Living fearlessly

Graduation is approaching, and I thought I’d share this excerpt from Michael Ignatieff‘s 2004 commencement speech to Whitman College graduates.  The theme will perhaps strike a chord with some of you.

My theme is living fearlessly in a fearful world. Living fearlessly is not the same thing as never being afraid. It’s good to be afraid occasionally. Fear is a great teacher. What’s not good is living in fear, allowing fear to dictate your choices, allowing fear to define who you are. Living fearlessly means standing up to fear, taking its measure, refusing to let it shape and define your life. Living fearlessly means taking risks, taking gambles, not playing it safe. It means refusing to take “no” for an answer when you are sure that the answer should have been “yes”. It means refusing to settle for less than what is your due, what is yours by right, what is yours by the sweat of your labor and your effort. To those of you who have had to struggle to get here, who sometimes doubted that you were going to get through, remember this: You have already come too far to settle for less than the best.

Why am I talking about fear at a moment like this? Because your adult life is really about to begin: jobs, professions, marriages, relationships, children, responsibilities, burdens, worries, and yes, fear. Fear that you are not good enough to make the grade. Fear that you haven’t got what it takes to carry the burden. Fear that you can’t meet the expectations of all those people watching you today as you step up and accept your degree.

Fight the fear. Remember, the most important thing about a life is that it is yours and nobody else’s. You cannot live a life for the sake of your family, your parents, your brothers, your sisters, your children. A life without duty to these loved ones would not be a good life, but a life lived entirely to meet their expectations is not a good life. It is the ones who love us most who put the fear into us, who burden us with expectations and responsibilities we feel unable to meet. So we need to say, “This is our life, not yours, and we are going to do this our way.”

One of the greatest feelings in life is the conviction that you have lived the life you wanted to live – with the rough and the smooth, the good and the bad – but yours, shaped by your own choices, and not someone else’s. To do that, you have to conquer fear, get control of the expectations that drive your life, and decide what goals are truly yours to achieve.

While particularly appropriate for a commencement speech, isn’t this the challenge for each of us, everyday?  One of the guiding principles in the coaching I do is that no one will be satisfied unless the life they’re living will propel him toward his goals.  I’ve observed smart, talented people who sabotaged themselves (usually unknowingly) because they didn’t want to succeed on the path they were trying to pursue.  For example, I know of one woman who’s bright, articulate, savvy, thoughtful, friendly — all the good qualities that usually incline someone to interview well.  Following law school and a clerkship, she started interviewing at big firms.  She noticed that although every interview was pleasant, she shifted the topic of each interview away from practice and law-related subjects to politics, personal issues, and even her children.  She had perfectly nice interviews, but none that led to offers.  On examination, she realized that although she was “supposed” to go to a big firm (according to the path expected by her law school, her court colleagues, her judge, her family, and so on) she didn’t have any interest at all in doing that.  Instead, she really wanted to do public service work.  She had an interview following that revelation, nailed it, and has had a successful and satisfying career.

Am I saying that everyone who doesn’t interview well doesn’t really want the job? No, no, and no.  What I am saying is that when something is off in job search or performance, it’s wise to ask whether there’s a chance that unconscious self-protection is manifesting as self-sabotage.  And that could be equally true if the lawyer is interviewing public service agencies while really want to work in a large firm and earn scads of money.  Remember the 80’s show Family Ties?  (Have I just completely dated myself?)  Imagine Alex P. Keaton as a criminal defense lawyer, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

And in other news…

As I was typing this post, I saw a news story about MIT’s annual piano drop to mark that last day that students can drop classes.  (Here’s a photo from 2006 as proof that I’m not making this up!)  Has anyone heard of this?  I’d love to know the backstory.

And I’ll be flying back east today.  On Wednesday, I had an uneventful trip back down the mountain from Keystone to Denver after presenting on Facilitating a Successful Transition from Law Student to Lawyer.  (More on my short stay at the NALP conference in Monday’s post.)  When I stepped out of the conference center, I was stunned to see that a huge amount of the snow had melted, leaving bare trees and soggy grounds.  But the 22″ that had fallen at the height of the pass was still on the ground, and we passed a herd of maybe 15 elk right by the road, digging in the snow to find something to eat.  I so wish I’d had my camera!

I spent yesterday morning driving from Denver to Laramie, Wyoming, home of the University of Wyoming.  Couldn’t sleep, so I left Denver just past 6 AM (some vacation, right?) and was rewarded with sitings of herd after herd of antelope and mule-eared deer.  I would guess that I saw well over 100 animals, most very close to the road.  Because of the recent snow, I didn’t even try to get into the Snowy Range (west of Laramie), even though I would have loved to see St. Albans Chapel again, where I was married.

A couple of photos, just for the fun of it: part of the Snowy Range and looking through St. Albans.

Photo of Medicine Bow                                                           St Alban's close-up

2 replies
  1. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi Julie,

    You write, “What I am saying is that when something is off in job search or performance, it’s wise to ask whether there’s a chance that unconscious self-protection is manifesting as self-sabotage. And that could be equally true if the lawyer is interviewing public service agencies while really want to work in a large firm and earn scads of money. ”

    I think this can be true in many sitsuations. In addition, I think it’s also important to consider that a self-image one has that says, “I am lacking and deficient in some way, shape or form” can also be at play and lead to self-sabotage. The conscious question, “Who do I think I am and who do I take myself to be?” can also reveal underlying, negative asssumptions and beliefs that can cause one to trip up, stumble, play “small”, and otherwise act as if one feels invisible, unworthy and value-less.

    Too, fear can be viewed as “faith returning”. Not faith as in religion but faith (courage)ion one’s self….if, one is willing and able to go through the fear, experience it and see what’s underneath it, as opposed to going around it.

    Wonderful post and thanks.

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