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Randomness from a 2005 graduate of The Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University

 

Saturday, January 03, 2004

I wasn't too excited about taking employment law this semester, although the professor is supposed to be excellent. However, the first 11 pages of the textbook may have changed my mind. The first sentence of the textbook is, "When asked once to name the most important things in life, Sigmund Freud answered, 'Love and work.'" The authors then proceed to illustrate just why the study of employment law is so important. I’m still persuaded that criminal law deals the most fundamentally with human life and emotion, but employment law may follow close behind.

The issues brought up in the introduction to the casebook are actually something I have given a lot of thought to in the past. What is the function of work? Is an individual defined by the work he does? Can one be happy if she does not enjoy/learn from/earn enough at/take pride in/etc. the work she does?

I was raised by multiple working parents. In a variety of capacities, I witnessed all of them working very hard and taking pride in what they did. They emphasized that one contributes to society and to the family by working. I started babysitting at age eleven in order to have spending money beyond the five dollar allowance that my parents gave me (and docked for rolling my eyes, forgetting to lock the front door, or any other minor infraction they could think of). I started working at "real" jobs the summer I was sixteen, but I did not work during the school year until my senior year of college. When I graduated from college I worked as an AmeriCorps member for a year. And people constantly asked, "When are you going to get a real job?" So I finished my term of service and got a real job. It paid more, but was excruciatingly boring. After a variety of jobs with increasing responsibility and a little more mental stimulation, I started law school four years after getting my bachelor's degree. I fully believe that working as a lawyer is a job I will love. Obviously I won’t love it every day, but the law excites me, challenges me, and allows me to contribute to society in a way I cannot imagine with any other profession. I am so grateful that I have found "my calling." But my personal satisfaction with the career path I have chosen does not answer the questions posed above.

What is the function of work? According to the excerpt in my textbook from Pope John Paul II, "Through work man must earn his daily bread and contribute to the continual advance of science and technology and, above all, to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of the society within which he lives…" This vision of "work" is so broad that it probably encompasses just about every answer, and yet somehow it seems remarkably precise. In another excerpt from a report to the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, the function of work is described as "the means by which we provide the goods and services needed and desired by ourselves and our society." In addition to this sterile and impersonal view, the report discusses the function of work as contributing to self-esteem and as "a powerful force in shaping a person’s sense of identity." I don’t know that I mean to argue with or defend any of these statements. Really, I just want to think about them - to think about the meaning of work in my life and in the lives of others.

I used to argue with one of my ex-boyfriends all the time about the importance of one’s profession. He thought it was much more important than I did. He had wanted to be a doctor since he was ten years old, but through a variety of circumstances had never even finished his bachelor’s degree. Because of his love of medicine, he decided in his late twenties to become a nurse. He was an excellent nurse, he was incredibly smart, and he was also very unhappy. He was ashamed to tell people he knew from high school that he was a nurse rather than a doctor. He was frustrated with nursing because it didn’t challenge him intellectually. And when he contemplated going back to school for an unrelated degree, he was also embarrassed to admit that he had any interest other than medicine, because it threatened his perception of himself.

I always told him, truthfully, that I respected him for his compassion and intelligence and motivation, independently of whatever job he actually held. I also told him that for me to entirely respect him, he had to be content with what he was doing. He didn’t have to love it, he didn’t have to find it challenging or interesting even, but he couldn’t be miserable with the choices he had made. Because if he was, I could only respect him if he was taking steps to make himself happier. It was not about what work he did, it was about who he was as a person. To me the two things were completely separate, but to him they were inseparable. He thought I pressured him to go back to school because I thought being a nurse was somehow inferior or because I thought having a degree was a measure of his worth, but really I was only pressuring him to take control of his happiness and his future.

Another guy and I got into a debate about if I, or other female law students, would truly be happy dating a guy who made less money or had a "non-professional" job. I contended that I would, and I stand behind that. Personally, I just want to meet someone who is happy with what he does, in whatever way he defines happiness. There are obviously qualities I look for which may often be reflected in what kind of work a person does, but someone can be intelligent and work in construction, or can want to change society and work as a taxi driver, or be ambitious and work as a waiter. It is not the work in itself that would influence my view of someone, and definitely not the income. However, I have to admit that there are a lot of women I know who do not share my view. I think there are honestly women in law school looking for husbands, more than getting an education. And most of the women I know would get even more excited if they started dating a med student than a law student. I would think in law school, that people would have enough confidence in themselves not to have to define everyone by the amount of money they make or the prestige associated with a particular title, but I[‘m wrong. And I’m not even going to get into the negative attitude towards public interest work or government work, since you don’t start at over a hundred grand.

For me to be happy at work, I need to be challenged. I need to at least not feel that the work I do is hurting society, and I would strongly prefer that I be contributing to a better society in some way. For some people, being happy at work means knowing they are financially secure. For some people being happy at work means having a job that is not stressful. For some people being happy at work means being respected. Everyone’s definitions of happiness are valid, but it is time for people to stop judging themselves and others based upon arbitrary definitions. Personally, I would take Freud’s answer to the mot important things in life and recognize the role of work, but define oneself by the amount of love in one’s heart.

I think when people stop defining themselves by the work they do, others will begin to stop as well. I don't want to ever define myself solely as a lawyer. I am a Christian. I am a good friend. I am a loving person. I am a hard worker. Soon, I will be working as a lawyer, but that will not be who I am
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