by Joel Orenstein
Wisdom has become an overlooked virtue in modern life. Although we innately value wisdom – we want to make wise choices and find the right answers to our questions – there is little public discourse of the central importance of the development of wisdom, both for our own personal wellbeing and the wellbeing of society as a whole.
Our obsession with achieving and acquiring has led to the loss of perspective and understanding, often resulting in complete craziness in the way we live and interact with others and our environment. The way lawyers work and the resultant mental health crisis within the legal profession is an example of this. And even though the world is screaming out for us to exercise wisdom, our lack of emphasis on the importance of wisdom has meant that oftentimes we simply lack the resources to make wise choices.
Certainly there was no emphasis on the development of wisdom throughout my formal studies, which centred on intellectual understanding of concepts and fostering a certain way of critical thinking. Upon reflection, although I learnt to “think like a lawyer”, I was completely under-resourced to deal with the realities of legal practice, which required an emotional maturity and understanding – both of myself and those that I was coming into contact with.
When I started my career I spent a lot of time worrying over my place in the scheme of things, asking myself where I was going and always trying to come up with the right answer. This inevitably led to angst and mental anguish, especially when what I wanted in my mind was not in alignment to what was presenting in reality.
Eventually, through sheer exhaustion, I started on the path of wisdom. I began to practice simple acceptance of my situation and environment, no matter what was presenting. When joy would arise, I would allow myself to be with that. When fear and anxiety would arise, I would consciously lean into the experience with compassion and non-judgement. With persistence and courage, I began to allow myself to be just as I was, and through this process, healing and transformation would take place. This brought greater understanding and better balance and clarity, resulting in a discerning wisdom in recognizing opportunities and making choices.
My experience has been that to be happy and successful in the law, it is absolutely invaluable to emphasize the development of inner resources that lead to wisdom. It is extremely important in achieving good legal outcomes, and is more important in terms of life satisfaction than the actual work you are doing, your employer, your work environment, how much you are getting paid, etc. This is because with wisdom, you will be able to manage anything and everything that life throws at you. The rest, I have discovered, will look after itself.
So how do you develop wisdom? Start by allowing yourself to be exactly as you are, without judgement or criticism. Be completely honest with your experience and open your eyes, ears and heart to the truth of each moment. Be kind to yourself and generous with others. Acknowledge your painful moments, not as weaknesses, but as a reflection of your humanity. Laugh when you need to laugh, and cry when you need to cry.
It is true that the stresses of professional life often make us want out. Yet with all its challenges and pressures, work is the perfect place to start developing wisdom. Instead of worrying about each day and its challenges, approach the ups and downs of life as golden opportunities to develop understanding and insight. Let this be the focus and you will transform your career in law into the path of wisdom, which is the most precious gift you can give to yourself, and to the world.