How I Got Here (Part III)

Sustainable development as governing ethic makes sense, but how does it translate into a job with a paycheck? This is the question I asked myself on my flight home from Oslo to Great Falls, Montana. It must have something to do with the law, I decided. My mentor in Oslo had his PhD in Political Science and International Relations, but that was not an option for me. For one thing, an advanced degree was not on my to do list and for another, I just wanted to get to work. A law degree was only three years and virtually guaranteed a job upon completion.

In the fall I moved to Seattle to live with a cousin I met once at a family reunion and to get a job working in a law firm.

Resume in hand, I went out in my best interview suit and hit the street looking for a job. All morning I dropped off resumes and cover letters in downtown law firms. En route to a placement agency I rode the elevator with a well dressed man. He swiped his wallet against the keypad and hit the button for the 6th floor.

“What do you do that you need a secret badge to get to work?” I asked him.

He laughed and said he was an attorney. The 6th floor was the back entrance to the firm.

“Oh? What kind of attorney?” Please, have something to do with sustainable development.

“Land use.”

Perfect! “I’m looking for a job,” I beamed and handed him my resume, “are you hiring?”

He took my resume and asked me a few questions. I needed to get to my interview down on the third floor and said good-bye. Less than an hour later the placement company had me back up on the 6th floor working for the attorney I met in the elevator.

My career as a legal secretary started downhill. For one thing, the head secretary took an immediate and intense dislike to me. I was terrified of her. I get that she was comparatively old, crabby, a chain smoker, had worked there for 25 years and married her best friend’s husband as soon as her best friend died, but what did that have to do with me? She let me know in no uncertain terms that she was in charge and I the consummate secretarial reprobate.

Except she was not in charge. Mike, the firm administrator, was in charge and let her know that in no uncertain terms. Mike asked me why I wanted to be an attorney. I shrugged and told him I did not really know, it just seemed like the thing to do.

He persisted, “What do you actually enjoy doing?”

Without thinking, I blurted out, “I like to build things. I like working with my hands.”

And that was true. Earlier that summer I built a 200 square foot deck off the back of my parents’ home. I worked construction for a summer in college building houses. Throughout high school and into college I worked in a frame shop and gallery  assembling beautiful pieces for customers.

“Why don’t you pursue that?”

My small mindedness has always been my greatest enemy. His comment left me with a vision where I assembled tinker toys for a living. I smiled at him graciously and walked away believing that guy was nuts.


  1. As a retired guy now, I’m going through a similar analysis on what in the world is worth doing or pursuing. My lessons learned in life seem to indicate one should follow their instinct on what they really have a drive to pursue and then the resources become apparent and available since that is where the drive will take them. But there are so many interesting things to pursue! It really isn’t about the paycheck but about the journey. But that is a hard pill to swallow in our instantaneous modern techno society with light speed resources and warp drive.


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