Stop Telling Good Arguers to Become Lawyers

I’ve met a lot of bright young people planning on law school or in law school.

I’ve also met a lot of unhappy lawyers.

I suspect lots of these young people will end up unhappy lawyers too, and I’ve got a theory as to why.

Lawyers are often “successful” in terms of external indicators and cultural prestige.  They tend to make good money and are held in esteem (lawyer jokes notwithstanding).  And, of course, lawyering is a perfect fit for some people.  I know some very happy lawyers.

But it seems a large percentage of the profession consists of unhappy people.  People who don’t particularly enjoy doing divorce or merger and acquisition paperwork.  Many who wish they could escape.

How did they end up there in the first place?

Because the educational conveyor belt doesn’t know what else to do with truth-seekers.

Everyone is motivated by a lot of things.  But most of us have one core value that, when push comes to shove, trumps the rest.  For some it may be freedom, for others security, adventure, or in the case of many an unhappy lawyer, truth.

Those whose dominant core value is truth are rather relentless.  They’re smart.  They like to argue, and they tend to argue well.  They want to get to the bottom of things.  They want to find the right answers.  They want correct facts and knowledge of right and wrong.  They are willing to examine and explore multiple sides of issues and ideas in the process.

Similar to those whose highest value is independence, they’re comfortable questioning authority.  But the freedom-seekers tend to be more willing to disobey or ignore the rewards and punishments of the education system.  They might rebel against assignments or good grades.  Truth-seekers on the other hand, though happy to question the status quo, are typically comfortable following basic rules and getting good grades as well.  They see winning at the grade system as a way of finding whatever truth is to be found there.

Herein lies the problem, and the beginning of their disproportionate and often unfortunate pursuit of careers in law.  The school system doesn’t know what else to do with them.

There are few ways to channel their truth-seeking desires in school.  There’s little in the way of philosophy, history doesn’t do as much debating as fact-spitting, and even the sciences pre-graduate level don’t really spend time questioning anything fundamental.

What’s left?  Debate and forensics.  Truth-seekers do well here.  They love it.  Most high school debaters will tell you it was the absolute highlight of their educational experience.  They finally got to question everything, look at all sides of issues, argue without being offensive or reprimanded.  And they got to “win”.

Parents and teachers of young truth-seekers are so conditioned with the conveyor belt mindset that they struggle to see beyond an easily identifiable handful of job titles.  The work/identity trap is also strong, so whatever junior likes must immediately be mapped onto a business card.  A focus on external indicators of success furthers the tendency.  The common refrain for young debaters is, “You’re always arguing.  You should be a lawyer!”  What other possible avenues for all this truth-seeking could there be?

“I get to search for the truth?  I get to debate it?  I get to make everyone proud of a prestigious career?  I get to make good money?  Yeah, I guess I do need to go to law school!”

So lots of them do.

And lots of them end up wishing they hadn’t.  They find out too late that most lawyer jobs have little to do with truth-seeking.  The law itself isn’t primarily about truth, and most law jobs are even less so.  They’re about navigating bureaucracy and nearly impenetrable wordplay to help people do very simple tasks like buy and sell things, move money, end or begin professional or personal relationships, or draft up “just in case” language.  It’s a fundamentally conservative endeavor, concerned with protection from liability more than the caution-to-the-wind pursuit of truth that landed them there.

Law requires attention to detail, a high degree of literacy, and plenty of patience and problem solving.  Those things are perfect for some people.  But those whose core value is truth aren’t often among them.

Because their desire for truth was so quickly tracked and careerified, they never had the chance to explore.  Law school is particularly problematic then, because of its astronomical price tag.  Upon completion, more doors have been closed than opened.  There are only so many jobs that pay enough to service the debt.  And by now they’re closer to marriage, kids, and other financial obligations that make lower starting pay gigs tougher.  After law school, they kind of feel like they have to be a lawyer, even if it doesn’t scratch the itch for truth.

A decade later and the debt burden might be gone, but the golden handcuffs replace it.  Quality of life seems locked in.  Mortgages, cars, schools, and prestige can’t easily be downgraded, even if they are unhappy most of the day most days.  It’s lifestyle slavery, and it kind of sucks.

Where else might these truth-seekers have gone with their passion?  Perhaps philosophy.  Not just in the academic sense, which often comes with its own bureaucracy and BS, but more generally.  It’s true, you can be a philosopher and a lawyer or a philosopher and a great many other things.  Your source of income and who you are need not be the same.  Seeking, writing, researching, fact-finding, and questioning are such general and generally valuable traits that a true philosopher can apply them in myriad careers.  But law is a career that makes being defined by anything else particularly hard.

How many authors, podcasters, coaches, mentors, counselors, investigative reporters, or entrepreneurs are at bottom truth-seekers?  Truth as a core value is applicable in a great many areas.  Most of all, someone with the freedom to follow their passion for truth is likely to discover or create a career we can’t even yet imagine.  Sadly, the school conveyor belt tends to corral more than its fair share into law.

So here’s the takeaway: Stop telling good arguers to become lawyers.

Let them explore the world fully and freely.  Let them try a lot of stuff.  Let them follow their questions.  If after real exposure to the day to day reality a career in law appeals to them, great.  They’ll choose law school.  But don’t obsess about placing them on a list of predefined career categories and channeling their core values into it before they know what’s what.

I’m a parent.  I get it.  We worry how our kids will feed themselves and build a life.  If they love something, our mind immediately tries to formalize and monetize it.  My son loves video games and comics and superheroes, and more than once I’ve begun formulating ways to turn this interest into a career as a video game designer or illustrator and set him on that path now.

Fight that urge.  Open the world up to them, not just the few aspects of it that come with a title and salary today.  But everything that it is and could be tomorrow.

This leads to another good question…what are some other career tracks that young people with other core values get placed on too early?…

Let Your Kids Suffer

I’m convinced one of the best things a parent can do is let their kids suffer.  It’s also one of the hardest.

I don’t mean suffer from imposed deprivations, scolding, withholding of affection, or physical illness.  I mean suffering from the things that are inevitable parts of life and without which no happiness can come.

Mastering a skill.  Learning social dynamics.  Resolving conflict.  Choosing between two good (or two bad) options.  Discovering who you really are and how you fit in with the world around you.  These all involve some level of suffering, sometimes a great deal.  Yet none of them can successfully happen if a parent swoops in to circumvent the hardship inherent in the process.

When your kids are fighting with other kids, or getting hurt feelings over misunderstandings, or in agony over inability to achieve a digital or physical feat it can be brutal to observe.  Every fiber of your parental being wants to intervene and stop the struggle.  Maybe at least offer to buy them a food they really like to ease the pain a bit.  But such interventions rob kids of the growth that comes from learning to adapt and discover their own unique method of achieving their goals and finding happiness.

Even boredom can be hard to watch a child suffer through.  But if we rush in to entertain them and ease their boredom with reams of suggestions and exhortations we short-circuit their process of learning to be interested and interesting.

One of the best parenting tips I have stumbled on, and one I remind myself daily, is simply to do less parenting and let my kids do more living.  Even when it’s not all rainbows for them.

How to Not Let Your Parents Control You

This post is not just for young people.  I’ve known plenty of grown adults with kids of their own who cannot live, act, or think free from their parent’s emotional control.

This is not an anti-parent post.  Most parents mean well.  Many are unconscious of their own forms of manipulation and if revealed to them, they’d prefer to change it.

If you are to create a meaningful and enjoyable life you must break the power of parental control.  It’s a massive psychological burden and it’s sapping your energy, freedom, and fun.

I knew a guy who dated two very different girls.  At some point in both relationships, things got pretty serious.  Maybe this was going to be a long-term thing.

In the first relationship, the girl was smitten but her parents were not.  Not even close.  They did not approve of her dating this guy and they made that clear.  Things were icy.

He’d go with her for family holidays and it always ended the same.  Afterwards, she’d cry and share with him how hard it was to have them unhappy with her choice.  Even if he wasn’t there, every time she’d visit home he knew there would be fallout when she came back.  She’d confide in him just how much it meant to have her parent’s approval of the relationship.  This put tremendous pressure on him to live up to some standard in her parent’s head.

The relationship eventually ended.  It wasn’t too pretty either.

Time passed and he eventually began dating someone seriously again.

In the second relationship, the girl was smitten but her parents were not.  Not even close.  They did not approve of her dating this guy and they made that clear.  Here we go again.  He was nervous. He knew he couldn’t take another situation like the last.

But this time things never got icy.

The very first time his girlfriend’s father voiced his displeasure she said, “This is who I’m dating.  This is who I want to be with.  If you want me in your life you’re going to have to accept the choices that I make.”

Her dad did not disown her.  Instead, he had to overcome his own prejudice and work to get to know they guy.  He did.  Now they’re in-laws.

Consciously or unconsciously, parents can sense your need for their approval.  The stronger and more desperate it is, the more leverage they have to control you.  But the thing is, you’re parents don’t have that leverage in reality.  They want to have a relationship with you just as much or more than you do with them, and this feeling increases as they age.  That’s why if you are definite in your purpose and you make that clear to them, they will nine times out of ten see that earnest resolve and adapt to it.

This makes knowing who you are and what you really want paramount.  If you’re unsure, you’ll just end up issuing a constant stream of threats to your parents, which isn’t healthy for anybody.  But if you really know what you want, you are fully prepared to live the consequences with or without your parent’s support, and you can calmly and clearly let them know, they are very likely to end up supporting you.

You don’t need to disown them.  But let them know their threat to disown you will not stop you.  And don’t bluff.  Don’t pretend to have resolve just because you hope it will win them over.  Be fully prepared and committed to follow your chosen course of action even if they don’t come around.  Paradoxically, it’s only then that they are likely to eventually come around.

They’re not as stubborn as they may seem when it comes down to it.  They want you to be happy, and if it’s clear that you will only be happy pursuing things your own way – and you’re aware of the risk and willing to take it – they’ll stop trying to resist you.

There is no amount of parental approval that’s worth your dignity, freedom, and power as an individual.

For some specific applications, see here.

Why Does College Matter so Much to Parents?

This is a written transcript of a portion of an Ask Isaac podcast episode.

We get this question a LOT, with people who are interested in Praxis or just interested in opting out and creating their own path. They know that college is not going to do anything for them. It’s boring. It’s super expensive. They’re not interested in sitting in a classroom and hearing things that they could learn on their own or things that they don’t even care about, often from professors who don’t care, fellow students who aren’t into it. I mean there are just a lot of people, a growing number, who are just like this isn’t all that great. And all the social aspects… I can get those. I can go to football games and parties and whatever. I don’t need to enroll for 4+ years to do this. But, it’s so much the dominant view among our parent’s generation that – I shouldn’t say “our”, I’m sort of in between – but college… that is really like a signal that you’re doing OK.

It gives Mom and Dad something to brag about at the cocktail party with their friends. It’s kind of like if you grow up in a religious community and people say, “How are you doing with God. Are you on the right track?” And if you just say, “Yeah, I’m going to church,” they’re fine. But, you could be going to church and horribly depressed or like doubting everything or totally unhappy… everything in your life is not going well. But, to them, that’s all they needed to hear. That signals that you’re OK. It’s a shortcut for them that makes them feel like you’re “good-to-go.” And you could be like, “I haven’t been going to church for a year, but I’ve never been better. My spiritual life is really great. I’ve been exploring new ways to connect with God,” and it doesn’t matter what you say they’re going to be scared. Right? They’re going to be worried about you because that signal, that shortcut: going to church equals I’m doing well spiritually… or going to college equals I am doing well in my life professionally.

You know… maybe that emerged for a reason, where the correlation was so strong, that it made sense for people to make that shortcut. You don’t want to get to know everyone’s life story so it’s like “oh, you’re in college, cool. You’re good to go.” But that correlation is so poor and it’s getting poorer. And it’s such a weak correlation and there is certainly no causation there. So you could say, “Oh, I dropped out of school, but I’m working on a start-up. I’m doing this fitness routine. I’m traveling the world. I’ve never been happier. I’m writing a book.” And all they heard was, “I dropped out of college,” and they’re just like, “Oh, my Gosh. You’re sleeping on a park bench and you’re a loser. I’m so depressed; I’m ashamed of you.”

And you could say, “Oh, I’m just about to graduate from a good school and I’m having really dark thoughts, and I hate my life, and I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t care about the job I was just offered. I’m depressed. My girlfriend broke up with me.” And all they hear is “Oh, you’re about to graduate. Well, that’s good. Everything else will take care of itself.” Right? It’s this weird, weird thing. So, it is very hard to convince your parents to let you do something other than college.

See part one for the answer to how to get your parents to open up to the idea.

Check out www.discoverpraxis.com if you want to take a year to get out of the classroom and do something awesome, on your terms, in the real world.

How Do I Convince My Parents to Let Me Do Something Other Than College?

This is a written transcript of a portion of an Ask Isaac podcast episode where this questions was asked.

The first thought when I read this question is you shouldn’t be trying to convince anyone to let you. You are free to do what you want to do, especially once you are 18+. You don’t need to have that permission-based mindset. “I have to win them over. I have to convince them to allow me.”

You’re free to do what you want to do.

Now, once you acknowledge that, “I’m completely free. I could just not go to college right now. I could leave home. I could pack up my knapsack and do whatever I want to do. I am utterly and completely free. There is no power or moral law in the universe that obliges me to do otherwise.”

Now that you have that freedom… now you can start talking about it in costs and benefits. OK, if I do that, what are going to be the costs to me? Am I willing to bear those costs? Are there ways to mitigate those costs? Then you can have an honest conversation about what you are willing to put up with. But do you see how it puts the locus of control on you right away? No longer are you able to blame. “Well my parents won’t let me.” Well, that’s irrelevant. You can do what you want to do. You may find that your real reason is “if I did it, my parents wouldn’t support me financially, and I am not willing to live a lifestyle that’s beneath whatever amount of income – and I don’t believe I can bring that amount of income in myself without my parents’ help.”

Now that’s an honest admission. And that’s one that many people don’t want to be true of themselves. They want to be such rugged individualists that they’re not willing to compromise their dreams just to have a certain amount of money or financial safety net. So, they tell themselves stories. “My parents won’t let me.” But that’s not the truth, and the quicker you can identify the true reason that you’re being held back, the quicker you can overcome it, or work around it, or work with it.

I do know people who truly care more about material comforts than going and pursuing something like that, and the quicker they can be honest with themselves about it, I think, the better they’re going to be. So, it’s not about you convincing them to let you do something. It’s about deciding what’s going to be the cost. If your parents are going to disown you, hate you, not help you, not support you financially in any way, you have to determine what that’s worth. That’s a pretty horrible thing.

But you have to decide if it’s worth 4 years of doing something you mildly dislike, or maybe something you absolutely hate, so that your parents are happy. So, you have to ask yourself questions like what matters more, your happiness or someone’s happiness with you?” And again, I’m not advocating “yeah, screw your parents,” because, I think, at the end of the day, they want you to be happy. They’re just always going to lack the imagination – any other person besides you – is going to lack the imagination to understand ways that you might be happy, that they haven’t thought of before. And only you can find those.

So the easiest practical advice I would have is to start small and say, “Hey, Mom and Dad,” and again don’t approach it like “I need your permission,” and say, “Mom and Dad, I have been thinking,” and let them know this is not some spur of the moment thing and ate some Cheetos with your buddies and was like “I don’t want to go to college”.  Say, “Hey, Mom and Dad, I’ve been thinking and I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and a lot of examining my own life, and making priorities. I am going to take a gap year.” Whether you’re already in college and you want to take a break or before you go – Say you haven’t gone yet, “I am going to take one year and I have very clear goals. I want to experience two different kinds of work (paid work), live in two difference cities, or whatever it might be. I want to earn X amount of money. I want to gain a particular skill like a programming language. I want to become an expert on this. Or whatever…”

You’ve got a couple things that you say. “I am taking one year to do the following things, because it’s really important to me. And I think if I don’t do this now before I go into college and get roped in on a path, I’m always going to regret it. I’m always going to wonder. Furthermore, here’s a bunch of evidence and research that shows people who take a gap year, perform better in college and perform better after college, etc.” Frame it as… not this once for all. Frame it as “give me a year.” And at the end of that year, we’ll see where I am and we’ll see what I want to do next, but I need this year.”

Now, if you want help from them say, “I would like to propose to you… you were going to pay X for college… I propose you to pay less for that but you help me in the following way.” And be prepared if they say, “No,” and to be on your own. Do it anyway. Make up your mind how bad you want it, and what you want to do. And tell them in a non-confrontational way “this matters to me.”

If they see that spark in you and they see that this is so important to you and that you’ve thought about it clearly and you’re calm and rational about it, and you’re going to do it with or without them – this is like raising money for a company, by the way. The best pitch for an investment is, “this is what the company’s doing. It’s going to do the following. If you get on board it can do it faster and you can benefit, but it’s going to happen with or without you.” It’s so much better than “Oh, my gosh. I have this great idea. It won’t go anywhere, though. I need your help so bad or else the whole thing is not going to work.” It’s not as strong of a pitch in my opinion.

Anyway, “This is what I’m going to do, Mom and Dad. If you can help me, it would mean I could do the following. If you can’t help me, I’m going to have to do X, Y, and Z. I’m going to have to get 3 jobs to make it happen. And I’m totally prepared to do that. I don’t want you to be unhappy with me. I want your support. I want to be able to lean on you.”

Open it up and remind them that if they shut you down, they’re basically shutting down a line of communication and support to you emotionally. If you say, “I want to be able to come to you if this is hard and struggling with it, without you saying, ‘See, I told you so. You should have gone to college,’ I want that. I don’t want you to be upset at me for doing this, and I understand if you are but this is where I am coming from.”

I think if you present it like that, you have the highest chances of results. Again, it’s up to you what you want to do. You don’t need permission, but you need to understand the costs and benefits you’re willing to internalize and calmly and passionately share with your parents what it is that you want and have a clear idea. Not just “I don’t want to go to college.” Because to them, going to college means you’re making some sort of progress. To you, even if all you do is wander around for a year and do nothing, and that’s possible that it could give you more progress than college, but in their mind if you at least say, “I want to do X for a year, or two years, or whatever,” and at the end of that year if they’ve seen you grow and change and you know you don’t need college and “I’ve got this cool job, and this and that,” you can be like, “Hey, Mom and Dad, I’ve decided I’m going to take this further.”

You’ll have more courage. They’ll be more comfortable with it by that time. It will be much easier if you can get yourself to a position where they are excited about you having that one year.

If you want an awesome way to spend that one year, working with amazing startups and getting rigorous, self-guided personal and professional development, coaching, and a portfolio of projects, check out www.discoverpraxis.com.

Why Do Kids Do What Their Parents Do?

Why do so many children follow in their parents professional footsteps?  Investigate professional sports, or entertainment, or entrepreneurship, and you’ll find a large percentage of those making a living there had parents who did the same.  I do not discount the role played by heredity.  Nor do I overlook the effects of learning from parents how to ply the craft, or connections parents can provide.  But I think there’s something else going on as well.  Kids who grow up with parents that do X do not feel the need to seek permission to pursue a career in X.

If I asked you in all seriousness if you want to change life direction and become a rock star you’d probably laugh.  You’d laugh because you see rock star as something outside the realm of possibility for you.  Even if you have some musical interest or talent, you’d feel sheepish about attempting to reach rock star status.  You’d probably want to hone your skills in private for a very long time before unveiling them to the world, and even then rock star might seem too distant a target.

But I bet your response would be different if you had a parent who was a rock star.  Even if you’d not spent much time on music or asked your rock star parent for advice and connections, you’d view a music career as a real possibility.  The things you’ve seen people close to you do are possible.  They’re matter of fact things that don’t seem all that lofty.  Kids who grow up around actors aren’t embarrassed to make head-shots or go to auditions.  Kids with athlete parents aren’t intimidated by tryouts or the idea of being team captain.  I suspect it’s more for this reason than pure nepotism that even mediocre performers often have careers in entertainment when they’re related to a star.  They simply don’t fear the things required to step out and give it a try.

Most kids feel the need to ask for permission pursue big dreams.  They think they need to be invited or discovered.  If you’ve never seen someone who does it except on TV it seems far-off.  If you’re familiar with it, it automatically becomes a part of your set of options and you need no one’s permission to pursue it.

The first hurdle to doing anything is knowing you don’t need permission.  Bring your heroes down to earth.  Remember they’re just fallible, searching people.  Imagine what their kids must think of them, as kids always see the weak and mundane side as well as the great.  Expand your set of options beyond that which is familiar; or rather, make all options familiar.

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