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Prof. Mortenson's Blue Jeans Lecture Focuses on Creating a Meaningful Life

Prof. Mortenson's Blue Jeans Lecture: Create a Meaningful Life

By Lori Atherton
November 19, 2015

If there's one thing that Professor Julian Davis Mortenson wanted to get across to law students who had gathered to hear his Blue Jeans Lecture, it's that you can't do everything well all the time. Sometimes you'll excel in your work, getting the equivalent of an "A," but it's at the expense of your home life. At other times, the "A" you receive on the home front is the tradeoff for doing "C" work at your job.

Mortenson shared examples of this from a recent Monday that was filled with "highs and lows." He fulfilled a promise to take his youngest son to Starbucks, but missed an event at his daughter's daycare. He completed a book chapter but missed a deadline for another project. "In the course of the day, I got some things really right and some things really wrong," said Mortenson, whose talk on November 18 focused on creating a meaningful and satisfying life. "You have to reconcile yourself to not doing it right all the time."

Sharing personal anecdotes about his career, which included stints at the law firm WilmerHale, the President's Office of the International Criminal Tribunal, and a management consulting firm, Mortenson highlighted the importance of finding a satisfying job, one that you are eager to go to every morning. WilmerHale was one such job, he said, but working as a management consultant wasn't.

He noted that law students are "privileged" because of their chosen career path, which offers them vast opportunities to do work they love. "There are so many people in the world who do not work at a job that is intrinsically fulfilling," Mortenson said. "Find a job that you love doing and that connects you to passion and a sense of pride and fulfillment."

He cautioned, however, that "even the happiest job in the world can eat you alive." To keep it from doing so, Mortenson said it was important to strike a balance between your career and life outside of work, and to cultivate the "things that matter"—your relationships with friends and family, particularly your life partner and children. "Care for your own little corner of the world," he advised. "Know your limitations, have the flexibility to live up to your commitments, and be aware when things are too big for you to handle."

Mortenson delivered his Blue Jeans Lecture on the same day he received the 2015 L. Hart Wright Award for Teaching Excellence, an award presented by the Law School Student Senate and voted on by students. "I value this award more than any other I've received, and I owe all of you thanks," he told the students. "It's richly rewarding to work with you, and I love the melding of the minds and the collaboration."

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