During law school, I knew that I wanted to practice international law. I even pursued a master of laws degree in international law, trade, and finance. At the time, I believed that my interpersonal skills and negotiation skills would be instrumental for any international organization. I was sure that international law was my future calling. I was all-in. After I graduated from Loyola Law School in New Orleans and signed up for the New York and New Jersey bar exams, everything was going as planned. Assuming I passed the bar exams and finished my LLM degree at Tulane, employers would be making ridiculous offers to me to join their firm. Then I stepped off the plane in Newark, New Jersey, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. “What the heck am I doing?” was all I could think.
From the minute I stepped off the plane, I realized that my dream of practicing international law no longer aligned with my values. I had an internal conflict, and I thought, “Wow! I thought this was what I wanted to do.” However, at that moment, I realized that I had changed, and my values had changed.
When I graduated from law school, I was finally a free man, so to speak. I could do anything. I thought, “I’m 26 years old. Do I really want to be living out of a suitcase, or do I want to get serious about life, settle down, and start a family?” The world traveler state of mind that I thought I had wanted vanished in the blink of an eye.
Because I passed both bar exams, I had options and opportunities, but I turned them down and ended up staying in Southwest Florida, which meant taking the Florida bar exam. I knew that I wanted to start my own practice, so I entered MBA school to brush up on my leadership skills. Marjorie picked me up at a trash can (avid readers will understand this), and eventually, we started the family that I wanted.
After looking at my values, I realized that my heart and my home were in Southwest Florida — not exactly a prime location for international law. My head was telling me to go after the international law dream practice that I had worked so hard to be ready for, but my heart was telling me to stay in Southwest Florida.
Whenever you’re faced with a life-changing decision, it’s important to know what your core values are so you can weigh your options against them. No one can tell you what your core values are except you. You have to think about it. You might not be the same person today that you were 10 years ago, and you may find different opportunities, but your core values are almost part of your DNA, so deeply ingrained that they will never change.
For some, these values may be family, integrity, learning, and meaningful work. Others might choose honesty, loyalty, and leadership. We all have those few core values that stay constant no matter who we meet or where we go.
Being able to recognize the core values of others is equally important. As a young attorney, I realized that I had a certain set of core values, but my clients’ values were completely different. Just as my core values led me to make a different decision with my future, figuring out a client’s core values helps me to be better able to help them reach their true goals during a case.