A Smattering Of Things That I’ve Learned In Life

This article explains, in a way that a resume cannot, what life experiences I have had and how these experiences have contributed to the unique perspective that I bring to everything that I do.

I am half Finnish and our family vacationed in Finland three times when I was a child. From this, I discovered that there is more than one way to look at things, from speaking languages to crossing the street. I also learned the value of thinking — and occasionally living — outside of the box.

In high school, I learned from my band teacher to play loudly and with confidence so that when you make mistakes, the audience will be less likely to notice.

My first week at MIT, school officials told us that we were in the top two percent of all students in the country but that half of us would be in the bottom half of the top two percent. MIT taught me how to think. It also taught me that you learn more in life from your failures than from your successes.

Trips with friends to France and the Soviet Union taught me the value of spontaneity and agenda-free adventure.

My tour of duty as an Air Force officer taught me that sergeants and secretaries run the military and that you can work within the system to effect positive change, despite politics and bureaucracy. I also learned that landing jets is hard.

In law school, I learned to balance family and professional obligations. I also began my association with the ABA, which, besides my marriage, is the longest commitment I’ve made to anything in my life.

From my first book “The Legal List,” I learned the value of the combination of above average writing skills and perfect timing. And how frequently the latter is undervalued.

From working for Internet companies, I learned that you have to be first or finest or you’re (ahem) finished. I also learned that business decisions are made not by businesses but by people and are frequently made based on emotion, not logic.

From Clock Tower Law Group, I learned to appreciate the mentoring that I received while a law school intern, and I try to mentor others in my firm by following the example of my mentor. I also learned, after launching my firm the week of 9/11 (see also the 11/2003 ABA Journal article), the importance of friends and family in tough times.

From the ABA Law Practice Magazine Editorial Board, I have learned the value of considering articles on their merit, not on whether or not you agree with the author. I also enjoy taking the minority role, whether arguing against an article that everyone has voted for or vice versa, to make sure that both sides get heard.

From building a backyard tree house with my kids, I learned that the journey is often more important than the destination. And that tree houses would be much easier to build if it weren’t for the trees.

From my rock band the MCats, comprised of parents from my kids’ elementary school, I learned that fund raising can be fun. And that I shouldn’t quit my day job.

From recent books I’ve read, I’ve learned the value of salt (“Salt: A World History” by Mark Kurlansky), classic economics (“Economics in One Lesson” by Henry Hazlitt), nontraditional economics (“Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner), good storytelling (“The Lord of the Rings” so-called “trilogy” and “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien), and vacations.

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  1. Ann Lee Gibson says...

    Erik, (years after you posted this) what a rockin’ post this is! I just learned more about you than I’ve ever known before. Thanks for sharing these good lessons you’ve learned.

    And that’s one helluva beautiful tree house!

  2. Chris Cook says...

    Erik I am impressed by the branches sprouting from the sides and roof of the tree house! I remember the comment about being in the bottom half of the class at MIT – driven home by that first 16/100 on the first Physics test – class avg was 18! I love the minority view – a sign of a good lawyer in my opinion (my wife doesn’t like it much – why don’t you ever agree with me?) And if you work in the government as I do – you can usually find the spots within the system to effect positive change, despite politics and bureaucracy if you look hard enough and are not discouraged by the times when the bureaucracy wins. I’m glad we reconnected.

  3. >>>I also learned that business decisions are made not by businesses but by people and are frequently made based on emotion, not logic.<<<

    This is a healthy view, Erik. Speaking as one who undoubtedly made emotional decisions (many of them poor decisions) which impacted and possibly confounded you when we worked together lo those many years ago, I’m glad we both learned something during those exciting times.

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