Think about What Else Is Possible

Growing up, when I felt frustrated or stuck with bad options, my dad encouraged me to take a step back and remember that there are always options and choices in life. Nothing is set in stone.

It was a simple reminder, but it has been powerful for me. It helps me see problems and plan a path forward with more objectivity and perspective, and less stress. It has also helped me make and assess my career choices. A decision that may seem very consequential in the moment—which area should I practice in, should I take this job, how should we proceed in this case—is much easier to make when I remember that it’s not really final. If you make a mistake, or the facts change, you can course-correct. And inevitably, at times you will want or have to, and great things can come from those changes.

When I began my career as an associate at a large firm, I was fortunate to work with a partner who I liked very much. After a few years, I was thinking of applying to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but I was reluctant to consider leaving the firm, where I felt comfortable and enjoyed the work. I discussed it with the partner, who espoused his own version of my father’s advice.

He said, “You should always think about what else is possible.” It is important to explore new opportunities, whether or not you decide to pursue them. He told me that he always took calls from headhunters, which surprised me, because I thought he had achieved the pinnacle of success as a partner at a law firm, and I knew he was happy there.

I applied for and was lucky to receive a position at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. It changed the course of my career, and I am so happy it did. As for the partner, he followed his own advice too. A few years after I left, he took a position at a Fortune 100 company, where he is now the CEO.