The Stereo Console Lesson

After I graduated law school, I moved to New York. After attending law school and passing the Michigan Bar exam, I realized just how little I wanted to be an attorney. Even though my previous summers internship for the Assistant Attorney General for the State of New of York was truly exciting and my law school job clerking for a firm that represented the City of Detroit was also very thrilling, it seemed to me that after a while most attorneys became quite jaded with the legal profession and the practice of law.  So, I decided to pursue my passion – ACTING!  One week after graduating law school, I packed my stuff and moved to Manhattan to study acting at the Lee Strausberg Theater Institute. 

Soon after beginning classes at Lee Strausberg, I found a job as a Houseman for a soon to be Billionaire.  I made $20.00 an hour plus lunch was provided everyday by the full-time chef and I got a household credit card for travel and anything else I needed to charge.  Although the House Manager got to live in the family’s brownstone rent free, on occasion, I got chauffeured around the city in the family’s limo if I had time sensitive errands that needed to be done.

At about the same time, one of my closest friends had also graduated law school and decided to pursue his lifelong passion, and I can assure you, it wasn’t lawyering.  He moved to LA and started working in the mail room of a talent agency in hopes of getting a desk job and becoming a talent agent.  We kept in touch often and it was quite evident that his career was moving at a quicker pace than mine.  In addition to being a lawyer, he was also a 2nd degree blackbelt in Ishin Ryu (which is a form of Korean karate).  As luck would have it, he began giving the owner of the agency private karate lessons and so began his ascension up the ladder landing him a desk job.  

When you put yourself out there, life happens.  And IT WAS (albeit at a different pace for each of us)! 

One night we were speaking, and he told me a funny story that I would never forget.  And here is how it started: “A fucking earthquake just broke all of my shit!”.  He explained that when he moved into his apartment, he really didn’t have much furniture except for a bed, dresser, and small kitchen table.  He needed something for his stereo to sit on and couldn’t find anything.  So, he spent what little money he had for a stereo console that he picked up and put together himself.  He told me that he was never able to get the console to work correctly.  He said it wobbled terribly since the day he put it together and often thought about throwing it out.  He had a lot of buyer’s remorse over that stereo console.  I can only imagine how many screws he neglected to use – he wasn’t a very handy person.

Not soon after moving into and furnishing his new apartment an earthquake hit.  I guess it comes with the territory in California, but being from Michigan, your first earthquake is quite a shock.  After the tremors had stopped, he realized that most of the stuff in his apartment was strewn and broken on the floor, except for 1 piece of furniture – the terribly wobbly stereo console.  See, unlike other furniture in his apartment that was put together correctly, that was “rigid” and had very little “give” the console had a ton of flexibility and was able to weather the tremors through “give” and protect the stereo it was housing. 

I often think about the “stereo console” lesson.  That, although rigidity and inflexibility can be considered, at times, a position of strength and force, it’s a posture of flexibility and give that often has the best chance of weathering turbulent times.

For both of us, leaving home and moving across the country, there wasn’t a shortage of tough times. Flexibility and give helped navigate work and school issues, relationship ebbs and flows and ultimately the decision to leave New York and my girlfriend and move back home.  And, for my friend, I believe the same was true, after getting a desk job the “give” posture helped him navigate leaving the agency and ultimately his move back home to Michigan.  Oh, he actually did it 2x’s.  After a short stint back in Michigan, he moved to LA again, and got a desk job for the second time after a short stint in the mail room, to once again make the decision to move home and pursue his law career.  And, almost 30 years later, he is one of the premier Civil Rights attorneys in Michigan.   

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