Constitutional Law has long been considered one of the hardest first year courses in law school. Not only because the material is hard or because the issues are ambiguous, but also because it requires learning a lot of of information. And so the people that start studying early and put in more time tend to perform better than the rest of the class, which is the goal for most law students. Last night, I reflected a bit on what that meant to me, what it takes to achieve success after graduate school.
Having met a lot of successful people over the past couple of years, I’ve seen how so many things factor into becoming successful—getting started early, putting yourself in the right position at the right time, putting in the hours, having perseverance and stamina, and perhaps most importantly having passion.
Why? Because success is hard and competition can be stiff. In law school, there are 65 students in each section competing on the same curve. And because of the law school culture most everyone puts in an inordinate number of hours studying and pulling all nighters, and so it becomes hard to differentiate yourself, especially in straightforward classes with less wiggle room for additional points on exams. In business school, everyone comes in with significant experience, some with pretty unique experiences and others from the typical “prestigious” jobs and industries. It’s even harder to differentiate yourself in that environment.
But school is a piece of cake when compared to becoming world class at the professional level—coming up with the next big internet start-up, making an argument in the leading supreme court case, winning a seat in congress, becoming a fortune 500 CEO, or being part of the banking team that takes the next Google public. In fact, statistically speaking, you have a better shot of becoming a professional athlete.
Because in the end, there are too many things to wrong along the way. Internally, many people experience burnout over time, get overloaded with too much information, or loose motivation. Externally, people often give in to more lucrative opportunities arise, they concede to the herd mentality and change careers, and organizations often get the wrong perception of you because of something they don’t like in your background (stay tuned for a post on this). And so like I’ve said before, Passion Is King! and it often times it becomes more important than anything else in your longer-term career success, especially when you’ve already found the activity that optimizes the mix of your passion and skill.
For example, if you don’t have the passion to study Constitutional Law, it’s likely you won’t get the top grade on the exam because it’s hard, maybe not even the median grade. And what about the other 29 classes you take during law school, especially the curved ones, or with the professor you don’t connect with. It becomes harder to stay focused, harder to turn down other opportunities, and harder to take risks because you have no skin in the game. And in the end, it becomes harder, perhaps impossible, to get other people to believe in your idea, even if it’s a really good one.
There are plenty of JDs from all the top schools that experience this. They get good grades in school (mediocre grades in good economies), and then work at firms or organizations but never become the Managing Partner, can’t land a coveted GC role or break into new industries, and can’t garner the support to fund their entrepreneurial ideas.
Don’t get me wrong. The majority of these folks go on to lead highly successful lives by almost every possible account. But for just for a minute, I’m talking about something a little more–like taking part in the Senate’s recent vote on health care (i.e. that also what our Con Law exam was about), leading the nation out of the current financial crisis, becoming the first diverse president, being the first woman elected to the supreme court, helping negotiate the rescue of imprisoned journalists by North Korea, or growing your high-tech computer start-up to become Silicon Valley’s most profitable and respected company and then being named CEO of the decade.
Northwestern Law and Kellogg are both great schools, and I suspect that most people here, if not everyone, will lead very successful careers. But I’m interested to see who will led by passion upon graduation, or at least a couple of years after graduation. This isn’t to say they won’t work at a firm or take a high-paying job. After all, most students here have to pay back loans and really benefit from those jobs for a couple of years. But it’s only to say that they’ll be ready to be decisive and make things happen when the time comes.
But for now, time to channel my passion to do a little studying for my Property Law exam on Friday. Good luck to everyone taking exams!