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The Graduate

Feeling Stuck in a Routine?

Jacqueline Quillen

(Oct, 2010) Three of my college roommates are spending a year in Ecuador to teach English, religion, music, art, and gym to all different ages from six a.m. to eight p.m. without receiving a paycheck. One of the three, the same person who addressed our entire graduating class and told us to "go and quietly change the world," called it God's work and is thankful to be a part of it. I am so proud of all of them and all the people volunteering around the world to make a difference. Then I think about my life and wonder what I am doing to quietly change the world.

Life is becoming more and more of a routine. While routines are good, especially for people who appreciate organization, the constant repetitive actions can sometimes stray you away from things you once had a passion for. When I first started working in the city and taking the train every day I looked forward to the commute as my time to catch up on reading and writing. I recently found myself in a routine of riding the train without even opening my book or notepad for the entire ride; I had no inspiration to write and had no idea how or where to find it. It felt like the hours I spent at work were the only time my brain was actually functioning and tossing around ideas.

Going from one thing to the next in a routine, knowing what lies ahead, provides a sense of direction. Ironically, as I repeatedly go through this vicious routine I find myself more and more lost in every aspect of life. Rather than feeling satisfied with knowing what I am doing and how to get there, I feel anxious that I should be doing something completely different, such as providing an education to people who live in poverty or pitching story ideas to magazines and newspapers to expand my writing career.

Since day one of my internship at the law firm, my work and experience has improved greatly. For a while I was stuck in the day-to-day executions wondering what kind of purpose my work in the marketing department served for the law firm as a whole. Over time I developed a better understanding of how the marketing department relates to the law firm. I think of my job as making other people's jobs easier or just taking some stress off of other people. By doing this I help the firm work more efficiently. When the firm works efficiently everyone is happy. This is the cycle of life at the firm: marketing people make lawyers happy and lawyers make clients happy.

As an intern, I am almost everyone's personal assistant in the department, which means I stuff a whole lot of envelopes. From my experience, I advise attorneys, or anyone for that matter, to refrain from mailing umbrellas as free gifts to clients or whomever. For one, an umbrella fails to fit nicely in any kind of envelope. When preparing an abundance of umbrellas in envelopes to mail, it is impossible to stack these oddly shaped envelopes for the mailmen to pick up. Apparently oddly shaped envelopes tell people to "open me" even if it is not addressed to them. I discovered this when a number of envelopes were returned opened with no umbrella inside, which meant stuffing more envelopes for me. Part of my job description is preparing oddly-shaped packages.

It is difficult to see how I quietly change the world at work when I do these simple little tasks. In one situation, however, my voice was a tiny little whisper in a larger project that actually does help change the world. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks a lawyer in South Carolina asked his local fire department what he could do to help. The reaction he got was, "What could a lawyer possibly do to help the country recover from the terrorist attacks?" The lawyer ended up finding a way he could be of some assistance by starting a program in which attorneys develop a living will for firefighters and other emergency service providers in case they should die in the line of duty. The will program received tremendous appreciation from firefighters as they felt reassured knowing that their families would be taken care of in this situation.

In the week prior to the ninth anniversary of 9/11 a co-worker asked me to send a press release to local publications. The press release noted the will program and attorneys from the firm who planned to volunteer their services to emergency service providers on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks as a sign of thanks. After I sent the press release an editor from one of the publications contacted me asking how people could get involved with the will program and the upcoming event with the attorneys. Usually when people ask me questions my initial thought is, "Why are you asking me, I am the intern," because 90% of the time I do not have the answer. Once I found the information I passed it along to the editor, not really thinking much of it. I usually send press releases to 10-15 different publications and never hear back from any. The press releases may go to print or may not once it leaves my hands I don't know what happens to it.

When I went into work the Monday after 9/11 I found out that the press release I sent the week before was in fact printed in a local publication. A co-worker asked me to write a blurb summarizing an article about the event and specific attorneys from our firm who participated. The article also mentioned the great turnout at the event. My contribution was small, but sending that first press release contributed to the success of the event, which helped more families of emergency service providers gain the support they need in case of tragedy.

All the devastation and horror in the world makes it difficult to see how people make a difference every day to make the world a better place. I didn't fight the fires, or start the will program for firefighters, or even write that first press release, but I did send the release to a publication that shared it with the public and this is how I quietly changed the world that day. It sounds quite silly to say and I'm sure some people say that my work is even less than a tiny little voice in the bigger change for the world, but I say that every voice, every prayer, and every thought counts.

If you read this article expecting to find the answer for how to not feel trapped in the routine, I am sorry to say that I do not actually have that answer. I can, however, say that it is possible to break free from the trap without quitting a job or moving to a foreign country. You don't have to take up a whole new lifestyle to change the world. It is possible to do it every day just by being you, by being the change you want to see in the world. We do everything for a reason. Relationships, adventures, mistakes, crappy jobs, everything is for a reason. Whether we end up regretting it or being satisfied with it, the important thing is to grow from every little thing we do. This is how we change. This is how we quietly change the world, one little step at a time.

Read other articles by Jacqueline Quillen