Idealists Need To Care About Their Work

“I can’t just sell anything. It has to be something I care about.”  So said Lee, a gregarious, likable, twentysomething from New Haven, Connecticut who came in for an initial career counseling meeting. Lee had been bouncing around in various jobs and had yet to find any career traction. Several people had suggested that he would do well in sales.

“I know.” I replied as I explained that Lee’s personality testing revealed that he had the same blessing and curse that I did. “You and I are idealists.”  

Years ago, an acquaintance suggested financial sales to me as a potential escape route from legal practice. He meant well and said kind things about my ability to interact with others. When I mentioned this to an old friend who was in financial sales, he responded: “Maybe. But you would have to really believe that the financial products you were selling served the best interests of your clients. That’s not always the case in this business.”

Really believing that I was doing good became my problem with legal practice in the private sector. During the bulk of my legal career, I was a prosecutor, fighting for justice. In the private sector, I couldn’t muster the interest in cases that had no meaning besides large companies fighting over money.  This, by the way, was a challenge for me from a career perspective, not a strength. And, I certainly could not become a criminal defense lawyer as one of my friends from the District Attorney’s Office did. I spoke with him yesterday.  We discussed his clients.  They ranged from burglars to drunk drivers. He laughed when he relayed a story of a client who he had just sprung free. After the not-guilty verdict, they went to have lunch. The client said: “now do you want to know what really happened?”.  My friend replied: “that’s not the business I’m in.” That would be the truth business.

Lee had the same challenge.  He could not feign interest in the company’s products. His task, if he is going to pursue sales: find a company whose mission he supports or start his own company doing something good. I provided him a list of socially responsible companies in Connecticut.

“You must stay true to your nature.” I said.  Lee left, with hope that he was off to do good.