Monday, March 30, 2009

My Career - Part I - My Pre-MBA Career

This week I am running a series of posts to share my personal career story. It's a story with a lot of twists and turns and more than a few mistakes and falls. Ahhh, the benefit of 20:20 hind-sight. This is part I in the series and it deals with the early part of my career. For the sake of expediency, I will skip my first few jobs - the summer job in an electronics manufacturing plant, my time in the military - and jump directly to my decision to go to law school.

In my early twenties I decided that I wanted to become a lawyer. I didn't really know what I wanted to do with my life but I knew that getting into law school was a tough and prestigious thing to do and being a lawyer seemed so glamorous on TV... I made this career decision for all the wrong reasons and without truly understanding what being a lawyer was all about. Quite frankly, I only had a hazy idea about what it is that lawyers actually do when they get to work in the morning. 

While at law school I supported myself by working part time as a sales person selling security systems. Although I only did this for about two years, this was one of the formative periods in my career. I learned the art of the pitch. I learned tenacity and finesse. I learned that not all customers and not all sales people are ethical, and I learned that you can do well in sales without selling your soul. I think that everyone should try a sales job at least once in their career. Being a sales person tells you a lot about who you are and sharpens your skills like no other job I know. I was happy. I was making money, I was studying law, I was feeling very grown up, and there is no doubt that I was growing up fast. However, that did not stop me from getting off track.

When I signed up for law school, I had some vague notions about wanting to practice international law or maybe civil rights law, but those notions were quickly abandoned and I took a position with a top corporate law firm. My job included working on major transactions - mergers, acquisitions, venture capital investments. I excelled at my job, and only a few months into my first year in the firm, the partner I was working for allowed me lead my first deal - a venture capital investment for one of our clients (under the partner's close supervision, of course). I was extremely proud of my success. I also hated my job. I hated going to work every morning knowing I will be word-smithing a 100 page agreement all day. I hated the long hours. I hated the prospect of doing this for years until I became a partner, and then continuing to do pretty much the same thing for the rest of my working life. Nope. The legal world was not for me. Had I actually bothered to talk to a few practicing lawyers before jumping into law school, this would have been pretty obvious to me, but as I explained, I went to law school for all the wrong reasons.

Anyway, it was time to get out. I decided to go to business school. This time I was a bit more informed. Having had considerable exposure to a wide range of businesses and transactions as a lawyer, I was painfully aware that my business education was lacking. I also found myself much more interested in the business aspects of the deals I was working on than I was in my legal responsibilities in these same deals. It was time to make a move. And so, the legal chapter in my career was closed almost two years to the day after my first day at the law firm.

In retrospect, I am not sorry I went to law school. Although I have not practiced law for the past 10 years, I have put my legal background to good use and still do so on a daily basis when I negotiate business deals. I also find that I get a lot of respect from colleagues, business partners and potential employers when they find out about my law background. I gained very valuable education and skills in my brief foray into law (and I learned a lot of really great lawyer jokes), but that was not my original intention when I decided to get a law degree.

Anyway, a new and excellent chapter was about to begin, but although I had no inkling of it at the time, I was setting myself up for the first major failure in my career. It was time to go to business school.

Enjoyed this post? Please consider subscribing to Money and Such by free RSS Feed or by email. You can also follow me on Twitter.

1 comment:

Dana said...

Thanks for sharing, looking forward to read more about your career journey.