Along with every other 1L, I am applying for a summer job. I’ve been to networking events, workshops, panels, and how-tos. My notebook overflows with well-meaning advice and guidance. The problem is that none of it applies to me. I don’t have a resumé; I’ve never had one.
I’m what people call a “non-traditional” law student. I came late to law school after building a career as a professor. I did have a distinguished undergraduate career, filled with awards, accolades and accomplishments. But I can’t put those things on my resumé. That was twenty some years ago. It would look weird, my notebook says. Out of place (underlined). They were important things. Bright, big things. They mattered then, and they matter now. But it won’t help me land a summer job. Employers don’t want to see that, quotes the notebook. So, /select/highlight/delete, and just like that, parts of my life are cut away. Besides, I need that space so I can focus on my strengths (circled; exclamation point). Because the resumé manuals tell me I have to…wait, where is it…oh, right. Lead with my core competencies (question mark). And above all, circled and twice underlined and given arrows all around it, the number-one-most-important-thing-to-remember-is…just be yourself!
But the problem with being yourself is that it’s hard to know who that is.
“Just be yourself!” There’s something about the phrase that makes me uncomfortable. It seems to imply that being yourself is something you have to work at, as though it takes real effort. After all, if I were just being myself, no one would need to tell me to do it. I’d already be doing it. It’s like saying, “Just be cool.” No one says that when they are in fact being cool. They say it when they’re not cool, but trying really, really hard to be.
As a philosopher, I will tell you that Kant argues that we are always already ourselves. Our being is funny that way. It doesn’t need our permission or attention. It just is. And so are we. For Kant, each of us has a dignity, but not a price. People are not a commodity, and we’re not fungible. Our value is not determined within an economy of exchange. We are beyond value. Outside every price, and outside every model and modality of exchange. Our humanity simply cannot – and should not – be reduced to a value that can be traded in a market. Our dignity – born of reason and freedom – is incomparable and irreducible. In the simplest terms, Kant reminds us that our dignity is who we are. Not something we possess.
So I’m looking at samples of legal resumés and wondering where to fit my life – my dignity – inside these pre-determined and properly formatted (That’s ESSENTIAL!!) categories. Where do I put the joy at one of my students who got clean and graduated? Or the frustration when a student drops out who could have made it? I don’t have work experience; I have a career. And an academic doesn’t have a resumé; I have a curriculum vitae. With insufferable literalness, the phrase curriculum vitae means ‘the course of one’s life,’ That’s what I have: a course of life. I suppose in some sense we all do, but mine is the unfolding record of a life and career in academia. I’ve been a professor for a long time, so my record is somewhat extensive. Or at least it was. Now, my Vita is limited to a one-page resumé – maybe two if I have extensive work experience.
Which means it’s time to cut and paste my life.
Or is it?
Now I imagine that at this point in the blog post, I should tell you all of the amazing things that I’ve cut from my resumé. The narrative of this post positively cries out for it. A clever device for leveraging my voice (…) in order to demonstrate value (two question marks), and really let people get a sense of the real me (three question marks).
That’s not me.
Instead, I will embrace the advice of a lawyer kind enough to spend time with me, and share some small part of the course of her own life. And her advice is – by far – one of the best encapsulations of Kantian dignity I’ve heard:
Choose to be your authentic self.
Because choosing authenticity means choosing one’s dignity, rather than setting a price. It means that you choose to see yourself – and others – not as things or objects or means to your own goals, but rather as free and authentic persons who are just like you. I don’t own my authenticity, unless we all do. And I can’t choose it unless we all do; we’re in this together. That is what I want to remember. What I need to remember. And she helped me do that.
So I choose not to cut and paste my life. Instead, I see my resume as both an invitation and an opportunity. True, it is not my curriculum vitae; it is not the course of my life. Then again, if my life were reducible to a list of experiences and accomplishments, it would be no life at all. It is not what goes into my resume that matters, but what is left out. Because the most a resume can ever be is an invitation. And that seems right to me. Life is always richer than we can say. It is always incomplete, metaphysically and otherwise. That is what it means to choose authenticity: connecting with others outside of the economy of networking, and beyond the call of a price.
And that’s more than enough.
Michael Deere is a first-year student at BC Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.