Quieting The Noise: And How You’ll Know When Its Time To Leave Your First Job

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During the Marquette Review banquet in March, Steven Biskupic, former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and the featured speaker, explained why we law students should leave our first job. He gave many reasons for why one should leave, such as general dissatisfaction or being asked to sacrifice our own moral standards. But the harder part, and the question addressed here, is how does one know when its time to leave?

This process begins with sensitivity. Not the type of sensitivity we associate with hurt feelings or emotionalism, but the innate ability to feel what is around and inside us. For instance, anyone who spends any time around a law school during finals can feel a certain something in the air. There is an intensity, a buzz, a tension, and it is palpable. It is so palpable, in fact, that everyone feels it. One can almost taste it. It is not uncommon to hear students say things like, “I have to get out of the building, it is too intense in there.” But if you look around, it is not the sort of intensity that is produced by some form of frantic, kinetic movement, like the kind you might find at a tax preparer’s office in early April. Rather, it is the sort of potential energy you find stored in the minds and bodies of students who, with head in hands, exude anxiety, fear, and stress. Sometimes it is visible in the faces of those around us, but even if it can’t be seen, it can be felt.

When I visited the law school in the spring of 2015, still trying to determine whether Marquette Law would be the right destination for me, a friend suggested that I should try to experience how it feels to be in the law school. So when I arrived, I sat in the atrium, doing my best impersonation of a law student. It was nearing the end of April, and finals were looming. I sat in one of the low swivel chairs, closed my eyes, and relaxed into my body. I felt that same finals-time energy I have now experienced four times as a law student. It can be oppressive. But I did as she suggested: I just noticed it and listened to it. I made the decision shortly thereafter to attend Marquette Law, not because I enjoyed the stress-laden energy, but because I could feel that it was the choice that would best allow me to flourish.

In my first year, I founded the Organization for Student Well-Being. It is based on basic principles and teachings that not only help one to de-stress, but also to reconnect with oneself and one’s surroundings.  The organization has provided, among other things, yoga and meditation, and hosted social events centered round interpersonal and internal connection, rather than the all-too-easy escapist techniques (the sort of escapism that tells us if we don’t feel it and if we don’t see it, it isn’t there). If one has the courage to develop an ability to listen, that person can actually hear what his or her heart (and gut) is telling them, and then act on it.

It sounds simple but, for most of us, it is not. When adversity strikes, it seems easier to just lower our heads, push through, and hope that it will end soon. It is actually a skill we develop in law school: when the going gets tough (like finals time, for instance), we put our heads down, grit our teeth, and bear it, knowing it will be over soon. But the pain doesn’t go away merely because we choose not to look at it.  The pain ends (usually) when finals end. But in life post-law school, should we end up in a job that is unfulfilling, makes us unhappy, or asks us to act contrary to our moral standards, the technique of lowering our heads and ignoring the pain can go on for months, years, decades, or even our entire careers.

Now for the worst part (of course it needs to get worse before it gets better): once you become aware of this undercurrent of dissatisfaction, you cannot become unaware. If we become aware that we are unhappy with where we are in our careers, our lives, or the places in which we live, for instance, we will never become unaware of that fact. And no matter how hard we try to forget it, to “stuff” it, to pretend like that feeling is not there, the worse it becomes. It is like trying to hold an inflated beach ball under the surface of the water. It isn’t hard to keep it from popping up out of the water, but it requires constant effort, and we never forget it’s there.

But there is a solution: the first step is to identify what we really want. This is easier said than done, because, as complex beings with various tastes and distastes, it can be hard to weigh the pros and cons of making major life changes. How does one do it? Just sit. Close your eyes. Bring your awareness to your body and breath. And listen. People tell me they have trouble meditating because they can’t stop from thinking. The purpose of meditation is not to stop thinking, but to become aware of your thinking. Sit, close your eyes, and ask yourself, “What do I really want?” Many people never do this because deep down in their hearts, they know that if they look hard enough and find out what their souls are crying out for, they don’t believe that they will have the power or ability to actually do anything about it.

So in order to avoid hearing what our hearts really want, we create a lot of noise. We busy ourselves to the point of having no free time to actually sit and listen. But if sitting and listening isn’t your thing, you can go for a run and listen. You can write in a journal and listen. The important thing is this: just be alone with your body and mind, and listen.

As a result of listening and acknowledging, one can start on the path of making the necessary changes in life so that the listener can become the best version of him or herself, and determine the most fulfilling life choice. This should not be done impulsively or on a whim; it should be done over a period of time as the listener cultivates awareness about him or herself. Once the next right action is identified through listening, it is then time to take action, and that action usually involves walking through fears, doubts, and insecurities. It might even mean taking actions that others might not approve of.

But at the end of the day, this is your life. This is your career. It is the life and career that you will have to live with. This is the life you get to choose. We are blessed with only a certain amount of time on this earth. And if, at the end, you want to be able to say, as I do, that I did the best I could with what I had, then that will require listening to our hearts, and honestly being able to check in and reflect. This is not to say that this process of listening will lead one to find their one purpose, or one career (as there may be many), but it will allow the listener to make informed life decisions throughout this journey. Ignoring facts and information in the legal practice is never advisable, and it is equally detrimental to make uninformed decisions in this practice of life. And in the type of discovery I have been talking about, you need not produce documents or depose witnesses; all you have to do is stop and listen.


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