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The Difficulty With Taking Advice: What a Vicious Mike Tyson Knockout Can Teach Law Students

Shakespeare was onto something when he wrote in Hamlet, “this above all: to thine own self be true.” 

I have been a fan of boxing, especially heavyweight boxing, since I was 6 years old. I drive my wife crazy by watching old fights on YouTube before I go to sleep. The other night I watched a young Mike Tyson versus Marvis Frazier. It is one of the most vicious knockouts in the history of the sport. The knockout got me thinking about the story of how Marvis Frazier ended up on the canvass, knocked out cold. And of course Hamlet. And what this has to do with taking advice.

To understand how he got there, you have to understand the legend of Marvis Frazier´s father, Smokin´ Joe Frazier, one of the greatest heavyweights of all time who fought in the greatest heavyweight era of all time with Muhammad Ali. Joe Frazier was short for a heavyweight at 5´11 and had a compact, muscular built. His left arm was injured in a work accident when he was a child and was in a permanently bent position that made it ‘cocked’ to throw his most devastating punch, a left hook. Because he was a shorter heavyweight, he used his incredible upper body strength and control to bob and weave up and down to avoid his opponent´s punches while moving forward. This allowed Frazier to get close to taller heavyweights (like Muhammad Ali who was 6´3) so he could throw that left hook and punish them to the body. He is one of only three fighters to ever knock Muhammad Ali down and used this exact method to throw his best punch.

Joe Frazier trained his son Marvis to fight the same way as he did by bobbing up and down while advancing forward. The problem was that if you look at Marvis, he is built very differently than his father Joe because he is taller and leaner without the same upper body strength. When you watch Marvis in the fight against Tyson bobbing up and down, especially against a shorter fighter like Tyson, it just does not look right. You realize that this taller fighter, rather than sticking and moving away from the shorter fighter, is actually bobbing down towards the range of Mike Tyson's arms and you get the sense before the knockout that this is going to go very badly and then BANG.

So how did Marvis Frazier end up on the canvass against Mike Tyson? Simple. He copied  a style that worked for his father, but did not work for him because he and his father did not have the same strengths and characteristics.

When I started my own criminal law practice, I remember meeting with a successful lawyer and asking him how I should go about building my practice. I took him out for lunch and was wide-eyed and very excited to absorb his advice and remember it very clearly: “Just print up a bunch of business cards and start going to legal networking events and handing them out. Go for lots of coffees and lunches. Make sure people know what you are doing and the work will come.”

I greatly admire this person (and still do), so I followed his advice and started going to law events. In my first year on my own, I judged a high school mock trial, attended OBA events, Advocate´s Society events and did everything I could to put myself out there at networking opportunities as much as possible, but this method did not really work for me to build my practice.

The problem I had was similar to the one Marvis Frazier had. When I stepped back and analyzed years later, I realized that the lawyer I was taking advice from had a very outgoing and gregarious personality, much more so than I. He was also very well-connected and was able use these connections to his advantage to create lasting relationships. Of course he was successful generating relationships out of thin air at legal networking events and taking advantage of them in his career.

I, on the other hand, am by nature much more introverted than he is. The gregarious lawyer´s advice did not work for me because he and I are built differently. Even between father and son, mother and daughter, differences in personality and other characteristics can be stark. It is one of the most fascinating aspects of the human experience that people are just built very differently.

The problem for a lot of law students is that we spend a lot of time in school, but never spend any time learning about ourselves. Most people go through their entire lives without truly understanding themselves. If you are a law student and are reading this blog, it is almost certain that you have spent countless hours studying subjects that will have no application to your life or career at all. Relating to my own experience so I don´t offend anyone (heaven forfend!), I can´t believe I spent four years of my life studying business. And nine years of my life learning French (not that I do not love the French language, I just don´t speak a word of it) and three years of my life learning about Canadian geography. And so on. All of this learning often allows people to avoid the much more important questions in life like: what are my unique skills and abilities? What makes me unique as a person? What am I really interested in? Who am I at my essence? Most young lawyers and law students I talk to have never spent a moment of their lives thinking about these questions.

Once you actually understand who you are, where your interests lie and what makes you unique, you can begin to think about where your competitive advantages in the market lie and try to pursue them. 

If you never spend any time thinking about these questions, the best ideas you usually have are to copy others that you think are successful or, perhaps worse, to listen to your parents. I guess this is fine for many people or even can work in some cases, but it can also lead to a life unfulfilled or, worse, you could end up on the canvass knocked out cold, metaphorically speaking.

Smokin´ Joe Frazier is a boxing legend and one of the best heavyweights of all time. Marvis Frazier is most remembered for being on the receiving end of one of the most vicious knockouts in heavyweight history. One of the lessons of that fight is to be very careful when copying someone else and taking advice from them (including me) without taking the time to learn more about yourself. Students that take gap years or somehow take time out of the usual path of school and then career to learn about themselves will very often recount how grateful they are for the experience and how much it helped them later in life. However this is achieved, understanding yourself is a critical component of success. Without understanding yourself, you cannot put the advice of others in the proper context in order to apply it to your own circumstances. More importantly, you cannot follow the best advice of all, never so beautifully and succinctly written as it was by Shakespeare in Hamlet — this above all: to thine own self be true.




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