As lawyers, we are obsessed by the short term - the answers to interrogatories due tomorrow, the deposition at the end of the week, the hearing next Tuesday. But what about the long term? I don’t mean next month or even next year. I am talking about the rest of your life. What legacy do you want to leave behind? To lead a fulfilling life as a lawyer means more than meeting the next deadline. It means having dreams and living for them. If you want to take control of your life instead of letting circumstances control you, consider the following:
Start at the end. When you retire, what do you hope to have accomplished? Let’s take it a step further. After you die, how do you want to be remembered? Do you want to be remembered for billing lots of hours? For the discovery you propounded? Or do you want to be remembered for something more? People remember those who touch their lives. Do you want to affect others, touch their hearts and shape their minds? Do you want to be known for giving back to the community? For your commitment to pro bono? For winning the big case, being a mentor or writing a novel? To be remembered, you have to live a life worth remembering.
Sit down with a pen and paper and write down how you want to be remembered and what you want to be remembered for. Don’t make it long. Try to reduce it to a note card, and tape it to your computer screen or affix it to the refrigerator door. These are going to be your life goals. Always keep them close by.
Dream big. Don’t be afraid to dream big. Where do you really want to be? Don ’t ask yourself where you expect to be or where life will likely take you. Take charge of your life and direct it toward something bigger than yourself.
Develop a plan. Once you know what you want to accomplish with your life, figure out how to get there. Write out a plan of action to reach your goals. I suggest keeping a journal. On the first page, write down how you want to be remembered. On the next several pages, write out what you plan to do to be remembered that way.
Set Benchmarks. Once you have set out a roadmap to get you to your destination, set benchmarks to meet along the way. Where do you want to be twenty years from now? Ten years? Five? Map out how far along the path you want to be when you reach given stages in your life.
Decide how to reach each benchmark. Once you have decided upon short and long term goals, decide what tasks you need to perform to reach each benchmark. If you want to leave a legacy as a leader, what steps do you need to take to assume leadership roles in bar and civic associations? Set manageable goals. Put them too far out of reach and you’re setting yourself up for failure. You’re writing the script of your life. To get that happy ending, the individual acts have to be thought out and achievable.
Check off benchmarks, and make adjustments when necessary. In your journal, keep a record of your accomplishments. Did you get elected to the board of a bar association? Did you get to first chair your first trial? Write it down. Periodically, review your accomplishments and compare them against the goals you wrote down. Did you fulfill them? Did you get close? Were the goals you set realistic? Were they goals you truly wanted to pursue? You may find that the goals you set may need some adjusting. If so, reevaluate your life plan and make changes where necessary.
To make this work, you have to work on your life goals every day. Once you have set down goals for yourself, you have to work every day at achieving them. Some days, you’ll only be able to do something small -make a few calls, maybe read a couple of articles on practice development. But large or small, pluck away at it every day. Don’t lose traction and don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish.
Live your dreams. At the end of the day, all the goals and dreams in the world don’t mean a whole lot if you don’t pursue them. Live your dreams. Mark off your accomplishments and keep moving forward. Dreams are something bigger than us. They’re more than learning how to draft a motion or ague a hearing. They’re about leaving a mark on this world, making it better, changing things and shaking them up. Figure out what you really want out of life. Have you figured it out? Good. Now go do it.