I’m a trial lawyer, and when I go to court, I’m usually surrounded by a lot of smart people. For the most part, the judges are brilliant, and opposing counsel usually bring their “A” game.
But here’s the deal; despite being around all these bright people day in and day out, none of them come close to being as smart as my father-in-law. His name is Mike, and he’s a retired milkman.
He has a year or two of community college under his belt, he enlisted in the army, didn’t finish his formal degree, and the rest is history. Mike majored in people skills with a minor in street smarts, common sense, and hard work.
His business career started out with loading heavy milk crates onto the back of tall trucks. Twenty years later, it ended with Mike owning a successful dairy distributorship and being selected as Chairman of the Board of his bank.
He retired at 52. Not bad for a milkman.
Mike’s one of the brightest guys I’ve ever been around, and he’ll tell you that one of his best early decisions in life was marrying Joyce, his bride of 57 years. She’s not only been his business partner since day one but also a big reason their three daughters have all grown up to be smart, intelligent and successful independent women.
After Mike and Joyce sold their dairy distributorship, he and some friends decided the community needed a new bank, and so they started one. None of them had any banking experience, and I still remember Mike sitting on the living room floor playing around with different bank logo designs, with stacks of banking regulations and documents stacked beside him for review. As things turned out, the bank thrived and was eventually sold to a large national banking institution for a very nice profit.
Mike’s Three Keys To Success
Before I married his daughter, Mike asked me if I had my priorities in the right order. The look I gave him must not have been very reassuring because he immediately added, “Mitch, here’s what you need to do. Here are my three keys to success…
#1: Make sure you put your physical and mental health first because without your health you’re not going to be any good to anyone else;
#2: Next, comes family. Love them, support them and take care of them.
#3: After family is your job or occupation. Do the best you can, take care of your customers and clients, and don’t cut corners. Approach life in this order and everything will fall into place.”
When I first started practicing law, I thought Mike had things a bit mixed up. I believed that to be successful, I had to out work and out hustle everyone else.
During the time Lisa and I were dating, I’d leave my apartment early in the morning and get home late at night. On weekends, I usually did the same thing. I felt that if I were able to have a successful law practice, everything would be perfect.
For those of you not familiar with Orange County, California, you should know that it is a very competitive environment. Everyone wants to look great, live in the biggest homes and drive the most expensive cars. Almost everyone you come into contact with is rich and successful, or so it seems.
I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, and I didn’t grow up in this type of lifestyle. I moved to California to go to law school with $100 in my pockets. I also arrived with what I’d like to believe were pretty good life and success values — I was taught not to spend more than you make and to treat people with respect.
The Truth About “Success.”
After graduating from law school and passing the bar, I was able to build my practice in such a way that I eventually was representing some of the most “successful” people in town. I quickly noticed that their reality was substantially different from how other people perceived it.
Most of these people were anything but happy. They’d been through multiple marriages and expensive, bitter divorces. They lived in houses they couldn’t afford and drove quarter-of-a-million dollar cars financed with optimism and probably a bit of stupidity. Because of the stress, many of these guys and gals had serious medical issues by the time they hit their early 40s.
Some of these “successful’ people didn’t have good relationships with their kids because they were too busy working to pay bills they probably shouldn’t have incurred in the first place, or too busy playing the part of the fancy pants executive or business person to spend time with their families. Over the years, I became convinced that for whatever reason, it was more common for someone to be overly wrapped up in the smoke and mirrors of success than to be real, to make smart decisions, and to be there when their family needed them.
By the time I got married in 1988, Mike and Joyce had become two of my best friends. Their genuine love and friendship not only means the world to me personally but also serves as an excellent example of how to respect and treat other people in business and life.
So Let’s Talk About Your Next Delivery
The next time you’re asked to take on a new client or participate in a new project, how will you handle the decision-making process? Will you jump at the “opportunity” and push everything else to the side or, will you manage the matter and plan your delivery route like a seasoned milkman?
Here’s what I do.
Every single time I’m presented with a new business or speaking opportunity that’s going to take up a great deal of my time and effort, I look over at the family pictures on the credenza in my office and then ask myself, what would Mike the Milkman do? Here are the questions he’d want me to ask myself:
Will the decision I’m about to make detrimentally affect my health or ability to stay healthy and manage stress?
Will the decision I’m being asked to make result in me taking an unreasonable amount of time away from my family?
Is this the best use of my professional time? If I say yes to this new client or business opportunity, will it add value, help others and also help me achieve my long-term goals?
I understand that sometimes in life we all sacrifice our health or family time to make ends meet and to provide for those we care about. Early in my career, I had a few all-nighters at the office working on pleadings and appellate briefs; I get it. We all do what needs to be done.
But here’s the deal; breaking away from Mike’s three keys should be the exception and not the norm. As Rabbi Harold Kushner once famously observed, “Nobody on their deathbed has ever said, ‘I wish I had spent more time at the office.”
Practice “Mike the Milkman’s 3 Keys to Success,” and I guarantee that both you and your family will be glad you did.
Mitch Jackson is an award winning 2013 California Litigation Lawyer and 2009 Orange County California Trial Lawyer of the Year. He enjoys applying three decades of experience helping clients harmed by the wrongdoing of others. Recently, he’s expanded his practice to assist and add value to clients doing the digital dance at the intersection of law, business and technology relating to web3, the metaverse and AI.