To Thine Own Self Be True

“This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” 

Hamlet – William Shakespeare.

I drove into the Big City the other day and had brunch with an old friend who I will call Sandy, because that is her name.

After a while, the conversation turned to stories about having been fired from our jobs. I had very little to add myself, except for that one time (not at band camp) when my former partners terminated my contract a few years following my voluntary withdrawal as a partner in the firm. Apparently, my ‘best before date’ was thirty-four years after I had arrived at the firm and I had unknowingly stayed beyond it.

My friend Sandy had a better story. Back just a few decades ago when she was seventeen years old, she was fired from her summer job and had no idea why.  After pondering the matter for a few days, it dawned on her that perhaps it had something to do with a question that she had asked her boss when he had criticized her for using a black pen instead of a blue pen to complete some records. Sandy had asked him, “doesn’t it embarrass you to be so petty?” Sandy explained that she did not mean to insult him. She was just genuinely curious. Although she never did get a direct answer to her question, it is possible that the notice of termination should have given her some hint as to how her boss was thinking about the matter.

The fact is that some people are not cut out to be employees. Sandy was one of them, as witnessed by her subsequent thirty-year career successfully running her own business.

I do not think that young lawyers give quite enough thought as to whether they are cut out for the various roles that are available in the legal profession. Take me, for example. I was never going to be a great employee. I was sort of okay as a partner in a law firm, but perhaps I should have given more thought to going out on my own. None of us are suited for every possible role.  I can certainly name a few of my former partners who would have been better off being just about anything other than one of my partners.

Ideally, the time to figure these things out would be before you get started. There are so many ways to get this wrong. I have some fondness for the whole ‘trial and error’ and ‘learn from your mistakes’ thing. I can also buy into the theory that you can only succeed by first failing. However, if the truth be known, it is always better to put yourself on the path to success from the very beginning.

The simple truth is that some people have no business being employees, and others should not be business owners. A great deal of misery can be avoided if you put some effort into understanding yourself.

And then, to thine own self be true.

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