Friday, January 9, 2009
Maybe Adversity Isn't So Bad After All
I’m reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s an excellent book about what really makes people successful (it isn’t what you think).
He tells the story of Jewish lawyers in New York in the 1950s.
Basically, if you were a graduate from a law school and you weren’t a WASP (white Anglo Saxon Protestant), you weren’t going to get hired by the exclusive New York firms. It didn’t matter how smart you were or where you went to law school, a Jew would NOT get hired.
So what was a Jewish lawyer to do? They started their own firms and did the work that was beneath the “white shoe” law firms — namely litigation and hostile corporate takeovers. These two types of law were far too adversarial for the genteel white shoe law firms.
Gladwell tells the story of one lawyer in particular, Joe Flom, who graduated at the top of his Harvard Law School class, practically without studying. He was interviewed by the most exclusive law firm in New York which told him, honestly, they were just meeting him on a lark. There was no way someone with his “antecedents” would be hired at their firm. Seriously, “antecedents” was the word they used.
Joe met up with four other Jewish lawyers who were starting their own firm. It was a huge risk because they had nary a client among them.
Joe joined them and became an expert in hostile takeovers. If you wanted to take over a corporation and you had the money for the best in the business, you hired Flom. He didn’t care if such adversarial work was “beneath him”. He had drive and desire and didn’t care what it took to succeed.
Fast forward 20 years. Suddenly, attorneys who did hostile takeovers were no longer looked down upon. In fact, they were in high demand. The white shoe law firms tried to jump on the bandwagon, but it was too late. Flom, and attorneys like him, alread had the experience and the reputation for being the best. The old school attorneys couldn’t catch up. Nowadays, Flom’s firm employs almost 2,000 attorneys in 23 offices around the world and earns well over $1 billion a year.
Gladwell writes, “[Flom] didn’t triumph over adversity. Instead, what started out as adversity ended up being an opportunity.”
Those words resonated in my head and heart and spirit last night. I’ve been discouraged and depressed because of my seemingly intolerable circumstances. What I needed to remember is that God often disguises our greatest opportunities as insurmountable problems. Of course, I knew that, but knowing something in your head and knowing in your spirit are two different things. I guess my spirit needed to be reminded!
Have a great weekend. Another book giveaway starts next week. If one of your New Year’s Resolutions has anything to do with diet, exercise and weight loss, you won’t want to miss Monday’s review.