Everyone Else Framed Their Degrees, But I Framed 3 Letters And Put Them On My Wall. Here’s Why

“Dear Mr. Murphy,” the first one began. “We appreciate your application, but unfortunately...” Plus 7 other things worth a click.

Lawyers love their trophy walls. But when I was practicing law in Washington at the U.S. Department of Justice, I did something different.

Among my awards and photos, in a place of honor, I framed and hung three letters.

These were the letters I'd received the first couple of times I'd applied for to work at Justice—my dream job back then, when I was just out of law school.

  • Letter #1 was a rejection letter that arrived after I'd originally applied as a law student to the Attorney General's Honors Program at Justice.

  • Letter #2 was another rejection letter, which reached me 14 months later, after I reapplied for the same job. Nope again.

  • Letter #3 arrived a few months after that. This time, I'd broken the rules, skipped HR, and sent my application to a Justice Department official I'd met in an interview during Round 1. 

Fortunately, this third letter contradicted its predecessors, and it contained an offer for a job as an entry level trial attorney.

Some people don't like to admit that they've failed or been rejected in life. But that wasn't me—and so I framed the letters.

They looked like the framed degrees and honors that other attorneys had on their walls: commendations, thank-you notes, evidence from particularly memorable litigation.

You had to look closely to notice the difference. But I always knew they were there. I wanted to remember always that I'd had to hustle and persist to get the job.

May it please the court...

I don't practice law anymore. If you look on my LinkedIn profile, the entire time I spent at Justice now gets just a single line. Still, I'm proud.

Barely a month after I landed the job, I was in court, arguing my first case—doing what I'd wanted to do when I went to law school to begin with.

Ultimately, I was the lead attorney on more than 200 cases. I was a pretty good lawyer, but I have to say that I'm an even better ex-lawyer.

So now the rejection letters are in a box somewhere, packed away. I hadn't thought of them for a long time, but I don't want to forget.

My goals have changed radically from back then, but the same traits that got me where I wanted to go then, are the ones I need now.

Hustle, Murphy. Hustle.

Remember how you got here

Chances are, I don't know you. (I mean, my wife and my mom and my dad read these columns, so maybe…)

But, I will bet you've had to overcome challenges to achieve the things you're most proud of. Maybe, you’ll have to do it again sometime.

Most importantly, you've probably failed a few times.

So for 2020, let’s not to forget those failures, or paper over them or explain them away. Instead, let’s celebrate them.

Put them in the place of honor on your version of a trophy wall.

It’s never about the failures; it's about what you learned and how you overcame them. And you never know when you'll need that reminder again.

I took Christmas Day off (so there was no regular Understandably email on Dec. 26. You would not believe how weird that felt!

Also, the other day I linked to a story by the CBC about a documentary film crew that tracked down an art thief after 17 years. But I managed to forget to include the link. Here it is!

7 other things worth a click

  1. New retirement trend: Move to Vietnam. (Los Angeles Times)

  2. Millionaires are in favor of a wealth tax as long as it doesn’t apply to them. (CNBC)

  3. Washington is moving to ban robocalls, so on cue, here’s an analysis of why it might not work. (The Wall Street Journal)

  4. The top 10 homes sold during 2019 all exceeded $100 million each. (Bloomberg)

  5. Croatia now has a Museum of Hangovers. (CNN)

  6. JetBlue bumped up some loyal customers’ miles so that they’d get elite status next year, even though they didn’t technically qualify. (Inc.)

  7. The Pentagon is warning troops not to use DNA sites like Ancestry and 23andme. (Yahoo News)

Ideas and feedback actively solicited. Today’s newsletter is based on something I wrote about for Inc. a few years back.

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