Travelling along the Camino Way: searching for meaning and purpose in the company of the European Regional Forum

Tuesday 4 January 2022

Oliver Marc Künzler

Wenger Plattner, Küsnacht


A report on the IBA Global Showcase session.

Each year hundreds of thousands of pilgrims (from many faith traditions and from none) set off from popular starting points across Europe to travel along the Camino Way on foot or by bicycle to Santiago de Compostela and Cape Finisterre in Northern Spain (otherwise known as the end of the world in Roman times). The Camino Way is not one but a network of routes, many of which were established in the early Middle Ages, all heading in the same direction.

Over the last 50 years in particular, travelling the Camino Way has become synonymous with a temporary spiritual retreat from modern life, providing an opportunity to search for meaning and purpose in our lives. As we slowly emerge from the collective and individual traumas of the Covid pandemic, the Officers of the IBA European Regional Forum invited its members to join them on a spiritual and virtual walk together ‘along the Camino Way’.

The walk began with the Keynote Speaker, Julian Daizan Skinner, a Zen Buddhist Master in the Rinzai tradition, who explored some of the meanings of walking ‘along the Camino Way’. Quoting from Socrates – ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ – he pointed to the human instinct to seek meaning and purpose in life. And the importance of finding the space in our busy lives where we can reflect on how we live our lives and find this meaning and purpose.

The keynote speech was followed by two breakout sessions in which some of the key themes of walking the ‘Camino Way’ were explored. In particular, the participants explored the importance of building community, sharing and connection both in our private and professional lives and with those who are near and those who are further away.

Daizan’s calming voice brought all participants well into the mindset of sharing and being authentic. The break-out sessions were imbued with authenticity and the participants shared and connected on a real level.

The following are some reflections derived from the discussions in the breakout rooms:

1. What meaning and purpose have I found in this legal journey?

The participants shared their journey and the challenge of sensing that one may be going through our legal life on a bit of a ‘loop’, for example from associate, to senior to partner, constantly striving towards the next step, driven by financial realities and goals yet knowing that it is perhaps not sustainable and not enough as we are not connecting to our real selves.

As the participants shared their experiences it emerged that the moments in our careers that were filled with the most meaning and purpose were indeed those that made us feel more useful and human:

  • Learning as much as we can every day;
  • Helping others not only legally but also on a human level (corporate social responsibility initiatives) – being useful;
  • Being creative and innovative, practising in different areas, and challenging our legal minds; and
  • Building human relations, developing teams and networks like the Forum has given a sense of purpose. Within our profession, we are lucky to be able to meet so many people and bright minds, and to learn and expand our knowledge and perspective every day/

2. What might bring greater meaning and purpose to our legal journey?

When reflecting on this the participants really tried to think about ‘how does one change/break the cycle of endless corporate stress etc?’ The participants considered that by doing the following, they could cultivate purpose and meaning in their legal careers but also in their lives generally:

  • Finding time for passions – learning a new language or sport, reading about a new subject matter;
  • Seeking to make a difference where we can;
  • Trying to do something different as often as we can, rather than sticking to our comfort zone; and
  • Connecting with people on a human level and filtering out toxicity and noise to practise our profession as authentically and truthfully as we can.

3.  Different perspectives on the role of work

What came out strongly from some of the breakout rooms was the different perspectives people had towards the role of work in their lives and the level of meaning that they attach to work. Set out below are the perspectives of some of these participants. Where do you fit in terms of your own perspective on work?

Person 1: Work is primarily to facilitate the rest of life – to provide the comforts and help my family and hopefully to do some pro bono work along the way. I started as a young professional working hard to achieve my goals. Now that youthful enthusiasm has gone. But I continue on without a huge sense of enthusiasm for the profession. Where this will take me in 20 years is a bit of a blank.

Person 2: I never made much of a distinction between my professional and private life. I have paid little attention to my personal and spiritual life. My contribution has been to my clients and now as a senior figure in the firm I enjoy contributing to the development of the younger members of the firm. It is wonderful to feel a deep connection with what you do and to learn to have time for yourself and maybe to teach the young people the importance of this connection. The law is a lot about how we communicate with others. I realise now that we need time for ourselves. It is important we teach this to younger people.

Person 3: Until the age of 30, I didn’t get much sleep. I worked for a big international firm and it was all about work. I was treated as a number. But I wanted a family and now I have found more equilibrium in a smaller firm. I feel part of the project. My partners want to smile and we want the younger people to enjoy working together and developing a private life. I like to be surrounded by people who care. We have a different spirit in the way we approach our work. Sometimes though I feel that I get too much pressure and input from my family and work and don’t have time to engage with myself.

Person 4: I enjoy what I do. I get child-like fun out of solving other people’s problems. I do see myself as a bit of an ‘intellectual whore’ selling my brain and analytical skills for money. I think I would do it even without compensation. I don’t get stressed. It is a very external focused career being a lawyer. We don’t have much time for ourselves and for internal reflection. Maybe I need to use some of my analytical skills for more internal reflection and focus on my own needs. The law has been central to who I am so I wouldn’t mind if the last day of my professional career was the end of everything for me.

Person 5: I am very aware of the lack of emotional engagement I have had with my career for many years. I haven’t asked myself the question of am I enjoying this? This is a much more challenging question than do I meet my billing targets on a monthly basis and get the adrenaline hit of ‘getting the deal done’. It is quite a numbing experience having to do this year in and year out. You just get on with it. On reflection, I am sure it would have been good if I had talked to others more about my emotional state over time. Sometimes it is simply about the stress and strain of it all and sometimes it may be about sadness or loneliness or exhaustion. If I had shared these things more perhaps I would have become more aware that it is OK to feel these things and that it is important to be kind to yourself. It would certainly have encouraged me to have invested more time in my colleagues and my own mental wellbeing and actively being kind to those people around me.