Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Identity Crisis: Prestige vs. Happiness

I think that one of the most significant "identity crises" for people in their twenties, just beginning careers, is choosing between prestige and happiness. Because let's face it: it's kind of hard to have both, or at least very hard to have both on a consistent, long-term basis. Usually, what's prestigious isn't necessarily what will make you happy . . . and what makes you happiest may not be prestigious at all.

This topic is on my mind a lot because I see this issue 24/7 in the law school environment. Most people who end up in law school (yes, including me) are by nature incredibly competitive, driven, and goal-oriented. And most of us law students each want to be that person who "does it all": who is the managing editor of law review, captain of a Moot Court team, president of multiple student organizations, a clerk for a judge, etc.--all while getting straight A's, maintaining an active social life, and being ready to pass the bar exam with flying colors and then go make a great salary working for a prestigious law firm. It's probably true that no matter what field you end up in, there will be people who seem to be able to do it all and still have time to breathe and have a life--and who are genuinely happy in the activities and goals they're pursuing.

But for most of the others, it is all too easy to get caught up in a rat race where you are constantly pursuing the next prestigious, attractive option to beef up your resume or to impress people, without even realizing that what you're striving for isn't making you happy. Yes, some people are truly happy pursuing all of the prestigious goals I described above--but for a lot of people, the things they really want to pursue in life or in their careers aren't going to elicit responses of "Oh, that's so impressive!" from others. I've begun to realize since starting law school that a lot of the things that I and my peers want to do aren't what you might call "prestigious," whether it be traveling to Third World countries to tackle legal issues in poverty-stricken areas or pouring our time and energy into clinics that provide pro bono legal services to people who really need them. I'm beginning to realize more than I ever have before that some of the most prestigious options available to me are not necessarily going to make me happy, while some of my deepest passions probably wouldn't be considered impressive at all. In the typical situation where you really can't have both, it is very hard to choose between the most prestigious option and the one you think will actually make you happy.

I'm trying to learn how to choose happiness over impressiveness, because I'm pretty sure that will help me lead a more satisfying, regret-free life in the long run. I can't say it's not an incredibly difficult choice or one that doesn't make me second-guess myself a lot--but I would rather fulfill my own passions than simply someone else's expectations.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with you, and it's the hardest choice to make, but with the fewest day-to-day regrets. You might spend a minute regretting that you aren't a millionaire, but a millionaire could spend every day living like a robot, working for someone else, and not being happy. Earning potential does not equal full life potential.


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