“I want every word of this to be on the record, because someone has to teach you millennials how to actually work, not waltz off to Scottsdale for arbitrary trips.”
I stared back at the federal judge berating me; a pent-up barrage of aggression interrupted only by the sound of the court report furiously preserving every word on the record, ignoring the smirking gaze of the lying opposing counsel across the courtroom. It was supposed to be a humiliating moment, intended to punish me right back into the “boundary lines” of my storied profession, back to “doing things the way they’re supposed to be done; how they’ve always been done.”
Because apparently, anyone under the age of 45 was presumed to be “errant” and had to be corralled back.
The judge was, in fact, right-this was a transformative moment in my career. Arguably, the most transformative.
But in a completely different way than he intended. If he had asked, he would’ve found that we were in agreement. Practicing law and truly advocating for our client’s best interests is something that every lawyer should treat with nearly reverent care. And, if I was being entirely honest, practicing in the way in which I was then practicing did feel like it limited me a bit from being as fully invested as I could have.
In that moment, I recognized all of the above, but at the same time, I was overwhelmed with an undeniable, unexplainable, pervasive sense of peace. It caught me off guard at first. I was humbled, sure. But simultaneously: my gut feeling was so strong, it stripped worries away. I knew three things to be true:
- My calling was advocacy
- I was experiencing firsthand how foolish it can be to follow assumptions based upon “how it’s always been”, without asking questions first. Knowledge and wisdom aren’t mutually exclusive.
- Despite that duality, unequivocally: this was not the way I was meant to practice this vocation.
And with that realization, I felt something inside of me physically snap. The tension I’d been wrestling with internally suddenly made sense: yes, I was supposed to practice law, as I’d always dreamed; and no, it hadn’t felt off because I’d followed the wrong path. I needed to walk down this specific path to recognize that there was a slightly different way it could be done.
Time can make memories hazy, like light reflected through rose colored glass, to be sure. Being publicly humiliated was, in fact, humiliating. My only response to that judge was my attempt to pull off my blazer and expose the tubes hanging out of the only part of my 4-sizes-too-big suit, which my boss (thankfully) stopped me from doing. But even in the midst of the humiliation, there was that undeniable gut feeling.
For more than a year, I’d dutifully been the first at the office each day, building this career in this profession I’d confidently declared for myself at the rip age of 11. But that whole time, something felt a bit off. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I enjoyed my colleagues, and still, to this day, hold a deep sense of admiration and gratitude for the way my bosses pushed me, allowing me to actually get into the courtroom right away, when most associates are stuck pushing paper behind a desk. At first I chalked it up to natural growing pains; even more natural when you’re a litigator suddenly appearing in court for the first time. I thought it may just be the awkwardness of getting my sea legs under me, but that wasn’t it. I’d later learn, diving into the discomfort of a foreign challenge was actually a scenario in which I thrive.
To be clear, it also had nothing to do with rebellion (nor is this story intended to be a case for arbitrary rebellion). It was, also, a recognition made much easier given the fact that I was in the throes of fighting a life-threatening illness.
I believe we’re made to pursue a vocation. A vocation and a job are two entirely different things. The latter is something you clock in and out of, working to (typically) an undefined “someday” (retirement? Happiness in that position, someday?). A vocation, on the other hand, may not be the easiest road, but brings contentment. Similar to the verse “aspire to live a quiet life and work with your hands”. A satisfying trouvaille that brings the quiet contentment of a day well-spent, that left those you encountered a little better than you found them. The honest, true, and pure work that allows you to rest deeply at the end of a full day. Such a simple concept that can take a lifetime to fully realize (not just recognize, but see through into fruition).
My seachange moment occurred early in my career (mercifully), a shining beacon of light in the midst of what by all intents and purposes looked like a tragic time. This day in court came after 5 grueling days at Mayo Clinic, undergoing test after test, and 3 months of a complete inability to eat food. Any food, at all. And the day before, the receipt of the heavy burden of a life-changing diagnosis. I was home because Mayo had requested that I had my estate plan drafted before an operation. This emergency hearing just so happened to occur a few hours after hearing the heavy news from the doctor. For context, that opposing counsel knew all of this, and still chose to tell the judge I was gone on vacation. The purpose of this hearing was only to deliver a tongue lashing- no arguments were even requested.
It’s much easier to smile in the face of what, according to social/industry norms should be “rock bottom”; it’s easier to listen to the quiet voice of intuition, when just 24 hours previously you’ve been given such a diagnosis. And when you lose a core human function, like eating, it strips a level of humanity. You soon learn that every single day, you’ll wake up a little less than the day before; a little less energy, a little more pain. Today, this day, is the best day you’ll have. You quickly learn the simple power of choice- followed by action. The stripping away of every single thing that doesn’t actually matter, leaving room only for what does. You gain discernment.
The gift of one career-altering event colliding with a life-changing illness resulted in a complete metamorphosis. That seemingly odd, one-off moment was the greatest gift. And despite this incredible clarity, the next step didn’t occur overnight, but took months of precise planning to execute.
Today, six years and five businesses later, I recognize that when your calling hits you in the face, on some level, you know. It may begin looking like a string of non-sequential curiosities, until one day, you can’t quite quiet that voice anymore. And you don’t have to impulsively jump right in.
Vocation and entrepreneurship aren’t mutually exclusive, nor is this to be confused with yet one more romanticized call to entrepreneurship. Like anything, it’d be foolhardy to think that business is a one size fits all scenario. BUT, for those of you who may be following those curiosites (or, like myself, are deep in the midst, each day learning to grow and scale to new heights), I hope it’s a wake up call. There’s a much-needed conversation to be had; now, more than ever.
The compilation of these articles will be a dialogue on the case for entrepreneurship, methodologies to implement, and insight on thriving in the midst of difficulty. I’ll be sharing some of my own stories as well, not because of any self-proclaimed know-how, but because the most commonly asked question I receive about entrepreneurship is “how did I know when”? And the truth is, I didn’t. No one does. I found my path in the midst of indescribable pain, literal starvation, when I was being offered disability packages. Permission is a myth.
And yet, even then- the recognition of the richness that beauty brings; the richness of building something pure and honest through sheer grit; the audacious goal of pioneering a very conventional industry, juxtaposed with the quiet confidence that this was right. And it took finding beauty in the pain, calm in the midst of battle, and a pioneering mind rising from the ashes of the dumpster fire that my situation appeared to be.