COMMENTARY: Be What You Want to Be

“What will you be when you grow up?”

It’s a serious question. As kids, we knew we were going to be something and that to be something was to be someone. Even as our ambitions changed, we knew what we were going to be was important and our choice.

When I entered UCLA Law School in 1964, I wanted to do good. Yet when I graduated three years later, I just wanted to do well. My life’s mission had changed, not as the result of conscious choice but as a surrender to the momentum of an elaborate matchmaking ritual: the ultimate competition to get job offers from themost prestigious employers and to attain the most hard-to-get jobs.

Money was definitely a factor, as almost all of us had student loans to pay off, but the larger force was a desire for validation. I was, by inclination and training, highly competitive. Getting a coveted job was the ultimate trophy. Intoxicated with a desire to win, I abandoned my wish of being significant in favor of being successful.

I was lucky. The tax firm I wanted didn’t make me an offer, so I took a teaching position at the University of Michigan Law School. I discovered I loved teaching and stayed with it for nearly 20 years before I founded an ethics institute in honor of my parents.

You may start out intending to be the captain, but if you’re not careful, you may find yourself drifting in another direction, a passenger on your own ship. Your life is too important to be little.

Be what you want to be.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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