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This Japanese Concept was Key to Finding My Vocation

Read how this practice of vocation discernment helped this author find her vocation.
I did not seriously consider law school until the beginning of my senior year in college. At the time, I was frantically considering all my possible post-grad options: law school, graduate school, fellowships, jobs, service. I wasn’t sure what the next step should be, and I also wasn’t convinced I would make the best decision for my future at that busy time.

I hedged. I took the GRE and the LSAT, went to the career fair, interviewed for a few jobs, and then finally decided to commit to a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps-Northwest/Americorps. Having made that decision, and having finished nearly all of my graduation requirements, I turned my energy to considering what I would do after my gap year. I didn’t know if I should pursue a PhD in literature or go to law school or try to write for a newspaper. I’d done so many different jobs, internships, and research assistantships in college that I couldn’t be sure what I should be doing, what would make me feel fulfilled.

At the end of my JV year, I went on a retreat with my housemates, and the facilitator helped us explore the idea of vocation — the idea that we all have a calling in life, a place to dedicate our energies in a career that will make life fulfilling and satisfying. In exploring vocation, she used the Japanese concept of Ikigai. This, she explained, is like a Venn diagram consisting of three things: that which you are good at, that which you enjoy doing, and that which meaningfully contributes to society. You’ve found your Ikigai, your vocation, when you find a profession that offers all three.

Combinations of any two of the three factors are totally possible and can still be rather appealing. For me, I spent a long time seriously considering a career in academia, focusing in the humanities. When I say I loved my college classes, I mean that I truly enjoyed the process of reading and analyzing, researching, delving into new academic theories exploring language and literature and how they shape the world in which we live.

In fact, when I decided to go to law school, some of the people I trust most in the world were honestly confused. They challenged me, asking me why I’d chosen the law over academia, asking me why I no longer was aiming at getting my PhD and eventually teaching. I didn’t have great answers for them — what I knew is that law school felt right.

My year of service confirmed what I already knew in my heart. A law degree would give me skills to help people marginalized by our society. In my time at Street Roots, I learned a lot about the legal barriers to housing and the lasting effects of our criminal justice system on individuals. I saw first-hand where someone with legal knowledge could truly assist those living on the streets.

When I learned about these three dimensions of vocation, something clicked into place. If I went into academia, I knew I could be good at it, and I knew I would enjoy it. But it would never feel fulfilling, because I know I’d never be able to shake off the feeling of being stuck in an ivory tower, far away from work that could allow me to truly impact the lives of those on the margins.

Now, I want to say this doesn’t mean academia might not be someone else’s vocation. Certainly, for some it is. By its very nature, vocation is specific to each individual — it resides in the gifts and circumstances of our lives, which are planted there by God. Scholars in all disciplines shape our discourse and are constantly inspiring others to do work they love, to think critically about the world in which they live, and to pursue whatever questions ignite their curiosity. This is important work — it is simply not the work that would fulfill my personal vocation. I’m looking for more than a job — I’m looking for my Ikigai, where my gifts and interests are fully engaged in making a difference.

For me, the study of law and the pursuit of a legal career will allow me to thoughtfully consider and debate questions about how we live in our society, give me skills to help those who live on the margins, and allow me to shape a career that fits my personal vocation. I’m still figuring out exactly what it will look like in a specific role after law school, but I do believe that it will include my interest in law, my passion for minority languages, and the deep love of literature I fostered in university.

What that all will specifically mean in five, 10, 20 years is still a mystery, but I know, for now, that law school is the right step for me.

Read about this author's journey to law school through the practice of vocation discernment.

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