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At all times in life, I have a label for myself in my head. If I’m doing well in school, I’m analytical. When my life was devoted to track, I was an athlete. Working in education, I’m a teacher. But it was only when I gave up trying to find the right label that I was finally free to pursue law, the path that lets me combine all my interests.
My love of analysis goes back to my childhood. I loved taking systems apart and learning as much as I could about them. At the age of three, I wanted to know how books worked, so I asked my mom what the letters sounded like until I could read. At the age of 14, I wanted to know how computers worked, so I taught myself to program. And when I took a year off during college, I decided to teach myself Russian, then tested into fifth-semester Russian when I returned to school. So I dismantled it, learned its ins and outs, and was speaking fluently a year later. When I get interested in a topic, it takes over my life, and I don't stop until I understand it.
At the same time I was pursuing these projects, a totally different side of me was at work 3-5 hours each day. I do not like losing. When I discovered long-distance running in high school, this drive found an outlet. I fell in love, both with the hard, monotonous grind, and the thrill of besting my competitors. Beyond winning, I craved the feeling of running a faster time than I had ever run, of moving up the invisible pecking order of times that all runners are aware of. For eight years, I cranked out as many miles as my body would allow.
The idea of law school entered my head at times, which is natural. Law schools have never suffered from a dearth of analytical people with highly competitive streaks. But even as I enjoyed my experiences working in law, primarily helping my father’s firm in a complex jury trial one summer, I laughed off the idea of law as a career. The label just didn’t fit me; I didn’t want to call myself a lawyer.
And then I found a new interest. Soon after graduation, I moved to the Ukraine, and became an English teacher. I had always thought of teaching as an exercise in explanation. But that only scratches the surface. Education is a kind of pragmatic performance. I will never forget the feeling of my first day in front of a class. The rush of controlling a room of people was addictive. But once the rush wears off, you have to use that energy, and find ways to make your students learn. Teaching is about building relationships; it's a non-negotiable job requirement. If your students don't connect with you they don't learn. And it was this feeling of connection that really hooked me. I was proud to be a teacher.
At the same time, I missed the challenge and stresses of my former pursuits. It wasn’t until late 2009 that I saw a solution. I was in New Orleans on a business meeting, talking with a plaintiff’s attorney there. Over lunch, he described his legal approach to me. I was struck by its similarity to my experience as a teacher. Each of us was telling a story to an audience. We had a set of facts and an analysis of those facts that we needed our audience to grasp. I already knew that law would allow me the opportunity to analyze and compete, but was teaching there as well?
This encounter was not my road to Damascus. And I did not develop a sudden desire to become a plaintiff’s attorney. Rather, I began to think back on previous experiences. The times when my interests had felt most unified always involved law in some way, whether working on litigation, justifying a business proposal to legal counsel, or helping a friend work through a contractual situation with the business he had founded. I realized that an entire field I had dismissed as “law” actually synthesized my main interests, and I had unfairly written it off.