Hi friends! Today we’re talking about productivity. I’m going to be sharing a story with you about how I created my own opportunity while I was in college, and what I think are some important lessons to take from this message. I hope this lights a fire under someone and inspires them to do that thing that they’ve been hesitant to try.
When I was in college, I just knew that I was gonna become a lawyer one day (that desire has since changed, but the purpose of this story is still relevant). I went to college in a pretty small town, but I knew that I wanted to intern at a law firm before I graduated from college. There are two courthouses in downtown Harrisonburg, and there were a few law firms very close to my college’s campus. I knew I’d be able to find a way to get at least one to let me work there. It was the summer before my junior year of college, and I figured I could easily secure an internship before the school year started.
My first instinct was to comb through every law firm’s website looking for job postings related to an internship. Nothing. Would you believe that not one single law firm within a mile of a college campuswas looking for free help or the chance to mentor a future lawyer-in-training?
To be fair, there were plenty of other opportunities I could’ve looked at. I could’ve worked at the courthouse (which I ended up doing my senior year), a legal services office where most students did their internships, or with police department. But none of those were law firms. The legal services office was a popular place to get an internship, but there was no guarantee that I’d get to work with attorneys. The purpose behind my goal was to see how a real law firm operated, and then I could decide for myself if I really wanted to do that. Here’s how I did it:
After I saw that no one was asking for an intern, I decided that I needed to take a different approach. If these lawyers aren’t asking for people like me, then I guess I’ll have to let them know why they need me, I thought. So I drafted a cover letter. I made a base letter and edited based on unique things about each firm (e.g., areas of practice, whether they spoke Spanish, etc.). After I finished, I had about 10 letters for law firms in Harrisonburg and Staunton. All that was left was to mail them out.
I think the natural thought for most people would be to email them. I can’t say that’s the wrong idea (you’ll see why in a second), but I wanted to leave an impression. Most people working at law firms in Harrisonburg are older. Older people tend to have an interesting view of millennials (i.e., we don’t know how to read/write/communicate), so I wanted to separate myself from correspondence they may have received from other students. I sat down, addressed all the envelopes, and mailed them out at the beginning of August. I left my email and phone number at the bottom of the letter, so I waited to hear back from everyone.
To my surprise, nobody contacted me. One month flew by and there was nobody who wanted my FREE services. I was disappointed, but I figured that there was something else better for me. A month into junior year, I had just started the Valley Scholars program at JMU and my focus had shifted. I resolved to figure out a plan for working at a law firm at the end of the semester. But God had a different plan.
At the end of September, I got an email from a man named Tracey Evans. He said that he was going through some old mail and found my letter, and asked if I was still interested in working for them. Of course I said yes! I was overjoyed. Two months had passed, and my hard work had paid off! I met with Tracey and his wife, Laura, who is also his partner at the firm later that week, and I started working with them right away. I didn’t earn one dime while I was there, but the experience I got was priceless.I got to follow them everywhere and I learned so much about how a law firm really works and what the day-to-day process looks like. To be honest, I didn’t do much work for them, but I got an up-close look at what lawyers do. I was so proud of myself, and I am very grateful to everyone at Evans Law for allowing me to work with them.
Here are the lessons I got from this experience:
1. Putting yourself out there can pay off. So many of us have heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” but what do you do if you don’t know anyone? My family doesn’t have any friends who are lawyers, especially not in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I wanted to start building connections, so I had to offer my abilities up for free and I had to be willing to go along with whatever their schedule was. I honestly think that the Evans firm allowed me in because I showed initiative and I was willing to do whatever they asked.
2. Creating a new path will always lead to more new paths. I could’ve easily taken the job at the legal services office, worked for a semester or two, and never pursued anything else. Taking that opportunity wouldn’t have taught me anything about creating my own opportunity, and I would’ve continued to seek jobs by waiting for other people to hand them to me. Instead, I learned to seize everything that came my way. I worked at a restaurant my senior year of college, and I had the friendliest couple I’ve ever met at one of my tables. They ended up asking me about what I wanted to do, and it turns out that the husband used to mentor the current clerk of the Circuit Court of Rockingham County. I instantly had a new job. Working at the courthouse my last semester of college helped me to land my first job after graduation.
3. Say yes.In college, you’ve got so much time to do things. Say yes to the things that come your way. When I met with Tracey and Laura, I was asking them to make room for me. This meant that there would be no specific tasks every time I came in, and of course there would be no pay. I still said yes after they told me what they could offer. Saying yes allowed me to look at evidence for their current cases, edit legal documents, AND meet a judge!It was amazing. I learned to go with the flow of opportunity from then on. Saying yes to other things allowed me to present in a conference on-campus, participate on the moot court team, and win multiple awards by the time I graduated. We are too young to be picky about what type of experience we want to gain. Everything is going to teach you something.Say yes.
4. Most people aren’t willing to do the work.I’ve told this story to plenty of people who generally seemed unmoved. I’ve told other JMU students that they should contact the firm and give them my name to see if they could work with them too. Nobody did. Everyone wanted the easy path to conventional success. That’s what separates the really hardworking and committed students from the average ones. Even now that I’ve left college, I’ve worked two jobs with people who are content with doing the bare minimum. And eventually, that’s exactly what they end up with. So many want to be the boss, but so few really have the determination to get there.If you can do something unique to separate yourself from the 90% of people who don’t really value hard work, you’ve already done something special. Do the work, and the results will come.
I really hope you guys learned something from my story. Creating your own opportunities can lead to a lot of beautiful things, and putting yourself out there has the potential to change the trajectory of your life. I hope that someone who reads this feels inspired to create their own path and put in work.
Talk to me guys! Tell me your story about how initiative or hard work paid off for you. Do you have any lessons or advice to add to what I shared? What do you think of my story?
Thank you always for your support! It really means the world to me. See y’all in my next post!