Last week, I found myself at a coffee shop grading papers. I couldn't help but overhear two young college students talk about career options and their dreams for work-life balance. It was so hard not to interject. There is so much I want to tell them. But where to begin?
I remember being in their shoes. A third year law student, I thought I knew so much. I wanted to feel passionate about work. I wanted to make a difference. I was sure I would make good money. And I was confident I would seamlessly transition into motherhood a few years down the road.
My confidence was misplaced. While I left law school armed with knowledge and enthusiasm, I had little in my arsenal to prepare me for the realities of balancing work and life. If I could give these students some career guidance, I thought to myself, I would say the following:
1. Follow your passion. I never thought I could walk into a courtroom with a young sexual violence survivor and prosecute her assailant. But, just a year out of law school, I got to do this on a regular basis. I interviewed child abuse victims. I made plea offers. I tried jury cases. In law school, I thought only the best, brightest, and most experienced attorney could handle such serious issues. But in reality, the best attorney to handle such an emotionally charged case was the one who was passionate about the issue, competent, and willing to work hard. And at the time, that was me.
2. Define your goals. Identify what gives you the biggest push towards inner peace. What will make you go to bed each night feeling like your day was worthwhile and fulfilling? The sooner you can figure this out, the better able you will be to match your career with your authentic self.
3. Don't rely only on work to make you happy. Get a hobby. Volunteer. Even if you love your job, happiness cannot be achieved through work alone. Some of the most unhappy people I know have jobs they are passionate about. Having interests outside of work offers us a perspective we all need in order to achieve balance in our lives.
4. Diversify. Continue to network, even when you think you've found the perfect job. Explore your other passions and interests. You might one day decide to turn that passion into a new career.
5. Enjoy the journey. College is a time of great excitement. Take the time to make lasting friendships and experience the joy of early adulthood -- the time will pass all too quickly.
The young students at the coffee shop continued to talk as I jotted down my thoughts. A teacher at heart, I made the bold move of interrupting the students. I shared with them my notes. The pair seemed appreciative, which led me to jot down one last piece of advice.
6. Speak up. Share. It can be so easy to fall into the silence of "getting through" each day. But if we don't share our experiences -- both the good and the bad -- we isolate ourselves and we inhibit our ability to learn and to teach. The best measure of success isn't our ability to earn a living, but in our ability to create a life. We are all passengers on a shared journey towards fulfillment and balance. We might as well help each other out along the way.
Stacey Steinberg teaches Legal Writing and Juvenile Law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She is also a lifestyle photographer and a mom. You can view Stacey's photography on Facebook.