Robert M. Daines: Why your desire to matter may be keeping you from the things that really matter

Editor’s note: This commentary by Stanford law professor Robert M. Daines is part of an ongoing Deseret News opinion series exploring ideas and issues at the intersection of faith and thought. An earlier version of this commentary formed the basis for a Stanford Law School commencement address.

I’ve recently had the daunting task of running the admissions committee for Stanford Law School. It’s not an easy job. There are thousands of bright young optimists who dream of (or at least write essays about) changing the world and remedying injustice, spending the weekend saving small countries, curing cancer, establishing a chain of organic-farm-to-halfway-house communes, and collecting a Nobel Prize or two — all while leading deeply fulfilling personal lives.

Like many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, these applicants want to succeed and to matter and be part of something valuable.

One recent, impressive candidate confessed that she was driven by “that big fear: the fear of being inconsequential.” This desire to matter, to be on the inside of important firms and causes, can motivate us to do good and to succeed. But, as I once pointed out to a law school commencement audience, this desire to matter also creates a few risks. If we’re not careful, it can also lead us to make predictable mistakes that can bring unhappiness to us and to people we love and care about.

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