Following the Rules Is So Overrated


“We are not here to be good.  
We are here to be whole.”
—Carl Jung

Like most lawyers, I am such a rule follower.  And, like most lawyers, I spend a tremendous amount of time and energy trying to be “good.”  In school I, like most of you, did my best to make good grades.  I was the kid who always wanted to be called on so I could impress the teacher.  I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or those in charge.  I craved the approval of others.  And I feared disapproval.

My hunch is that’s how it was for most of you.  That’s why we made the good grades, and that’s how we ended up getting into law school.

When we got out of law school this desire to please others (and our bigger fear of disappointing those in control) fueled our success as associates.  We worked hard to impress our partners and to churn out billable hours.  The money was nice, but what we really sought was approval.  As we became firmly ensconced in the upper middle class, we also craved the approval of our friends and neighbors more than ever before. What will everyone think if I don’t send my kids to private school? What will people think if I live in that part of town? Or not show up for the “command performance” parties?

So, we conformed.  We became defined by what others wanted and expected from us.  Then before you knew it, 10 or 12 years slipped by, and we had convinced ourselves that this partial, fractious life we’re leading, is the entirety of who we are.

For a lawyer, being good comes easy.  But it’s something of an act of rebellion to be whole…to stop conforming…to seek to know the fullness of who you are and your deepest longings, and to begin to orient your life in a way that expresses those longings—regardless of what other people think or say.  Being good serves the desires and expectations of others.  But it doesn’t do much for our souls.

Lawyers, more so than any other group, want to be good.  As such, we spend more time than most crafting our particular identities.  Making sure that the image we present to the world is the image the world expects to see.  We tie ourselves in knots trying to appear successful, accomplished, confident, and always in control.

Other lawyers in your case are o.k. with scheduling an important deposition on a Saturday.  You’re afraid of looking like a wimp, so you say it’s o.k. as well—even though you’d promised your son you’d take him to the zoo.  Or a partner walks into your office before a big trial, slaps you on the back and roars, “Let’s go kick some ass!”  And that strikes you as such a ridiculous thing to say because you know that what you do in a trial is about so much more than just “kicking some ass.”  But you say nothing.  Instead, you grunt, give him a fist bump him and say “hell yea!” as you walk out of the office.

In a profession where identities are so conscientiously crafted, it takes no small amount of courage to say enough with the curation, enough with conforming to the expectations of others, enough with following everyone else’s “rules.”  For lawyers, it is both an act of rebellion and an act of heroism to show up and be seen for who we are.

Make no mistake, there are plenty of risks in no longer following everyone else’s rules.  But what about the risk of getting to the end of your life without really knowing who you are?  What about the risk of waking up one day realizing that you are loved for the person you are pretending to be, but not for the person you really are?

Could there be anything worse?

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