Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Tale of Two Vocations, Part I.

Nearly a month ago, a reader named Gavin posted a comment that I've been meaning to reply to. Gavin raised a couple of thoughtful questions which I'd like to answer, albeit belatedly and with apologies for the delay. Here's what Gavin wrote:

. . . I don't think you've ever addressed this on your blog, but I'm very curious: what led you to, and then away from, law? I assume a greater calling led you away from, but what led you to law in the first place? Did you know before Notre Dame that you [would] take this (more important, more valuable) path? Very curious. And I'll keep reading.

What led me to the law? The easiest and best answer I can give is that politics led me to the law. I've been interested in politics for as long as I can remember, and for a long time I aspired to political life. While I was in high school and college, I attempted to lay the foundations of a career in public service - I volunteered on many political campaigns, I spent several summers as a legislative intern at the Massachusetts State House, and I earned a degree in American Government at Georgetown. (In fact, my decision to go to Georgetown was motivated in the first instance by my interest in politics, in that I wanted to study in the capital.) During these years, the idea of going to law school was always somewhere in my mind. I'd heard from many people - everyone from my parents to legislators and political operatives I'd worked with - that a law degree was a useful credential for a public servant to have. In some sense, I always assumed that I would go to law school - not because I aspired to a career as a practicing attorney, but because I believed that legal training would be a good preparation for a life in politics.

By the time of my senior year at Georgetown, I remained interested in law school but had also begun to consider other possibilities. One of these was university teaching, leading me to consider graduate school. The problem with going to grad school was that I didn't know what I would do there; I had strong interests in history, political science and theology, and I couldn't figure out which of these disciplines spoke strongly enough to my heart that I would want to teach and write about it for the rest of my life. At the same time, I had already begun to feel the first stirrings of a vocation to the Society of Jesus. Though I was intrigued by the prospect of becoming a Jesuit, I didn't feel at all ready to enter the Society. Compared with grad school or the Jesuits, law school strangely felt like the path of least resistance - applying to law school didn't entail choosing a discipline and area of specialization as grad school would have, and continuing my studies wasn't the major life choice that entering the Society would have been. So I went through the arduous process of applying to law school, ultimately ending up at Notre Dame.

The above paragraphs attempt to explain, in greatly condensed form, "what led me to law." That leads me to Gavin's second question: what led me away from law? This is a much harder question to answer, one that requires a more detailed reply than Gavin's first question. Accordingly, I'll answer this question in another post (A Tale of Two Vocations, Part II), which I hope to deliver in a couple days. Until then, stay tuned for more on this subject. AMDG.


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