ARE YOU HAPPY?
At the University of Colorado Law School, my resume opened a lot of doors; my GPA quickly closed them. For that reason I interviewed all over the country --
San Francisco, LA, and -- but door
after door after door slammed in my face. Each rejection somehow made me want
the next opportunity that much more. In
the spring of my final year, I received a letter from an international law firm
in Washington .
For a twenty-five year old awash in anxiety, this was my last best chance to
make it to the big time. New York City
My dad had grudgingly lent me the money to fly into New York so I felt even more pressure taking the elevator up to a top floor of a magnificent old building. The firm’s reception area had a tasteful Asian décor; it looked like a firm that did mergers and acquisitions for Samurai. There were beautiful window frames, but the view only went out to the building across the street. The secretary told me the partner would be right with me. She let me peruse the Wall Street Journal as I waited. Reading the Wall Street Journal while on Wall Street itself -- I had finally arrived.
After an anxious hour, the hiring partner ushered me into his office. He was a dour man in his late forties, and had a stack of half-opened files on his desk. Each stack was meticulously separated by yellow, blue and pink post-it notes.
“We don’t get many people from Arizona who want to work here,” he said with a slight sniffle, barely looking up.
“No, I’m from New Mexico. I went to law school in Colorado.”
“Tell me about what you guys do here.”
Had I really used the word “guys” to describe these masters of the universe? My innocence made him smile; I was clearly not the barracuda lawyer to be who usually sat across from him. He smiled a real smile as he began his favorite part of the interview.
I quickly grew mesmerized by the international litigation the firm handled. The size of the deals, the reputations of the participants, the travel, the excitement, and of course the money staggered me. His war story covered the near calamity of crossed cultural signals in a Tokyo deposition. I almost told him of my only international experience--searching for a drunken buddy in Juarez, Mexico who had gone to the wrong bar and then hitched a cab ride up to Las Cruces.
After about twenty minutes of tales of Rotterdam, Kuala Lampur and those bums over at Baker and McKenzie, he glanced back at yellow post-it notes on his desk. His world tugged him back.
I needed to say something. Something innocuous, that would keep him smiling, and keep me in this magic place.
“Anything else?” he asked, picking up the yellow file.
“One more, an easy one,” I said. Imagining myself as a great lawyer, I wanted a question that I thought I knew the answer to. “Are you happy?”
For some reason that question hit him like a ton of bricks. He actually sunk in his seat, stunned. “No one’s ever asked me that before.”
He avoided my eyes and turned instead to the pile of documents and files on his desk. He made a few attempts to talk, but thought better of it each time. He glanced over at the door, and at the window, as if his cohorts might listen in to some attorney-client privileged information.
Finally, satisfied that the coast was clear, he spoke in hushed tones about his crushing work load, the trans-Pacific travel playing hell with his immune system, and how he somehow wanted something else. He didn’t say what, almost as if he’d forgotten.
He was especially distraught today. An impending merger might cost him his job. And then as I sat there in amazed silence, he told me about his divorce and how much he missed seeing his children grow up. He stopped exactly fifty minutes later, as if a light had flashed indicating the end of therapy. He shrugged his shoulders. “I guess the answer to your question would be no.”
There was a buzz at the door, and his secretary rushed in. His 4:30 was waiting outside. He nodded to her and then nodded to me. It was time to go. I noticed that he was filling out a form marked “INTERVIEW WITH CANDIDATE ____”
I’ll always remember the last words he said to me on the way out “By the way, what were your grades again?”