Friday, November 28, 2008

The Back of an Envelope

After 22 years, the president of my alma mater is stepping down. Modesto "Mitch" Maidique recently announced that he is stepping down as President of Florida International University. Why? The answer lies on the back of an envelope.

IN 1986, Maidique became president of a small South Florida university. At the time, he was a former Stanford professor and entrepreneur with no experience in university administration. That did not deter him. On the back of an Eastern Airlines envelope, he laid out his dream for the university, listing his goals:

* transforming the school into a research powerhouse
* reaching $100 million in research grants
* securing an endowment of $100 million
* seeing 100 doctoral students graduate
* creating a law school
* creating a medical school
* creating an architectural school
* creating a 1-A football team

Despite being approached by 29 other colleges to be their leader, he remained at FIU. His dedication paid off. This year, he finished checking the last items off his list. Having accomplished his dream, his job was finished and it was time to step down. And it all started with some notes on the back of an envelope.

So many of us went through high school and college and law school with big dreams. Maybe it was to run for office or start a charity or write a book. Perhaps it was to start a business or travel the world. But somewhere along the way, those dreams were pushed aside and packed away like old magazines in the back of the closet. Families, jobs and responsibilities took over. You promise yourself you will pursue them some day - after you finish that big case, after the kids graduate, after you retire. Pushing them further into the distance.

I am going to suggest something novel. You probably have a dream that gnaws at you, that you daydream about while driving to work, that keeps you up at night as you lie in bed, with your arm tucked under the pillow. Take one of your business cards, turn it around to the blank side, and write it down. Coach high school football? Write it down. Teach a law school class? Write it down. Whatever it is, no matter how big or small, permit yourself to reduce it to writing. Now you have it in black and white. Carry this card in your wallet or purse until you accomplish what is on the back of it. Depending on the dream, it may take months, even years - possibly 22 as in the case of Maidique.

Spend the next week or two thinking about how you can achieve this dream. You do not have the time? You probably have more time than you think. When you shower, think about how you will accomplish your dream. When you drive to and from work, think about it. Watch just one less half-hour of television each day and think about it. You have the end in mind - the dream - just think about how to get there. Just as you write a business plan for a new venture or draft your strategy for trial, do the same for your dream. Keep your roadmap handy. Consult it regularly and do not be shy to modify it. The dream will stay the same. The route there, however, may change.

And every day do something to fulfill the dream. Some days you will have an hour or more. Some days you will only have a few minutes. But each day, work toward achieving the goal. You will not get closer to your dreams by standing still. They will not come to you - you have to pursue them.

Many lawyers are dissatisfied with their careers. We get bogged down with the minutia of the daily grind and lose track of the big picture, of the big ideas we once held dear and sacred. Permit yourself to reduce those dreams to writing and chase them. The passion and enthusiasm of the pursuit will permeate everything else you do, and reinvigorate you at home and at work.

Now go find that business card.

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