The Bigger Picture: Why I studied Law

I’m still trying to understand why I studied law. On the surface, it was early in the year 2000, I’d completed a degree in languages, had a gap year, come back to South Africa and wasn’t feeling particularly inspired to join the work force. Everyone kept asking “what are you doing next?”. Pressure was on.

I had lunch with a lovely friend who was studying law, drank 2 bottles of chardonnay and felt inspired by her description of law school. Plus LA Law and Ally McBeal made it seem a good environment in which to be sexy and smart. In a hungover state the next day I wrote to the Dean of the Law Faculty, a slightly bizarre letter saying how I’d always wanted to study law but had forgotten to apply – could they let me in the following week?

On a deeper level, law had always intrigued me. I had studied philosophy as part of my undergrad degree and I was drawn to questions like why we need a legal system, who decides what is right and wrong, is the death penalty a deterrent/ morally acceptable?

On a very much deeper level, I am starting to believe more and more in notions of destiny. And studying law was part of my destiny.  I think it is our duty, maybe our privilege, to determine the work we are born to do. And I mean “work” in the widest possible sense.

Herman Hesse wrote this in one of his books Demian “Each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself. He might end up as a poet or madman, as prophet or criminal – that was not his affair, ultimately it was of no concern. His task was to discover his own destiny – not an arbitrary one – and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness”.

I’m trying to find once again, where my destiny lies. It’s not easy. This is not a well-trodden path, for anyone!

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” Joseph Campbell

Someone sent this Campbell quote to me 2 years ago and I liked it so much I stuck it on my wall.  Since yesterday I have been devouring Synchronicity: the Inner Path of Leadership by Joseph Jaworski, a most amazing book and I noted that Jaworski mentions Joseph Campbell’s  frequently as he describes his life journey, from trial lawyer to setting up the American Leadership Forum to scenario planner at Shell – which I shall definitely write more about soon. Campbell was a “brilliant scholar and maverick of sorts who saw a common thread in all of the world’s mythological traditions and religions. Through his meticulous studies, he helped to bridge the gap for the layman between the outer cultures and traditions of the world with the inner journeys and experiences of sages, shamans and mystics.”

I know that Campbell’s thinking is important to what I am meant to carry out. As is the work of Herman Hesse, because suddenly his work and quotes are popping up everywhere. And the woman who lent me the Synchronicity book – well she is also part of what I am meant to be carrying out. How do I say this without sounding like a New Age nitwit? I knew, deep in my soul, when someone told me to call her, and I walked into that first meeting, that I needed to work with her. She feels the same. We’re figuring it out.

On the one hand there is a slightly cheesed up version of the whole destiny/ synchronicity thing. You can see this in The Secret – which tells people they can have, do or be anything they want. Unfortunately some very potent ideas have been dumbed down for the masses – making the susceptible believe all they need to do is believe hard enough and their Ferrari will arrive. On the other hand, there is a plethora of writing of the world’s greatest thinkers from the Greeks to Einstein to more recent writers and thinkers including Eckhardt Tolle, Martin Buber and Joseph Campbell, Peter Senge and Joseph Jaworski and thousands of others which is all pointing  to the same things:

  1. Thoughts are where all reality begins – if you cannot dream it or conceive of it, you cannot do it.
  2. Most people are too scared to dream of what might be possible for themselves.
  3. When you commit absolutely to a meaningful vision which is not about self-gain, when you begin with willingness and stand in the state of surrender, you alter your relationship with the future. (Joseph Jaworski)
  4. Once committed and open, the universe will move to help you and put all the right people in your path and the resources you need to carry it out.

These ideas are entering the mainstream through talk show hosts and business coaches and actually this is a very good thing. This should not be the preserve of a privileged few.

My destiny is not to be a lawyer.   My intuition told me strongly to leave the law firm I was at as soon as my articles were up. I ended up doing some really interesting and totally unexpected things by following my heart and gut instead of my over-used head.  For a while at least, I knew absolutely that I was doing what I was born to do at that time: running a college for some very disadvantaged students.

But I came and I left. And I did other things. And now I am wondering what is next? I know that although I am not meant to be practising law, I am meant to be linking different disciplines like law and psychology and leadership and spirituality. Of this I am certain. And I needed to teach law, if only to realise we teach law all wrong!  And that there are a lot more important things we need to be teaching besides the law itself. The existence of the internet has changed studying as we know it. It’s all there. No one needs to remember random stuff anymore.  It’s not the “what” that matters anymore, it’s the “how”. Law Schools should be cultivating the “beingness” of lawyers, not so focussed on the “doingness”.

The entire picture isn’t clear yet. I read a wonderful metaphor of impressionist paintings, more specifically the pointillists – where up close the painting actually makes no sense, it’s a lot of splodges. Only when we move back, does the picture emerge. Life’s like that. It doesn’t make sense up close when we’re so deeply enmeshed in the details of each hour. It only makes sense when we get perspective, and that can take years.  Right now I’m stuck with the splodges but I am trusting these are all part of a much bigger, and very beautiful, picture for my life. And Shark Free Waters is part of that picture.


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