One of the most devastating experiences of my life happened when I was in law school. I brought my girlfriend home to meet my mother and stay with us for a few weeks. I am not sure what happened, but that did not work out at all. There was a lot of tension between my mother and my girlfriend, and everything blew up.
Before my girlfriend's visit, I had spent a lot of time making my mother's house look beautiful. I did a bunch of yardwork, rented a carpet cleaner, put in new shower curtains, and organized her home. It has never looked better, and I wanted to make a nice impression. It was a woman I ended up marrying, and I wanted everything to be as lovely as possible.
About a week into her visit, we went to meet my father's mother for lunch on a Sunday afternoon. When we returned, my mother had locked herself in her room. Her sponsor from Alcoholics Anonymous was waiting for us in the living room. She told us that my mother did not want my girlfriend to stay there any longer, and we had to leave.
It was devastating and strange—we had no idea this was coming. My girlfriend started crying, and I was distraught. There were no episodes that precipitated this―it was drama coming at us out of nowhere. We needed to pack and get out of the house and figure out where to go and what to do.
As we were leaving, my mother came out of her room, and a huge shouting match ensued between her and my girlfriend. My mom was screaming, "You will never marry my son," and similar things and my girlfriend was screaming back. My mother's sponsor called the police. Within a few moments, there were a bunch of police cars in front of the house.
As my girlfriend and I were getting into her car, my mother was standing on the porch, screaming. The last thing I heard her scream was: "You are going to take away all his passion. You are horrible because you are going to take all his passion!"
It was the last time I spoke with or saw my mom for a few years, and those were the last words I heard from her. I have no idea why she thought that, but to her, passion meant my drive to succeed. It also meant my enthusiasm for life and enthusiasm for work. She saw my girlfriend as someone who would take away my passion for work and life.
This incident shook my girlfriend. When we tried to rent a hotel an hour later, she was still crying hysterically. The first place we stopped at refused to rent us a place to stay.
This was a monumental and significant event in my life. I have often thought back on what my mom meant by this sort of passion. Did she mean the fight within us that makes us who we are? Because without that fight and drive, we have nothing. Once that passion is gone, you lose everything.
As it turns out, my girlfriend—who became my wife—ended up taking away a lot of my passion and drive. But not in the way you might expect.
If you have not noticed it yet, there are many people out there who do not want you to succeed. The number of people who want you to fail has been growing—and lined up against you for some time. You need to continue fighting and having passion.
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made in my life was moving to Malibu in my 30's in 2007. I married my girlfriend a few years after that incident, and we lived in Los Angeles. Soon she started working in Malibu. She idolized the lifestyle there and started making me feel I was not good enough living on the other side of town. She made me feel like a failure and started spending all her time with people there.
Not long after we married, she left me for a much more successful man and moved to Malibu. I then set a goal to prove something to myself. I would move to Malibu and live this sort of lifestyle, even if she was not around. It was a stupid goal because I had a company and tons of people dependent on me in another part of Los Angeles. For the most part, it was a goal to give up and stop fighting.
The problem was not that I moved to Malibu. It was that I made a conscious decision to leave a fight and constant push for improvement behind.
I had been fighting for so long and wanted to tune it all out. The man my ex-wife left me for was ultra-wealthy. He spent his days luxuriating himself in his clifftop compound and enjoying himself. I decided that this is what I wanted and needed to prove something to myself and be worthy of the kind of life I lost. So, I also purchased a beautiful clifftop compound.
I had built a life where I surrounded myself with constant challenges that drove me to improve and change. Yet, something inside me said, "no more." I wanted to live on the beach. I wanted to work in an office alone with my thoughts, and not face the constant pressure of people around me. I decided that I had "made it" and could stop the fight to some extent and retreat. I wanted to relax and be happy. I felt that I was successful and had done enough and, as a result, could relax.
Even after I had moved to Malibu, I found I still had too much fight in me. I started exercising myself to exhaustion each day. I started meditating to calm my mind. I took supplements and prescription pills to calm my mind and numb it all down. I tried to calm down because I thought that I deserved to be calm and not have to fight. I was too motivated and needed to be calm and start enjoying life. After all, I had worked hard as an attorney. I started a business to become a specific type of person.
At the time, my company was operating in three buildings that I owned. With over 800 people working in the company, there were constant issues. There were financial issues, lawsuits when people got injured, and drama. As we grew, there were more problems with competitors trying to undermine me. There were people around me with agendas. It was difficult keeping so many people motivated and happy. It was exhausting and stressful. I needed to change, improve, and adapt.
I was in a difficult position because I did not want partners. I had an attitude that I needed to do everything myself and be in charge and control everything. I did not surround myself with peers to help me, and I did not ask for help. The only thing I knew how to do was retreat and stop fighting. I wanted to leave the company. I wanted to leave the drama and the work behind me. I decided to shrink my company—and shrink my life—to escape problems I had created for myself.
I speak with attorneys all day long about their long-term goals. Most attorneys have goals that involve things like going in-house, making partner in a law firm, being a judge or working in the US Attorney's Office. Or, leaving the practice of law and starting a business.
The problem with most of these goals is that the goal often stops there. People think that if they reach a particular goal, they have "arrived" and can relax. But, when you feel you can relax and have made it because of past or current accomplishments, the world will eat you alive. The gift you have—and it is a gift—is your passion and drive. No one can challenge your drive except yourself. The second you stop trying, your life and career stop.
Someone I worked with when I was a young associate set a goal to be a partner in a major law firm. He was very good at his job. He worked extremely hard for several years and made partner at a significant Am Law 100 law firm. As soon as he made partner, he had a deadline to start being productive and generate business for his book. He never thought of this and did not continue fighting.
Within a few years, the firm asked him to leave. He then had no idea what to do. He set a new goal to go in-house, but that did not work for him. He tried a few other types of positions and did not like those. Today he is a floundering solo practitioner whose wife divorced him. He is unhappy and does not have the life he thought he was aiming for when he became a partner in a major law firm.
The truth is that the more successful you become and the better you are at your job, the more difficult everything will become. You need to keep pushing forward and can never rest on your laurels. The world will keep coming at you with everything it has—and it will be relentless. Each new accomplishment means the bar will keep getting higher and higher, and you need to push harder and harder.
Many people think that they have made it when they get into a top college and stop there. Their goal had been to get into a top college, and they assume that once they do this, they have made it. Others do the same with law schools. Some do the same by getting an excellent job after law school. Another group does the same by going in-house.
When I was in law school, I thought I had made it. I could not believe that I had set myself up for a position that would have earned me more money than my parents. Little did I know, I would face an incredible number of challenges to improve myself.
I took classes in law school against people more competitive than I had ever encountered. They would go on to work in jobs and try to rise in firms with people even more competitive.
Every step of your career and life involves a series of challenges that force you to get better and better, and this never stops. Each new goal you reach is an invitation to compete at a higher and higher level. You can never stop fighting, and you can never stop trying. You need to give it all you have.
It is like this with your health and fitness. It is like this with relationships. It is like this with your spirituality. It is like this with your skills at your job. Everything you persist with and continue to fight for and against, you will get better at. If you stop trying, stop fighting, stop developing yourself, then everything stops. You start shrinking back from what you could be.
I used to weigh too much. I started exercising and running every day, but that was not enough. I started lifting weights, and over a matter of a few years lost over 25 pounds and have very little body fat. I also avoided eating bread and made sure I exercised daily. Over time, everything changed because I kept fighting and improving. I feel great and am in better shape than I was when I was twenty.
Many people I know who were college athletes and used to be in phenomenal shape are now the opposite. They are out of shape, overweight, and not in good health. They peaked and then went downhill because they stopped trying to better themselves. You can never stop. You need to keep the pressure on. I exercise and work on my health and body every day. You need to do this with everything.
One of the biggest mistakes attorneys make is setting a goal for their careers and believing they "made it" once they reach that goal. They think once you arrive somewhere, get a title, and get a job, you are done. This belief is insane.
Attorneys who set a life goal to go in-house often get there and find the position is nothing like they thought. There are the same challenges as a law firm, and many times even more. There are hungry people around them. There are political games. There are more challenges with rules they do not understand or appreciate. They may be expected to break the rules and try and do things that border on the illegal. New CEOs, owners, investors, and others may come into the business and bring new people to the legal department who want you out. All sorts of challenges will present themselves. You need to keep setting goals and continue fighting. If you do not fight, the world will harm you.
I always had this persistent fantasy that I could put my trust and life in the hands of others who would take care of me. That I could hire people to work for me, trust them with my affairs, and take care of me. I could employ managers, accountants, and lawyers, who would have my best interests at heart. They would look out for me, and I could relax. I could hire assistants, family members, and friends, and they all would have my best interests at the forefront. I could trust that my wife would look out for me.
Who doesn't want people close to them who are loyal and make us feel supported and cared for? Who doesn't want to be loved and feel like they have made it and can curl up into a ball, purr, and be content?
The lesson of life, however, is that you can never relax and take it easy. The second you put your guard down, the world will come after you and eat you alive. The way the world works is simple: You fight against forces trying to take you down as long as you can, and then you die. Gravity gradually shrinks you; disease, taxes, competitors, danger, thieves, and more. You can never relax and let your guard down.
Here has been my experience.
Almost every manager I have ever hired has betrayed me in one way or another—eventually. Not all, but many have. You cannot rely on people to have your back forever. They will form allegiances, have their self-interest at the forefront, and have their demands. You cannot trust others forever.
Almost every financial person I have ever hired has stolen from me. One is on the run and has a warrant out for her arrest. Another went to prison. One gave himself a substantial raise without telling me. Another paid his friend in the company more money than they should have received.
I had a human resources manager put his girlfriend on the payroll for several months before he got caught. I have had people working for me who created policies that practically unionized my company.
I once hired a best friend to work for me, and he conspired with someone in my company to steal a bunch of data and start a competing company.
I have hired family members who undermined me in my own company.
I had an assistant once who created a meth lab in my house, stole my car, and charged tens of thousands of dollars to my credit card while I was on vacation.
Relationships with significant others have fared no better.
People will steal, and you cannot trust many people. Despite this, I have always had a fantasy; I could relax and count on people.
You may wonder what the point to all this is—should I wallow in self-pity? I used to at one point in my life, but no longer. I do not feel sorry for myself.
The point of all this is that you can never let your guard down and relax. No one is going to take care of you—regardless of your fantasies to the contrary. The world is going to keep coming at you with everything it has. You can never stop fighting and working.
The world and the people in it all have their agendas. The more you follow and do not stick up for yourself, the greater the challenges you will face.
If you look at almost any successful person, they have had similar experiences. The issue is what they choose to do with the things that happen to them. Do they give up, or do they use them to be like "rocket fuel" and keep fighting and working harder?
Each goal you reach in your career and every good thing that happens to you is another opportunity to improve your life and your game. The game will continue getting harder and harder the farther you go. The mistake that so many attorneys make is they stop fighting and stop improving. They believe they can relax once they reach a certain point. The truth of the matter is, you are never done.
Most successful people have goals they set for themselves. And, they review these goals on an ongoing basis. At each new stage of your career and life, you should come up with new goals, and refine these on an ongoing basis. People and businesses need to keep getting better and better. If you stop improving, you end up getting eaten alive by the world.
You cannot go to a great law school or college and think you are all set.
You cannot get a great job and think you are all set. It is never enough to become a general counsel or partner and think you are all set. Each new thing you reach is just the beginning.
When I purchased a clifftop compound in Malibu, I was excited for myself. I figured I would pay it off and spend my days relaxing, reflecting, operating my businesses remotely, and being happy forever.
Up to this point, my income increased each year as I exposed myself to new business challenges and grew my businesses. I figured this would continue happening, and I would continue to grow and make more income each year. However, when I moved to Malibu, the opposite happened. I took my eye off the ball, and everything started shrinking. My income started to shrink. My influence over my employees shrank, my companies shrank, and gradually I began to lose more.
My decision to move and operate my businesses remotely caused me to change. I went from growing and expanding to shrinking and almost losing everything. This is what happens when you think you can relax.
I spoke with a very successful attorney the other day who has surpassed most of his peers and mentors in the world and feels very much alone. He has watched most of his peers settle and stop growing. They become happy with a certain income, a certain status, or reaching a certain level. Many put all their hopes and dreams into a single career objective and, once achieved, they lose it and have nothing. They stop fighting and give up.
I was watching a documentary not too long ago about a successful celebrity. He goes to a personal trainer each morning who pushes him to get better and better. When he goes to the office, he works with people and situations that challenge and push him. He networks a part of each day to find people to expand his worldview. He is someone with all the money in the world and keeps improving.
Most law firms, especially those that do not have the highest profits per partner, have a lot of dead weight. They have people in them who do not produce and contribute enough. These people are always trying to protect their income and place. They do not want to be challenged. They believe they are entitled to be paid and kept around based on past accomplishments.
I had an interesting discussion the other day with an attorney who was challenging the status quo in a major law firm with a lot of dead weight. He was young, a partner, and had a multimillion-dollar book of business. He wanted some free time to relax and was permitted to take personal leave for a year. When he tried to come back, the firm would not let him because they wanted to keep his clients. The older partners did not want him to continue leading a fight to disempower them and replace them with younger partners with business.
For the past few years, this former partner has been suing the firm to get money for something they did to him. The law firm has been fighting him because no one wants to be challenged. Everyone wants to rest on their laurels. The guy who took the personal leave wanted to relax and get perspective. The law firm partners wanted his business without being challenged.
Everywhere you go, you will find people that want to relax and stop fighting. You can never stop fighting because this is all you have. Your passion and drive are essential components of your career and life and make everything happen. Each new door you open is an invitation to try harder, get better, and become a better person. You should never stop fighting. You should never hide from the fight. You need never stop trying; find every weakness, and do what you can to become better and better.
Many people do not want to know the truth about themselves, and this holds them back. They want to believe they are successful when they are not. They want to believe that others will take care of them when they will not. They want to feel safe and protected when they are not. You can never stop trying and must never, ever stop the fight. It never ends, and this is what life is about. The sooner you wake up and accept this, the happier and more successful you will be.
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter. His most recent contribution to the legal community is Outplacement Attorney Resources (OAR.com), which directly teaches attorneys and law students the best ways to find legal jobs. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in job searches and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
About BCG Attorney Search
BCG Attorney Search matches attorneys and law firms with unparalleled expertise and drive, while achieving results. Known globally for its success in locating and placing attorneys in law firms of all sizes, BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys in law firms in thousands of different law firms around the country. Unlike other legal placement firms, BCG Attorney Search brings massive resources of over 150 employees to its placement efforts locating positions and opportunities its competitors simply cannot. Every legal recruiter at BCG Attorney Search is a former successful attorney who attended a top law school, worked in top law firms and brought massive drive and commitment to their work. BCG Attorney Search legal recruiters take your legal career seriously and understand attorneys. For more information, please visit www.BCGSearch.com.