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The New Year’s Resolution That Saved a Career

by Jay Reeves |

Of all the New Year’s resolutions I’ve ever made, the dumbest was probably my decision to take up racquetball.

Fortunately, I broke it in mid-January, before any real damage was done.

The problem of course wasn’t racquetball. It was me. I took up the sport not for physical fitness, nor because I had any interest in it. I did it to impress other lawyers – and that was my big mistake.

Destiny Creation 101

This was back in 1986, when I was practicing in a cramped, third-floor law office on Broad Street in Charleston, SC.  A year earlier I had launched a solo career that started slowly before stalling altogether. Every morning was the same. I would trudge up the steep stairs, turn on the lights and wait for my mother to call and ask if I’d gotten any clients.

Then I attended a Zig Ziglar seminar.

Zig told me I was born to win. He said I could create my own destiny. He told me to get out there and start networking.

So I did. I attended local bar meetings. I joined the Chamber of Commerce. I set a goal – Zig said people who aim at nothing will hit it every time – of meeting one new person each day.

And it worked. I started getting referrals. I was added to the appointed counsel list. My mother was thrilled.

Then while schmoozing like crazy at our local bar’s annual Christmas luncheon, I struck networking gold. I was chatting with our bar president, who informed me that he and some other lawyers met regularly for racquetball at the YMCA. Would I like to join them sometime?

- Sounds great, I said.

Talk about destiny! I had been invited to bond at the gym with the top lawyers in town. It was a Ziglaresque moment!

There was only one snag: I had never played racquetball in my life. But how hard could it be? An indoor game played with a tiny ball and a tiny racket? And it wasn’t like I had lied or anything. I never said I had actually played before, just that the idea sounded great.

So I drove out to West Ashley – this was after Sears had moved to Citadel Mall – and bought a racket, balls, goggles, wristbands and headband. Also a rule book. After swatting a few balls against a wall and skimming the rules, I pronounced myself ready.

The Fraud is Exposed

I arrived at the YMCA on the second Friday of the new year with my brand-new gear and a knot in my stomach. The 6:30 AM start time should have been a tip-off. Rarely did I roll out of bed before seven.

But it was not until I laid eyes on my gym buddies that I realized the full weight of my predicament. They were all great players, but what I found most unnerving was their Olympic-level intensity. They were slamming into walls, slashing with their rackets and shouting at the top of their lungs. And this was just warm-ups.

The bar president asked if I wanted to hit a few volleys.

- I’m good to go, I said with false cheer as I slipped on my headband.

We played doubles, with the prez and I on the same team. It was a fiasco. I thrashed and flailed at that bouncy ball. The few times I did make contact, I sent it rocketing into someone’s back. Finally after an especially futile swing that caused my racket to fly from my grip and sail inches past my teammate’s ear, someone called a merciful end to the carnage.

Needless to say, I was embarrassed. I had made a fool of myself in front of the very people I wanted to impress. Afterwards, my gym buddies were nice enough to never bring the incident up. But they also never invited me to play racquetball again. Who could blame them?

Resolved: Don’t Be A Phony

Later I was telling my lawyer friend Nick all about it. He just shook his head and scribbled something on a piece of paper.

- What’s this?

- A New Year’s Resolution, he said.

On the paper was written: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

It was from Hamlet, but it could have come from Zig Ziglar, who put it this way: “You will make a lousy somebody else, but you will be the best ‘you’ in existence.”

For a while I carried Nick’s paper in my pocket. I would pull it out whenever I was tempted to do or say something solely to stroke, satisfy or suck up to someone.

But I didn’t really need Shakespeare or Zig Ziglar. I had my mother. She continued calling every morning to ask if I got any new clients. If I said no, she’d say, “Don’t worry. Just keep being yourself and everything will work out.”

And I figured if that was good enough for my mother, it was good enough for me too.

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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