How to Build a Life – Guarantee Success

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Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor recently addressed the Yale Law School graduating class of 2013. While her message was directed toward law students preparing for a major life transition, her simple wisdom is invaluable for anyone striving to find success both personally and professionally.   All references to lawyering have been parsed from the following transcript, and emphasis has been added to the underlying message and generalizable principles:

I have to tell you, I was trying to remember what I was thinking about when I sat in your chairs… I was spending an awful lot of time joyful, a little bit scared.  Joyful about a new adventure, a new start, but a little bit anxious about what the future held for me.  I was reprising in my own head, did I make the right decision to go to the DA’s office?  What opportunities have I given up by doing that?  What choices should I have made better, that I’m now headed to give up?  And I was racked probably most of my earlier career every time I considered a job change, with that same anxiety, am I doing the right thing?

And I thought as I was driving up that I would talk to you about perhaps how to lessen that anxiety.  And it’s by not worrying about building a resume, and how you do it, but thinking about how you build a life.  Because if you concentrate on that second question, you can then put into focus what I have learned are ingredients that are almost guaranteed to make you successful both personally and professionally.

And by that I mean the following.

If you’re building a life, the first choice you should make is what kind of people do you want to spend it with.  We only think about that when we’re picking a spouse, how many of us actually stop and think about it when we’re picking friends.  How often do you stop and say to yourself, who are the people who bring value to my life?  Who are the people who are supporting me and helping me grow?  Who are the people who are going to set a standard higher than the one I think I can reach?  And challenge and help me to get that far? Hopefully that’s how you will pick your spouse and your friends, and how you’ll pick your workplace.

As you interview… you’re going to have a lot of choices.  But I tell you from personal experience that your instinct should go to those places where you have seen and met people who meet the standard I just set out for you.  Do those work environments provide you with a vision of yourself that is greater than you are right now? And if they do, it doesn’t matter what job it is, you will do it well.  You’ll like it, and you’ll be successful.  And that lesson I learned almost immediately in my career because it was that intuition of having gone to a place like the DA’s office… I liked the people I met there, and their values, and those have stayed with me.

So what’s the second ingredient to success?  Figuring out how to learn in every situation you’re in. There isn’t a job you’ll do, and I will tell you from personal experience, including being Supreme Court justice… sometimes it gets boring.  No justice is supposed to say that.  But you know, there’s drudgery in every job you’re going to do.  So how do you get past the drudgery?  Get past it by setting the standard of learning for your self in each environment you’re in.  Figuring out the art… figure out how you can learn how to comfort people, because remember, that’s the nature… serving people.  It’s helping them with their problems, and if you maintain that as a value… it will give you satisfaction if you combine it with understanding that you can’t do successful service unless you know what you’re doing and how to do it well.

And so, what’s the final ingredient that I’ve learned in life?  It’s a very simple one about happiness… Find your passion… Find your passion, not other people’s passion. And that actually is the real answer to the difficulties most of you may experience about questions like: am I doing meaningful work?  The answer is, if you’re doing work that satisfies you, that makes you feel good about what you’re learning and accomplishing, even if to other’s it’s not what they want to do, it doesn’t matter… if you do it with honor and integrity and a sense of passion in trying to make the world that you’re in… better, then by definition you’re going to be successful.

I do know that you can have happy lives, and you can build a life… that’s meaningful and that’s wonderful.  And what I wish you all is the joy of traveling and finding your road and finding that joy.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 27th, 2013 at 3:42 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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