evidence seems irrefutable: the big firms are, at best, mere profit-making machines that leverage young associates at the expense of their own development, happiness, integrity, and fulfillment, to the detriment of society. What’s more, this system, which enticed so many of us to law school in the first place, is breaking down before our eyes. In the face of this stark view of my planned profession, I nevertheless feel bound to my career path, and find myself actively resisting a reassessment of the choices I have made. The explanation for this behavior seems to be that I am wary of an uncertain future, and am reluctant to jeopardize the meaning that the Story of Me gives to my actions. Reassessing my future career plans threatens to expose the romantic narratives I have constructed for myself as false: the prospect of change is frightening. But reconsidering my narratives might liberate me to pursue a more satisfying future.

Personal Narratives as Stimulants

Our personal narratives give our lives meaning and allow us to understand the world and our place in it. These stories help us make sense of the past, make the present endurable, and give shape and direction to the future. Without such explanations, voluntary suffering in the present would make no sense: we know that we are suffering now for some future pay-off. By placing a fixed time limit on present suffering and by allowing the actor to focus not on what is but what will be, this well-defined future goal serves as a stimulant to action.

Where reality contradicts our view of the future, we rely on post hoc rationalization to reconcile the discrepancy. For example, the upwardly mobile student who studies Marcuse and Bourdieu, ignores the lesson that his “success” in a capitalist society will perpetuate the forces initially arrayed against him. Instead, he redoubles his efforts to work within that system to achieve success on its terms. Convinced of our narrative’s utility we refuse to allow it to be falsified, and strive instead to reinterpret reality so as to strengthen our conclusion that our choices are the right ones.

Reassessment of Career Plans & the Risk of Meaning Loss

We view our narrative, like ourselves, as a unified whole: we vigorously resist dissociation. For the career-oriented lifelong striver, abandoning long-term career goals threatens the meaning of our past actions, and throws into doubt our very sense of Self. At the edge of this abyss, we cling to our chosen trajectory out of fear of losing this meaning. The prospect of regretting our past decisions in light of a revised understanding of reality overshadows our will to embrace uncertainty and explore unknown terrain.

It is exciting to explore the new and unknown. If we can take an honest look at the positive and negative aspects of our chosen careers, we will be better able to actively direct our own paths. Yet for those of us who set out to become Big Law associates, the urge to rationalize away clearly negative aspects of the institution is strong. We have, after all, been working toward this for a long time: there is a lot at stake. Any number of justifications (salary, prestige, family expectations) will do: the main thing is to just keep our heads down and to keep plodding along our paths.

Solutions & Objections:

If we accept the preceding proposition that the reluctance to engage in career risk stems not only from prospective, but also from retrospective fears, then liberation may lie in how we understand the relationship between our individual past and future. I have evaluated my present and past actions (and justified present and past suffering) in terms of a persistent vision of a better future. Rethinking my future goals does not mean abandoning the meaning of my past. On the contrary, such an exploration is the first step toward a more fulfilling life in which the present is valued as much as the future. Such a narrative would allow me to be more than a marketable product for some future employer, and would free the present to be more than a way-station to some elusive destination at which I will never arrive.

-- LeslieHannay - 21 Apr 2009

  • This is an interesting, complex, and effective edit. You've basically taken the "big edit" route here, and begun by stripping the draft down to its core insight and its immediate purpose. you've reimagined the draft around those elements, and written essentially a new version to achieve the purpose given the insight. In doing so, of course, you took away from the draft its personal and anxiety-ridden quality, which operates to the advantage of intellectual coherence, as we both knew it would, but also took its original author pretty much out of the picture. The cost of its integration was its depersonalization. That's not a flaw in your edit: that was the nature of the draft, which was a deeply-felt jumping off point for a serious and courageous work of personal examination. I think you've done an excellent job showing what can be made of the draft in another direction.

  • I am, however, dubious about the idea that people are reluctant to dissociate. They are reluctant to think of themselves as dissociating, I will grant you. But that leads to a very different analysis.


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r4 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:27:15 - IanSullivan
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