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Your Job Doesn't Define YOU

In honor of the late Toni Morrison:

Some good career advice I’ve come across was from a short essay by the late Toni Morrison entitled “The Work You Do, the Person You Are.” In that piece, Ms. Morrison recounts working as a young child in the 1940s cleaning homes in a beautiful house full of “things that were common in Her neighborhood, absent in [hers].” At first the work was easy—all she had to do for two dollars was clean for a few hours after school—and she earned not only some spending money, but a sense of pride. Ms. Morrison was able to contribute to her family and be raised to an “adultlike” status.

This was all fine and well until the job soured. Ms. Morrison was given more and more work—work that was frankly too much for a little girl. She was ordered to carry bookcases upstairs and fell while doing so, and also made to move a piano. Ms. Morrison felt conflicted about speaking up, and complained to her father one day. He gave her some tough love: “Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”

Morrison got this from her father:

1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.

3. Your real life is with us, your family.

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.

Her words are applicable to the legal profession. You should do your work well for yourself, not for your boss. I’ve had a few jobs where I’ve been annoyed, and didn’t want to do as good of a job as I could’ve. I had to remember that not doing my best work only hurts me, not anyone else. Doing your best work helps your development as a lawyer, and learning valuable skills that you can carry with you to the next job. Your reputation is everything. Even when you don’t want to give a terrible job your all, just remember that your name is attached to the work.

You make the job; it doesn’t make you. It’s easy in the legal profession to forget that you are a whole person outside of work. Don’t lose yourself and think that being a lawyer is the only important or interesting thing about you as a person. Your job doesn’t define you. A lot is said in the legal profession about wellness and how lawyers have some of the highest rates of depression. I think a lot of that stems from people not taking care of themselves, and thinking that their job is the only thing that matters. I have made it a point to have an active life outside of the office and to get out and enjoy life.

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” –Toni Morrison

- Ashley

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