Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Reinventing Your Calling

Last fall I fell in love with Dire Straits. To make the process of moving my law school office less of a chore, I cranked up rock music after hours. This was, I will note, quite out of character -- I'm mostly a low-volume public radio listener, predictably tuning to folk or classical music. Indeed, except for a brief flirtation with country rock, I had listened to almost no popular music since college days.  But the process of painting, moving furniture, and lugging and arranging box after box of books called for something a little more energizing than Mozart. Die Meistersinger wasn't going to do the trick, so I started browsing for music from bands whose names sounded vaguely familiar. Quite by chance -- perhaps simply because it ran over two hours -- I clicked on what turned out to be the final concert of the Dire Straits 1986 world tour. From the moment I heard the guitar solo in "Tunnel of Love," I was hooked. I played the concert over, and over, spellbound by the virtuosity of lead guitarist/songwriter/singer Mark Knopfler. Soon I dived in, watching and listening to more concerts, then following Knopfler's solo career.

I've been particularly fascinated by how Knopfler has continually reinvented his professional life, staying in the music profession but always moving forward. (Music was actually Knopfler's third career, after working as a newspaper reporter and university lecturer.) Even before Dire Straits broke up, he was seeking new musical challenges. He wrote movie soundtracks (including The Princess Bride and Wag the Dog) and produced records for other artists including Bob Dylan and Randy Newman. In his solo career, he explored a wide variety of genres and collaborated with musicians as diverse as Jimmy Buffet, Emmylou Harris, and Elton John. By experimenting, pushing himself in new directions, sometimes exploring how a minimal touch could convey a message and sometimes pushing the limit of what a guitar could do, Knopfler kept his music relevant and fresh, touching the lives of listeners worldwide. 

Reinventing oneself can be intimidating. Just ask our students, who enter law school as talented individuals who face the task of learning an entirely new way of thinking and writing. Indeed, the law school academic support profession exists largely to help students make the transition. For persons who have been successful in one manner of thinking, in one way of studying, stretching themselves into a new realm is uncomfortable at best. It would be far easier to (as it were) continue performing a predictable style of rock music with an occasional change in band members. Instead, we help our students master new skills so they can take their practice of law into a variety of directions to keep themselves relevant and prepared.

Reinventing oneself can also be exhilarating, allowing for new experiences, new collaborations, and new insights. Today I had the unalloyed pleasure of sitting down with The Learning Curve (soon available on SSRN for browsing and download) the very day it came out and devouring the whole issue, cover to cover, in one sitting. Exploring the articles in the issue was rather like being a kid in a candy shop with a nonstop inner conversation.  "Oh, what a great insight!" "Would that work here?" "I'd sure like the faculty to see this." "Now, there's an idea I can put right to work." We experience the same sense of possibilities at conferences. If one message came through in the current issue of The Learning Curve, it is how reinventing how we approach our calling will invigorate our work and help us touch our students lives for the better.  (Nancy Luebbert)

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