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.
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