by Peggy Kerdo

Peggy 2_Pic

“Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.

When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.

If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.” Joseph Campbell

There are lots of reasons why people become lawyers.

Some people do it for the money and power.  Some people do it because their parents want them to be a lawyer. Some do it because they got the marks, and medicine was out because they suck at maths. And some see law as their vocation.

The word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin noun ‘vocatio’ or ‘vocare’, which means ‘to call’.  So a vocation is a call to a particular type of work.  The Oxford Dictionary describes it as “…a person’s employment or main occupation, especially regarded as worthy and requiring dedication.”

When I was about 15, I felt a ‘call’ for the first time.  It was a summer’s night and my father had closed the Milk Bar, piled us all into the Holden and taken us for a drive to the back beach at Williamstown. I was an angry teenager, desperately unhappy, bursting for some freedom, some experience of the world. I stood at the water’s edge and it seemed to me that out there, on the black horizon, was something – something calling.  I felt the pull of the call in the middle of my belly and strained to understand what it was, and how to get to it.  What I knew for sure was that there was something ‘more’ than my tiny restricted life, and I resolved to find that and live it.

When I finished high school, I got into university and left 4 years later with a science degree (I had wanted to be doctor – but that’s another story). Then, over the next 14 years I did the following:

  • Diet kitchen supervisor at the Children’s Hospital;
  • Nursing (didn’t finish);
  • Accounting (didn’t finish);
  • Marketing (didn’t finish);
  • Child Psychology (didn’t finish);
  • Women’s Trade and Technical Course (finished it!);
  • Pre-apprenticeship in Carpentry (finished the pre-apprenticeship only.  But I can use a nail-gun!).

In amongst all this, I got married, had 2 children and got a divorce.

Nothing stopped the yearning I felt in my belly, not even having my kids.  There was something more… something more… something.

I went back to university and did some subjects in marine biology, which were a joy and inspiration.  I loved the work; the scholarship.  But after a year or so, I realised that my interest was leading me to be one of only three people in the world focusing on a particular type of unicellular red algae.

While I am all for knowledge for knowledge’s sake, I realised that this was not enough.  But what was? So I made a pact with myself to just stop for six months.  I thought that perhaps, if I stayed still for a while, something would come to point the way to ‘the call’.

And it did.

During my six month hiatus, I read ‘A Secret Country’ by John Pilger and was shocked to my core.  The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody had been released for a few years, and I read that too.  At the end of my self-imposed mini-exile, I turned up at the offices of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, first as a volunteer, then as a clerk.  Eighteen months after that, seeing what the lawyers did, I applied for and got into law at the age of 35. I was admitted to the profession when I was 40.

The discipline of law school honed my mind into a discerning, focussed tool. My training gave me knowledge and skills that I could use to advocate for disadvantaged people. The power and status of the profession gave me instant authority in the eyes of the community. I had a weapon that I knew how to wield.  I had a voice that would be heard.

And the yearning stopped and I have never experienced it since.

The law gave me back my power.  It is a gift that I dedicate to improving the world, perhaps just a little bit, by advocacy or through teaching. It is more than a job, more than money or kudos.  It is part of my bliss, the vehicle of my vocation:  a call that I answer.

Peggy Kerdo is a solicitor and lecturer at La Trobe Law School. Peggy is also currently a PhD candidate. Prior to her work at La Trobe Law School, Peggy was employed by Victoria Legal Aid in the field of human rights law, specifically in the areas of refugee and immigration law and mental health law. Peggy has also advocated on behalf of marginalised and disadvantaged members of the community and is passionate about access to justice. Her teaching focuses on clinical legal education, emotional intelligence and law reform issues that arise at the limits of the law.