By: Jamie Collins
Today I find myself alternating between 2 pints of Haagen-Dazs – chocolate peanut butter and strawberry – impeccable taste, I know – and a box of tissues. On and off all day (on the day I wrote this post) I found myself texting a close friend, overcome by bouts of emotion with a few tears falling down my face. Why? For two reasons.
The first being the worst possible case of strep throat which anyone on this planet has ever known. (No, seriously. As a writer, I know I can be a wee bit dramatic, at times, but that one’s as serious as an attorney at 11:49 with a midnight deadline, hopped up on 36 espressos, in the midst of a computer crash, or a stroke). After all, I haven’t uttered an audible sound in 5 days. I had to actually carry hand-scribbled notes in to the doctor, so he’d know what in the hell is wrong with me. I’ve clung to life subsisting on a very meager diet consisting of chicken noodle soup, mashed potatoes, Cream of Wheat, and to-die-for (even when you’re almost dying) frozen dairy confections, while sleeping propped half-inclined on a couch so I don’t choke to death in my sleep. I tell no lies. It has been ugly.
The second – and actually far more serious reason – is the personal acknowledgment of the end of an era. Something great in my career and life. As of Monday, I will be driving to a new building (to a brand spankin’ new start-up firm) located in downtown Indianapolis to proudly continue to work as the dedicated paralegal to my current boss, Jason A. Shartzer, an attorney I’ve known for about 11 years and worked alongside for 8. We’ve had good times. We’ve had bad times. And a whole lotta fun times, too. We’ve grown together. At times, we grew a step or two apart. But we never actually killed one another (which only an experienced attorney or paralegal will understand to be a ridiculously significant career accomplishment), and neither of us ever wanted to give up on our work dynamic with one another…well…at least not at the same time, anyway. It’s a success story.
I remember being in a moment of major indecision at a crossroads a few years ago. I had my Aunt Mary on the phone (clever lady now retired at a young age on the uncrowded, sunny beaches of Flagler Beach, Florida, a corporate genius with stock options abounding and a condo overlooking the ocean). I was asking her how I could possibly make such a hard decision that would so greatly affect my future. I felt like I was standing before a pivotal crossroads with no idea what to do. I didn’t feel like I could bring myself to the “right” answer because I knew there wasn’t one. I’d be fine either way. I had to make the decision and live with it. It was the whole “living with it” part that weighed on me. One of those interesting life moments when you know the decision you’re about to make will affect EVERYTHING. Who you are. Your future. Who you become. It’s never easy.
I’ll never forget what Aunt Mary said to me in that moment. “Do you want to know what one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in business is?” She dropped the words, and they hung heavy in the air between us. I was dying to know. Willing her to tell me. I needed her to impart that wisdom. Direct me to the right decision. Pacing like a freak in my backyard, I gripped my cell phone, forgetting to breathe, until she finally continued: “One of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in business is…the people with whom you choose to align yourself.”
Sit on that line for a minute. Heck, shovel in a bite of Haagen-Dazs and let it rattle around a bit. (I mean take a drink of coffee and really ponder that one.) We’ll wait.
I realized that line was ultimately the fabric around which I’d built my entire career, before ever hearing that wise statement. It was the people the whole way. I may not have known it at the time, until I’d made my way further down the pike. It was the important people who took an interest in me. The ones who brought me along. The special ones who chose to invest their time, training, efforts, and more important, their belief in me. The ones who knew I could make it where I wanted to go before I even saw where that could be or believed it myself. It was the people. It was then. It still is now.
That is the reason I didn’t step out when I felt compelled to a few years back. Because I felt like me and the attorney for whom I work make one hell of a team. I knew we did. The type of unified team many paralegals and attorneys only dream of finding in their careers. I almost left for a million other reasons. But ultimately stayed because I knew how important that big business decision was – the one Aunt Mary reminded me of that day – the one where I get to choose every day the people with whom I align myself. You get to choose, too. We all do. It’s the biggest decision we make. Not only did the boss tell me we were always going to be a package deal when I left a past position to join him at Yosha Law, he backed it up, on more than one occasion. In ways that mattered. He was my supporter. My boss. My friend. My confidant. The day finally came. He told me he was planning to leave the firm to start his own and he wanted…okay, the word may have actually been “needed” to take me along. I was excited. A bit nervous. Giddy. Ready. It was my gig. You better believe I was ready to suit up. (Pretty much literally.)
We are stepping out. Stepping up. The future, bright. The potential, endless. The slate will begin anew. It’s another chance to really throw it down in my career in the best possible way. And that makes me feel so ALIVE.
I will miss the friends I made at the firm I am leaving. It’s a great firm and has given me tremendous opportunities. In 7 years, I’ve attended nearly a dozen jury trials. That is something not a lot of paralegals get to do. I became the likes of a personal injury assassin in their midst. I made several good friends, and if I’m being entirely honest, even a best friend. I may or may not have played a lot of practical jokes along the way and tried to keep people laughing and light, even though the nature of what we do is so serious it hurts your heart at times. I will miss so many things. The fun we used to have. The people. The opportunities it presented me for growth. The reputation the firm extended my way. I will never forget sitting next to trial legend, Louis “Buddy” Yosha, during an ultra-crazy jury trial where I heard my first million dollar verdict read.
I will miss the time. For the time has passed. It’s over. That time is gone for all of us, for some of us have left. That is always the way it goes. You leave…or they leave. But that chapter closes. And another one begins. And in those moments, we weave our careers. We build ourselves. We find our future.
I find myself filled with the giddy anticipation of something new. Something exciting. I find myself swinging in that big moment in life, when you allow yourself to let go of the person you are right now, in this moment, to turn your sight upon creating the next best version of yourself. The new, fully-energized you looking forward to seeking, striving, and having one heck of a time on the next interesting leg of your journey through the career playground. You feel yourself clearing the last hurdle in this career chapter (along with your office) and looking back to say goodbye to an era; the end of a significant period of time in your life. The beginning of another. The final days will remain forever etched into our hearts and in our minds. Those defining moments.
The truth is, leaving is never easy. It never really can be, if you’ve given the best of yourself to a place. The best of what you have to offer to the people you interact with every day. Because the last day when you depart, you realize a small piece of you will remain in that place. They will move on. Things may go another way with the passage of time. Things may change. Others may leave. They may forget you were ever there at all. But a piece of what you left there will linger. It will remain. It always does. At least in our own hearts, anyway.
So today, I say goodbye. And hello. I acknowledge the passing of an era. I look forward to the future. I can’t wait to see that enthusiastic girl rocking the designer suits down the crowded sidewalks of downtown Indianapolis, walking a few blocks in heels, en route to a skyscraper, a new space, a new place, fun lunches, with a “once in a lifetime” kind of boss, and a brand new start. I’m pretty darn sure that explains the double-fisted Haagan-Das, the tissues, and the teary-eyed paralegal. Let us look upon an inspired future to create it. Me and you. And NEVER allow yourself to forget one of the most important business decisions you’ll ever make – it’s one you may have known all long but never acknowledged – the people with whom you align yourself. You get to choose every day.
p.s. In case you didn’t know, the Haagen-Dazs is completely calorie-free when you have the world’s worst possible case of strep throat. So buy two.
p.p.s. If you’ll need me, you’ll find me at:
(Don’t go looking for our website either, people. Brilliance takes time.)
Given my current venture at a start-up firm, you can expect to see future posts covering a variety of fun topics, including, but by no means limited to: start-ups, stepping out, career building, small firm frustrations, exhilarating moments, rants, humor posts, how to deal with past-coworker-separation-anxiety, how to mail letters without a postage machine, and how to not flip the hell out when laser beams cresting off of the sun’s inferno (clearly right from the core, where Dante lived) hit your office window each day at precisely 3:00 p.m., setting forth an invisible blanket of unrelenting heat from hell-oooo, my paralegal friends.
Godspeed on your work week, paralegals. And Godspeed to me. I’m gonna need it!