I’ve been listening to Barack Obama’s excellent memoir Promised Land which just ten chapters in, has dispelled a number of my misconceptions about Obama’s trajectory to the presidency. Based on Michelle Obama’s equally excellent memoir, Becoming, I’d viewed her husband’s rise as a carefully plotted climb rather than the product of serendipity and sometimes reluctant risk taking.
Consider Obama’s run for the presidency – after Obama himself had rather publicly committed to serving in the Senate for at least one full term before considering higher office. But by 2008, just two years into his term, many Democratic party leaders viewed Obama as someone who could inject new life into the party through his ability to connect with young people and people of color. Yet even with support, Obama didn’t feel ready – until a conversation with venerable Senator Ted Kennedy set him straight. Kennedy counselled:
You think you may not be ready, that you’ll do it at a more convenient time. But you don’t choose the time. The time chooses you. Either you seize what may turn out to be the only chance you have, or you decide you’re willing to live with the knowledge that the chance has passed you by.
We like to think that life is long and will afford us do-overs and second changes. Sometimes that’s true. But waiting poses risks in itself. I know this from my own personal experience; how my husband and I were waiting for our daughters to graduate college to move to a different part of the country and embark on new ventures. But life had other plans.
So many lawyers dream of starting a law firm to handle cases that they can’t take on at the law firm where they work, or as a way to attain financial freedom and greater opportunity. But then upon reflection, they decide against it maybe because they want to gain more experience. Or pay down more loans or save up more money (once upon a time, it was advisable to have a year’s savings before launching). Or spend more time getting everything in order, from a detailed business plan to a website with all the bells and whistles. And suddenly, those weeks and months turn into years and it’s time to start saving for your children’s college or planning for retirement and that window to launch just passes you by.
Obama had intended to wait to run for president to gain more national experience and familiarity with the issues. But he also recognized that an opportunity had presented itself that he couldn’t let pass. And of course, the rest is history.
What will your history be? Maybe right now, in the middle of a pandemic, isn’t the precise time you would have chosen to start your firm. But what if it’s your only chance? Are you willing to let it slip away?
If you’re thinking about starting a law firm, but you still have some fears, take a listen to my recent webinar, Make 2021 the Year You Start Your Law Firm. I’ll be hosting another which will delve into the nitty gritty, but if you have specific questions, see if I’ve addressed them in last year’s presentation, Make 2020 the Year You Start Your Law Firm (starting at around 23:07).