Like you, I was saddened when I learned of Maya Angelou’s death yesterday. She had a great impact on many lives, including my own. You might enjoy reading this New York Times article I found: Maya Angelou, Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South, Dies at 86.
I used her quotes in many presentations to young lawyers. In 2007, when law firms were booming, I was asked by the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division to speak at their spring meeting in Montreal. The title they gave me was:
If you need to light your fire in 2014, click on the title above for the handout materials.
I began the presentation by playing 20 seconds of the Doors singing on the Ed Sullivan show in September of 1967. Those of you my age remember the stir caused by Jim Morrison not changing the lyrics: “Girl we couldn’t get much higher.” Ed Sullivan refused to shake Morrison’s hand and The Doors were never invited back.
During the presentation, I shared a favorite Maya Angelou quote:
In an interview I read, she made the very points I tried to make in “Say Ciao to Chow Mein.” Here is what she said:
I was so naive about so many things. I remember wanting very much to be successful. I had a singing career then and had just released my first album, Miss Calypso. But I didn’t think that that was going to make me a success. I thought I was going to become a prosperous real-estate broker. I had this image of myself with my briefcase, wearing alligator shoes, carrying a matching purse and wearing a pair of lovely little suede gloves that stopped right at the wrist.
Of course, my life unfolded along a much different path, but back then, I thought that being successful was mainly looking the part and being able to afford the material comforts. Yes, it is good to want to be successful at something, but I know now that money doesn’t measure success. You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you. All the other tangible rewards will come as a result.
Her thoughts really resonated with me.
Some dictionaries define success as the attainment of wealth, power, favor, or eminence. Young lawyers seeking those things will likely be disillusioned because when you get it, you are not even satisfied.
I began my career seeking the definition of success above. Shortly after my daughter was born, I redefined success to make sure it included following my passion and being engaged in work that benefits others. I left my law firm nine years ago to coach lawyers, not because I did not want to practice law. Instead, I left because I believed I would be more fulfilled helping lawyers succeed.
As I shared with the YLD lawyers in Montreal, I can’t light your fire, I can only share ideas that will help you reignite your flame for legal work.
Here is the takeaway: There can be no real, long lasting career success without fulfillment. What are you doing to find fulfillment in your career and life? What do you need to change? If you can’t change anything, how can you change how you are looking at your situation?