It has been a while since we posted anything in our backstory series about scraping up the money to go - a series categorized under the title "Sail Kitty."** In our last few Sail Kitty posts, we told the story of how and why we set the funding plan and departure date. We left off in the midst of the long, unrewarding slog of paying off debt. The story continues with three posts intended to answer a common question we get: How did you stick to a plan for so long/how did you avoid getting distracted by other opportunities? Spoiler Alert! It’s hard.
The morning lights the Vegas valley to pink outside my office window, sunrise glints off the East facing windows of strip hotel towers. “You must change your password in *6* days.” I groan. I have been ignoring this message for the last week. Much to my IT buddy’s chagrin, sometimes I ignore this message all the way until the last day when it locks my computer and I need administrative help to get things rolling again. I sigh, then design one of those rediculous PsWRD$su©k!777 passwords that I can never remember. I write my new meaningless password down on a sticky note and attach it to my computer screen.
Then, I have a change of heart. I design a password around this month’s sailing mantra and smile. I have to type this damn thing in no less than 100 times per day. If I have to repeat my mantra every time I type it out, think how many times per day I am rewiring my brain to focus on my stated objective?
With this herculean task completed, I figure I deserve a reward. I head to the kitchenette and pour myself my morning cup of coffee. The coffee machine gives a “splat” as the first pressurized drops hit the paper cup. I stare off at CNN’s morning circuit of the 24hour news coverage that will be repeated for the remainder of the day. Then, I have an epiphany.
I count my years of practice on my hand and align them in my brain with the years of the calendar. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…2015. I take a sip of my hot coffee and burn my mouth. I would be eligible for partnership (if worthy of such an offer) just one year before our deadline to cast off to sea.
Partnership: the golden goose placed on a pedestal at the long end of every private practice legal associate’s career tunnel. The hope of partnership sparkles like a gleam in baby attorney’s eyes. Why? The reasons are different for everyone. Some imagine Partnership to be filled with glory and power, the ability to pass off all annoying tasks to someone less fortunate. Others imagine a precipitous increase in wealth, still others crave the respect the title brings. I was no different. While we whittled away at our sailing goal, I harbored plenty of ambition for developing into a great lawyer and business person.
As the implications of this timing sunk in, I felt a tremble of nerves bundled around several questions that boil down to one: Would I really have the cajones to walk away from my career and set out to sea?
I realized it would be much, much easier to stay true to our plan and cast off if at the end of Year 7 my career was languishing. Maybe I should just phone it in. It would be a lot less work and aggravation if I did a few hours of billable legal work every day until it was time to cast off. Why pursue partnership if I am planning to set sail anyway? Is it unfair to my business partners to accept partnership, then essentially give it back one year later? Would I regret my decision? Should we delay the plan? Should we shorten the plan and ask for a leave of absence?
This dilemma sours my mood to a level perfect for writing a strongly worded motion to the court about some lending battle or another, so I gather up my coffee, a handful of the “orange squares of death” (cheez-its) and return to my desk. But, these questions continued to nag at me during workouts, our nightly walks, over dinner. It caused me to think more deliberately about the worth of my time.
What exactly does “pursuing partnership” entail? There is no magical equation. When a lawyer is invited to be a partner in their firm, it is no different than becoming a partner in any other business. The detail surrounding each firm is different, but essentially, you purchase (or are compensated with) a portion shares in the company and you gain all the benefits and responsibilities of a business owner.
I decided to make a study of how business owners think, reading books, listening to podcasts, lunching with and observing The Bosses. Then, I realized partnership is not an end, but a beginning. It is the time when you go from being an employee to an employer. Pursuing partnership meant developing myself as a professional capable in several areas: legal expertise, marketing, business management, leadership, community development. How could pursing these qualities ever be wrong -- even if my next step is to take to the sea?
I read an article circulating on the internet about Warren Buffett. Warren-the-Wise asked his pilot to identify his top 25 goals in life. "Okay, now circle five." Warren instructed Steve. Steve-The-Pilot circled five and confirmed he would focus on the five and only work on the remaining twenty in his spare time.
”You've got it wrong, Steve," Warren said. "Everything you didn't circle just became your 'avoid at all cost list.' No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you've succeeded with your top five.”
I have no idea if this story is actually true, but even according to Warren Buffet I can have up to five goals at a time. Then, life dropped Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, in my lap. In one of my weekly boondoggles into the world of “networking,” I attended a Clark County Chamber of Commerce meeting where the speaker recommended the book. Then, I went to lunch with a friend who recommended the book, and a second friend told me about it with an offer to loan me a copy. None of these people knew the concerns being mulled, they just liked the book.
Sheryl Sandberg gave me my answer. The premise of the book begins with Ms. Sandberg bemoaning the lack of female leadership in business. She makes a number of excellent points in favor of women pursuing leadership roles, and she acknowledges women have a tendency to leave the workforce or scale back their career efforts in order to raise children. Herein lies her primary thesis:
Do not leave work until you actually leave.
Women, indeed all humans, have goals beyond success and leadership in their careers. Sheryl Sandberg points out that many times, women take their foot off the gas pedal the day they begin to suspect other goals may conflict with their career. This is an enormous mistake, she says. Key learning, knowledge, skill sets, and career building is happening all the time, and if you coast, you are missing your opportunity to build yourself, regardless of whether you quit and stay at home, quit and sail, or you stay at the office for ever. Every day of your life is a building process.
“Yes.” I thought. "Sheryl Sandberg is absolutely right."
I would be short changing myself if I “phone it in” at work because someday I might go sailing. Besides, our personal and professional growth isn’t just for the benefit of our current employers, but ourselves, and society at large. My current employer/future business partners will benefit from me pushing forward - for as long or as short as I am around.
I change my computer password again:
** If you wish to read all of the "Sail Kitty" posts from start to finish, go to www.oddgodfrey.com/sitemap and click on the topic link “Sail Kitty”.