A few weeks ago while watching TV, I caught part of an old Charlie Rose show where he interviews interesting guests one on one at a round table. His guest that night was Tom Clancy, who sadly, recently passed away at the age of 66. As you may know, Clancy was the critically acclaimed, enormously successful author of such popular works such as The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and many other literary works.
What struck me was how down to earth Clancy seemed for such a successful guy. He was a straight talker, but had an appealing, calm and direct way of answering questions. His demeanor was not at all in-your face, and his simple choice of words was perfect. (Not surprising I suppose, given his occupation.)
Charlie asked if he ever suffered from writer’s block, to which Clancy, while smiling, rather dismissively replied;
“Writer’s block is a term writers invented for when they didn’t feel like going to work. Everyone feels like that sometimes. Sometimes you just wake up and don’t feel like working that day. You just have to get up, get ready, and go to work.”
In the days that followed, I pondered this and thought, can it really be that simple? All this time I thought “writer’s block” was a malady from which only the most tortured novelists and authors of various works suffered. Something to which I surely couldn’t relate. Yet when Clancy put it in these terms, he removed all the mystery from the concept!
This got me thinking back twenty years ago, to how I perceived lawyers in general, before I went to law school. I can recall utterly being in awe of the lawyers with whom I worked. It was as if they belonged to an exclusive club and were privy to all kinds of magical secrets and knowledge that laypeople were not. I was incredibly impressed at how much of the law they must have had to memorize and be able to recall. I was convinced that they had larger brains and the ability to retain far more information than average people. I wanted so badly to know what they knew, but I knew I wasn’t a genius and wasn’t sure I had what it took to be a part of this club.
Now that I have been a lawyer for 13 years, looking back, I find it so amusing how I invented and attached such superhuman abilities to those who chose the legal profession – something which I now realize, for me, mostly came down to simple discipline and hard work!
Don’t get me wrong, it is certainly not my intention to over-simplify the other requisite traits my colleagues in the legal profession possess. Certainly, we all have an appreciation of logic, reading comprehension, and the ability to persuade, but most of all, “we got up, got ready, and went to work.”
What we didn’t know, we made it our business to learn. (We had to – there was only one final exam for each course, and no one wanted to take a Bar Exam more than once!) However, this lesson holds true regardless of the occupations we choose. If you want to learn anything new, find your inner-discipline, and go to work learning it. Treat it as though there will be a final exam at the end of the course, even if there is not. Work at it as though you have just invested three years in graduate school and have massive student loans to pay back. (Now that’s a motivator!)
Anyone can learn something new, and it’s never too late. Whether it’s taking a dance class, learning Italian, or going to law school, don’t allow your own subversive self-talk to build up roadblocks that prevent you from going after it.
Finishing law school and passing two Bar Exams was the hardest thing I ever did. Because of that, it was also the most rewarding (so far.)
Charlie Rose ended the interview by asking Clancy “Are you satisfied with your body of work?” to which Clancy replied “I never want to be satisfied. Satisfaction is the enemy of progress.”
In that spirit, I’d like to encourage you all to keep seeking out new challenges and setting new goals. With them you will find true rewards that may lead to even more mysterious and rewarding possibilities!