By Ana María Martinez (J.D. '09)
When I meet law students and young lawyers, one of the first topics of conversation we embark on often surprises them. The discussion about their education and work experience in our meetings is followed by questions meant to elicit information about the things that spark joy in their lives.
It’s amazing how most are rendered speechless by this topic, not because they lack these interests but because it’s not a topic often touched upon in these types of conversations. This is especially the case when the questions are a follow up to their work experience or a precursor to our discussions regarding their future. I ask about their passions, their interests, and their hobbies. I ask them about their dreams and their hopes, and I make it clear this is a most important step in the planning and strategizing of their future. Then, we begin the process of finding what makes them happy to wake up in the morning.
Intentionally exploring these topics is, in my opinion, crucial to ensuring we have future leaders who are engaged and committed to improving our communities. After all, Heller Keller wisely said, "Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow." What better way to achieve stronger, healthier communities than to ensure we have civic, community, and legal leaders who truly want to make a difference? And the beautiful thing about the law is that it permeates every aspect of our lives; therefore, there are a million different needs and ways to be involved. From the environment, to animals, to land usage, to human and civil rights issues, and every topic in between, we need those people whose heart is sparked by the idea of change. In particular, the type of input attorneys are able to provide can have broad, sweeping impact on seemingly intractable issues. Personally, this is what I value about organizations like the Georgia Latino Law Foundation and ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), which through their work are tackling systemic issues. As we get involved, we see we can gain as much, if not more than, we give.
When we can tap into the things that spark joy in our hearts, we also become more creative, more engaged and more committed. Thinking outside the box unleashes our mind to find new solutions and improve processes. Joy and passion keep us going when things get tough and when we encounter opposition to our ideas by those stuck in the status quo. In fact, scientific research shows us as much. To quote Barbara L. Fredrickson’s research in her article “The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions” in the journal Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences, she says, “these positive emotions broaden an individual's momentary thought-action repertoire: joy sparks the urge to play, interest sparks the urge to explore, contentment sparks the urge to savor and integrate, and love sparks a recurring cycle of each of these urges within safe, close relationships.”
So how do we get there? Spend the time to figure out what inspires you. Follow your curiosity, even for just five minutes every day. Interview someone who loves you about what they see brings you joy. Try new things—some you think you will enjoy and some outside your comfort zone. Give yourself ten minutes every morning to think about what will bring you happiness that day or what you wish you were doing instead. Keep a journal. Do not limit yourself to ideas you’ve heard from others or a predetermined concept of who you think you should be.
Ultimately, we’re all pieces in this puzzle of life. We each bring our own special purpose to the world. Consciously or unconsciously, most professionals emphasize money and success as the ultimate goals in their careers. It’s wonderfully liberating knowing we can pursue many paths in our lives, and we can each give “success” our own definition. This is the reason I focus so much on having these conversations in a purposeful and intentional way. Finding ways to make a difference, giving high importance to ensuring sparks of joy, and being committed to our communities make us grounded and happy. You can find a place in your life where you engage your curiosity and cultivate your joy. I hope encouraging you to contemplate this will help you find at least one corner of your life that encourages you to keep your spark alive.
About the Author
Ana María Martinez, is a Staff Attorney with the State Court of DeKalb County. Martinez received the 2021 Emerging Leader Award from the ADL Southeast, at its April 13, 2021, Virtual Jurisprudence Luncheon, for her demonstration of extraordinary commitment to pro bono and community service. In 2015, Martinez co-founded the Georgia Latino Law Foundation, an organization dedicated to increasing diversity in the legal profession. As the pandemic began in 2020, she launched the Virtual Judicial Internship program, which is open to all five Georgia law schools and will take place again in the summer of 2021. She is currently a member of the Leadership Georgia Class of 2020/21 and is president-elect of Emory’s Judge Clarence Cooper Inn of Court. Martinez is a 2004 graduate of The University of Georgia and in 2009 received her J.D., cum laude and with Pro Bono distinction, from Georgia State University College of Law.