In today’s episode we’re sharing a presentation from MacLawCon 2020. Our originally scheduled MaxLawCon 2020 speaker Christopher Nicolaysen presented LIVE to the Maximum Lawyer Guild community and today we share his talk: 7 Life Lessons From Failures to Success.
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Transcript: “7 Life Lessons From Failures to Success” with Christopher Nicolaysen
Run your law firm the right way. This is the maximum liar, podcast, podcast, your hosts, Jim hacking and Tyson metrics. Let’s partner up and maximize your firm. Welcome to the show.
In today’s episode, we’re sharing a presentation from Max law con 2020. Our originally scheduled Max law con speaker Christopher nicolaysen, presented live to the maximum lawyer guild community. And today we share his top seven life lessons from failures to successes. Let’s get to
it. So yeah, my name is Chris nicolaysen. I’m a partner at springs Law Group here in Colorado Springs, Colorado. We’ve been out on business for about three years, happily married to Gretchen, who I would say runs the firm runs me and Jake, my partner kind of tells us what to do. And then we’ve got two adult children that are 21 and 23, Sydney and Megan, Sydney’s getting married, was supposed to be married in April getting married in July now. And then Megan is headed off to Louisville law school in the fall either in person or virtually, but one way or another, she’ll be living on livable in the fall. And so today I’d like to give a talk on originally it was just going to be solely on, you know, finding your way to success through failing but decided with a teacher background too. So I have seven lessons that I want to share today. Seven life lessons from failures to success. And hopefully you guys pay attention to each of these lessons, because there could be a pop quiz at the end hotshot. So we want to make sure that everybody’s paying attention here. So lesson one, for me, it’s kind of the first one is don’t let your past define you. And the reality here for me on this one is from where I came from. And so my past growing up, I’m the oldest of four kids, I grew up in a small town in Ohio, which actually took two small towns together of about 80 kids in my graduating class, and my parents were both blue collar or, you know, like us even less than blue collar shades of blue collar workers. My dad worked at a Radio Shack growing up, my mom worked little bar, and drank a lot of the profit toy. So both my parents are, I think at the time were functioning alcoholics, these days, I don’t know how much they’re actually functioning anymore. You know, that’s kind of where they’re at. My mother did not graduate high school, she dropped out at 11th grade, my dad has a couple of years of BowTech. And then as the oldest of four, I’m the only one with any, any college at all. And so we grew up poor. And whenever I say we grew up poor, we grew up, like really poor. My dad talked to me once where he goes, remember that time that all we had to eat was a bag of chips for the entire week. And I literally have no idea what he’s talking about. But luckily, that’s something that’s probably a good therapist to help me get through or something like that. And so with my parents, it was a lot of alcohol, a lot of drugs, drugs around the kids, things like that we lived out on a farm, even though we weren’t farmers just so my dad could grows on weed at the time and weed was very, very faux pas, like where I’m at now, which is so profitable. And then the other interesting thing is too, as we had as the oldest, they had to lay a standard or setup because I was the oldest and they have to draw certain lines in the sand. And so there was a point whenever I was 17, where my mom, we were standing in the kitchen, and my mom looked at me and my dad, and she said, Hey, let’s see their hammer me that goes. And so my dad looked at me and he goes, select, you got two weeks to get out. And I was I think I still have about two weeks of school left. So I finished those up, and then I left. So the reality is, is from where I’m at today, I listen to all these motivational speaker speeches where people say, you know, I should not be here today or, and you know, so for me, that’s true. I truly should not be where I am today because there’s the foundation wasn’t ever there. And so for those of you out there that might have, you know, kind of grown up in that sense or kind of had those issues in the past to I don’t have that structure in place to really get me to where I’m at today. And so one thing to think about is is you know, how’d you get where you are today, and things like that. And so how did you kind of keep pushing forward? What were those things? And we’ll talk about that in some other lessons. So lesson one is don’t let your past define you. It does not define who you are, and it doesn’t kind of you know, and you can make changes to it. So let’s talk for a minute now about lesson two. So lesson two, is Lesson Two is not all advice is good at FEIS. So like I said is my, my mom did not have a high school education. And it’s one of those interesting things where she, she wants to give me a piece of advice where she goes, I don’t care what you do for a living, so long as you’re happy. Well, that sounds very nice. But the thing I’ve learned as a parent myself, and after talking to therapists and other things like that is that has its fluff that’s like cotton candy language to our kids and to to others. So not all advice is good advice, because that was advice, but it didn’t have any meat to edit didn’t have any traction. And so, so it’s one of those things that I’ve thought about too quite a bit lately as as we’re going in, through Max law, as we’re talking to mentors, as we’re getting all of these ideas passed back and forth to us. You know, maybe that advice that that person is giving you worked for them at that point in time, but it may not work for you. And so definitely take each piece of advice that you get in your life with a grain of salt, because I kept for a long time searching for that one thing that would just make me happy in my career. And and that will lead me to prong or to lesson three, which Lesson three is one where it’s interesting because having no direction from my one of my kids call us sometimes they call us parental units. So having no direction from my rental units, I had to figure out what to do. So I had to do something. So what I did is I fell in love with a girl and chased her all the way across the country. And then I ended up moving to Idaho. And I got a job and I got a job in retail. And then after she was done with college, we moved down to Las Vegas. And I kept working in retail. And I worked and I waited tables and my remember in the bar application where you have to fill out your job history. We’ve all been there and done that my job history was over five pages long. So I’ve done and I’ve talked to Jim and Tyson about this. I’ve worked at it within retail I’ve worked you know it kind of cool at Caesar’s Palace. I’ve worked at RadioShack. I’ve worked at Banana Republic in Vegas, or at the Venetian. And fun fact there is Dave from the killers was my stock guy at the time. And then I was friends with Ronnie the drummer, who’s a rickshaw driver, which is super exciting. But I think that’s just it, though. So if you’re not given a path, you’ve got to do something because it’s that idea with a lot of type A attorneys where you end up without analysis by paralysis. So if you’re just trying to analyze the perfect thing that’s going to make you happy in a career standpoint, and you’re not doing anything, you’ve got to get out there and keep trying shit. And so it’s one of those things where you do you’ve got to go out you got to try shit. So I tried everything. So when we were in Vegas, we were there for a few years. And then we moved to Portland, Oregon, and I managed a Mervyn’s, which was like Kohl’s before Kohl’s. And then I moved to Long Island, New York, which, and then managed to Qatar and bookstore out there. And then in I actually worked at a Wendy’s for one day out in Qatar, or out in Long Island. And so it’s like one of those things where I keep on going and keep trying to find things. All that time I had gotten an undergrad in communications. And I thought that that was going to be it because I was the first one to get a degree. And I’m like, dude, once I get this bachelor’s degree, my life is gonna be set. And I ended up working at this at the ABC affiliate in Vegas. And I worked there for about a year and it was hands down the most fun job I ever had, where I was the nighttime audio guy, morning camera, I was doing editing. But I was making nine bucks an hour or what two kids and so I had to go back into retail. And so I think you’ve got to keep going. And then so what happens then is I ended up reading Dan Miller’s book 48 days, so the work you love, because I’m like, That thing’s gotta be out there. Right? It’s that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You know, maybe a red herring. I’m not sure what it is. But um, but the biggest thing is as I kept searching and trying to find it, so when I was in Vegas doing retail, I ended up substitute teaching for a while. And so I’m like, this has got to be the thing. You know, I enjoy teaching, tried middle school once, not for me. Then kids turn into aliens for that period. And then they come back after high school, some high school a few times, but primarily Elementary was where I felt like my column was so did that and I was like, I gotta go, you’re my teaching license. And so ended up getting an opportunity to come up to Colorado Springs. My brother in law owns a dry cleaner here had read some books about how dry cleaners can withstand any economy. So Oh, what the hell let’s try that too. Did that for about a year because he just gave us a dry cleaner and goes run it. I’m not really you know, giving you a lot more than that figured out because that’s how I figured out how I did it. So we did that for about a year. And then I went managed Pottery Barn we finally got our teaching
our teaching licenses. And so I went and taught it all What’s interesting is that I did just like a good future lawyer did a lot of research on really good teachers. So I looked up like Ron Clark, and I’m reading his books and Rafe Esquith and, and just trying to get really inspired and jacked by these great teachers, and that are just motivating their classes. So I was excited. And then I go into teach in this poverty stricken district out here and find out that it’s not about the kids. But it’s actually more about the test scores, which is unfortunate. And it’s tough. And I because you foolish me, again, as I’m going through doing something I’m trying to figure out, you know, that I should be in this group where there’s a bunch of educated people, everybody’s got bachelor’s, and Master’s, or what have you. And I’m like, this is going to be awesome. For the first time in my life, I’m going to be around a bunch of, you know, super smart people. Well, it didn’t really work out that way. So, so I kept doing something. And so the reality is, is the question here is, are you willing to do what it takes to succeed and to keep finding out and to get on your path. And then what’s interesting then is Lesson four actually talks about how the reality is, though, is, even though you think you might have found your path, maybe it’s not actually the path you should be on. And so you will end up getting knocked down. But you have to get back up, you have to, because you’re gonna get knocked down, over and over and over again. And so what happens then is, is three now two years into teaching, Gretchen and I were teaching at the same school, we had just bought a house down here, life is good. Everything’s, you know, going along, okay. And then we’re both told, Hey, you’re non renewed. This is like, I think a month after we had bought and signed on the house, and we’re like, shit, what are we going to do? So now we’ve got this, like, back against the wall moment where I’m like, crap, so we get non renewed by the principal. And then I’m sitting at a stoplight, and I just, I lose my ship, like, I just break down and I start crying. And I’m like, what? Like, what are what’s gonna, what are we going to do? And at that time, I was 35. And we had friends that were very well off that were doctors, anesthesiologist, you know, orthodontists, and Adonis, what have you. And I’m like, okay, maybe I could go that route. But I’m getting a little and I need to be on a faster trajectory, because my kids were in middle school at the time. And so I’m like, we need to kind of move things, my path has to be a little bit faster. So I’m like, why not law school, which every normal sane person would think about doing at that point, right. And so I, so this, so I’d say fine. I’m going to do it. I mean, for people that know me, whenever I kind of, when an idea comes and I say I’m gonna do it. I’m just full bore. Let’s go for it. And at the time, so I luckily I had a backup job because I was waiting tables at Corollas. And I talked to a friend of mine, who was a he was a writer. He lived in Russia for a while, and I’m like, Yeah, I’m going to take the LSAT. He’s like, Yeah, sounds fine. I’ll do it, too. I’m like, Okay. And so we take the LSAT together, he scores five points higher than me, because I’m like, this is the thing I got to do, right? This is it. And he’s just doing it for a whim. And I’m like, What the hell? And then so I ended up my first time on my LSAT, I get I get a 145. And as I’ve done, I tell him, I’m like, Yeah, I’m gonna take it again. He’s like, Yeah, I’ll take it again. And so he takes it again with me, and I’m like, shit. And so he does it again. And he scores better again. And I’m like, Oh, crap. So I end up going to get on 145 and 150 on the outset. So obviously, my dreams are going to Harvard or Yale or squash right away, or even the local university. So I applied to University of Denver, which is about an hour hour and a half drive from where we’re at. But and then I applied to their night program. So a part time Life program. So I’m like, I need to be realistic about getting in. But and then in figure it out, and I applied to a bunch of other smaller schools throughout the country. And the interesting thing is, is my friend actually got into Denver full time program, and I got rejected. And so I’m looking on shut well, that sucks. And there’s, you know, so kind of whenever I talk about failures, this whole next part is just going to be a nice doozy of getting knocked down and get back up again. And so I ended up getting into Toledo. And the crazy thing is, is Gretchen looks at me, and she’s like, there is no way in hell, I’m talking to girls, back, Ohio, no way. And so they dragged me out there, and I go to Toledo for a year. So I leave my wife and kids, and then stay here. And the interesting thing about that is is Plato is better than what I remembered as a kid growing up. But it was hard. I am somebody that I’m an auditory learner. And so I hadn’t read that kind of dense, you know, those dense books ever. And I remember like reading cases, and I’d read over and over again, isolated, and then I’m out there and I’m just like, shit on what to do. And so I’m taking the first year classes out there at Denver. And the interesting thing is, is that I get my first break back is legal writing. And I do well. And I do. And the professor asked me, she’s like, Hey, you know you’re taught, we’d like to have you be the one next year who heads up
is the TA. So my grades, and then I start getting my grades and in from torts and contracts and everything else, and they’re like, C’s and B’s, and I’m like, shit. I’m like, maybe the writing thing was a misnomer. I don’t know. But the interesting thing then is I told and I told myself the whole time is I got to do well enough, this first year, my while there’s a lot of pressure to do well enough to actually get back to Colorado, and be able to transfer and which was the goal, right? So it’s, how well can I do so I, I became really good friends with a girl who, and we’re still friends today, she booked most of the classes that we that we were in together. And she goes, Just study with me study at all. And so we did. And the interesting thing is, so she had this philosophy, like two weeks out before finals, she’s like, I’m done reading. She’s like, so I’m not gonna read any more. I’m not doing I’m just, I’m gonna study for the final and I’m not gonna read and I’m like, Okay, I’ll follow you. Because you did well before. And so in contracts, one really like thing that hit home was as I’m like, I’m not reading, I’m just going to pass he it was a large class. And he Professor ends up going row by row, person by person asking them to do the Socratic. At that point, you knew your turn was coming. And so I had a friend that I sat next to, and I’m like, Hey, are you ready for today? He’s like, No way, how he’s like, I’m not ready at all. He’s like, I plan on passing, like me, too, because I’m studying with Sarah. And we’re not doing that. So he calls me up. And he goes, You know, it’s way down at the bottom, and I’m a little bit higher, and he’s like, and Mr. nicolaysen, you ready for the case? And I goes, and I’m like, I pass, he’s like, you pass fine. And he goes, I’d like everybody. So we got like, 150 people in that class, he goes, I’d like everybody to turn around right now. And see what a failure looks like, for passing. And that shit. Like, just killed me. But I knew that the end goal, though, was better, you know, it was the right thing to do. Because I’m following the path of what my friend was doing. And it’s, it’s not about him, that failure piece right there. But there’s something about it, that that’s still that just don’t hits me. But then I look over my friend, and I’m waiting for him to say pass. And he goes, and Mr. Leonard, you ready? He’s like, Absolutely, man, I’m ready to go. Courtyard, you know. And so it was just, it was a, it’s a to me, that’s a failure story, we got to get back up and keep on going. So the interesting thing is that I actually end up doing better I think I got a C plus person that’s trying to put the B plus second semester, because we did a two semester split on contracts. So failure or not, I still did better in the long run, I believe that professor and I are friends on Facebook now and things like that. So you know, so you get knocked down, and you keep getting back up. So what happens then is I end up, come back to Ohio, or to Colorado after my first year. And Gretchen and I are like, we gotta get into do boulders too far away. And it’s too hard to get into. So we gotta get in. So I applied to get in. And I get rejected. And I’m like, crap, what am I going to do? Because Gretchen’s like, we are not moving to Ohio. Now. We’re not doing it. And so I was working for a gentleman that at a law firm, who’s a former lieutenant colonel, and his wife was there. And she’s like, well, you want to be a lawyer, don’t you? I’m like, Sure. And she goes, appeal it. She goes, fight it. So I did. And I went up, and I met with the Dean of Admissions and got in. And my boss at the time, he was an alumni, and he wrote me a letter and he says, he’s like, you’re still the, you know, he’s like, I’m the reason you got in. I’m like, I don’t really give a shit why I got in, but I got. So rejection there. And then finally success and from getting back up. So then I go, and I ended up through law school, I do, I do well, in CS, C’s get degrees, but hopefully I’m making a decent amount of money someday. And, and the interesting thing there is, is I know the material, but I’m not the greatest test taker in the world, at least at that point, I wasn’t. So I take the MPRA, the ethics exam, I consider myself a fairly ethical person, and I fail it. And I was like, shit, so I fail that and then I retake it, and I pass. So then I graduate, and I’m 38 years old. And I take the bar exam in July. And we end up you know, and I’m doing my study, and I’m traveling back and forth, paying all the money for the classes, what have you, and then I end up coming back. You know, we take the bar up in Denver for two days. And then I get my results. And on October 10th, which was my daughter’s birthday, my oldest daughter’s birthday. And it it was her 17th birthday that year. And so I’m like great results are coming and not so great. I fail. And what’s interesting And in Colorado, in Sydney, my eldest daughter, she looks at me that day. And she goes, Well, that’s the worst birthday ever had. Because you fail. And I go, Well, you know, it was pretty shitty for me too. And so it’s like, well, what do you do? You know, but in Colorado, when you get your letter that says you fail, they actually put the word fail in all caps. And I, I got, I still got those, because after that, I told myself, I’m going to retake it again. But I’m going to do it differently. And I ended up doing and when they talked to people about doing 3000, multiple choice or things like that, I ended up doing well over that, and ended up crushing it the next time. But what’s interesting too, is when you pass the bar exam, they don’t put pass in all caps. It’s just a nice little word pass. It’s like you got to celebrate that show, that should be all caps not to fail. But so the reality is, is that journey, taught me a lot of resilience. And, you know, I know that there are plenty of people that book wise things like that are much, much smarter than I am. But you have to be willing to take the hits, and get back up. You know, there’s a, I’m a sucker for motivational videos and talks and things like that. And there’s that rocky speech that he gives to Assad, where he got to be able to take the hits, and keep getting up over and over again. And so so for me, the question I got for everybody in this one, the next day comes, and this is a hit right now, for most of us is COVID. Are you going to be ready to get back up? Because one thing I was telling Becky and before we got on is, is yeah, the talk maybe seven lessons from failure successes. But after that, and even the way I grew up, is the reality is that covenant Gosh, shit on me. Because there’s literally nothing that could happen, where I’m like, it’s all it will all work out. Things are hard right now, for everybody. But it’s all gonna work. And why? Because I’m gonna make it work. I mean, that’s just it. So I think you’ve got to have that mentality. So then let’s talk less than five. Okay, so the reality here is too as, for a lot of us, we’re the ones that go through law school, we get the degrees, you know, we can’t really relate to people that don’t go through that experience, or things like that. But for all of us, we just, you can’t do it alone. And you have to understand that if you are somebody that thinks for one minute, that you can get through this, that you can become successful, that you can kind of crush competition or do any of those things alone, I think you’re insane. And for me, that all started way back in the beginning, almost, you know, a little over 23, probably 25 years ago. Now, when I met my wife, for those of you that know her, I mean, you’ve got to understand that she is she’s a powerhouse. And she’s a driving force for somebody who, you know, a guy with parents without a lot of direction, that really helps provide that, and she’s a rock, and you have to constantly if you have those people that are rocks in your life, you got to tell them. So for me, it’s you know, Gretchen to my kids. You know, we are we’ve raised two daughters that are you know, we really want strong, independent women. And most of you, man, if you’ve met them, they don’t put up with a lot of shit, because they’re actually just a lot like your mom. And then you gotta have the right friends. You know, you’ve got to situate yourself around the right people. I mean, I remember I sit and I play fantasy football with way back in the day whenever you write it out with waiters that I waited tables with. And this one dudes talking about committing check fraud back then everybody’s just getting wasted going out bowling. Well, you got to change your friendship sometimes, and figure out and put yourself around people that are actually going to lift you off a little bit. Such as, you know, the people I’m with here today. And the other thing too, that you’ve got to be is if you can’t do it alone, it means that there’s really no i for all of us that are business owners and things like that. I think there’s an injustice done when a business owner uses the term I or my my case, my dentists sure it may be your name on the case. And it may be that but ultimately it’s a team of people pushing together to help you get that result and to help that client get that result for whatever airy practice you’re practicing. I am a team first springs Law Group is pushing forward springs law group as well as helping, you know because I just because I’m the guy that shows up at the court to help that person with their custody case or with their injury case. i It doesn’t mean I did everything not even close I didn’t do shit compared to what the back back back staff is doing. And so I think it’s really really important to have some some perspective on that and understand that it’s not just you, you don’t you know, and so I’m a big believer to the good leaders, you know, you don’t take the glory, but you definitely take you take the shit and the crap that goes along with being a good leader. So the question to here is, is definitely who is your team and how to celebrate them, and then Salah Some six is one that I learned, you know, I have this, like my spidey sense, I guess, is my uncanny ability to let shit go. So the reality is, is, I think we have to develop a thick skin, but through my life, probably whenever I was in my mid 20s, I could not take constructive criticism for anything from anyone. I’d have my boss at Banana Republic come and tell me, you know, I didn’t fold the jeans wall correctly. And I would get so pissed. I would go home and just rant and rave. But then something clicked along the way where, you know, you really do I think you’ve got to let things go. You know, and it’s, I used to have this friend back at the amusement park I worked at where her see her favorite saying it was fun to dumb shit. And the reality is you do you just have to learn to talk the dumb shit. You know, I get it as, as attorneys, we want to be able to control every little thing. But I think if you do that, you’re gonna drive yourself insane. So you got to get rid of negative people, turn off the news, get rid of bad influences in your life. The interesting thing is, I listened to Kevin Hart’s book a while back. And if you haven’t checked it out, he’s got this, this method that he calls the shrug up method where he basically is a kid, he was made fun of because of his size, because of how short he is. And he goes, he’s like, but I had to ultimately develop this thing. So what I do is somebody’s happened on me about my size, I just go, and then I move on. So I give them a shrug. And that’s all I’m giving them. And then I then I’m able to move on. And I think in this day and age, you know, with all the stresses and everything else we’re going through, we could rack our brains every day about how to be stressed. Not every little thing. But sometimes you got to let you go, you know, my wife, and kids would tell you I do I’ve got to maybe to a fault of letting things go too much. And you know, but it’s I think it’s helped me in life kind of just remain pretty Zen, and pretty relaxed. And then lesson seven, or my my last lesson is to make sure, I think it’s important that we all take time to reflect. And, and what I mean by that is it’s super important to, to take time to step back, look at where we’ve come from, and look at where you are today. Because we’re so busy looking forward. I don’t have x i don’t have this. I’m not where I want to be yet. But it’s super important to step back. And for me, you know, I pulled this quote from the UN, if everybody’s listening right now the world series champion, manager of the Washington Nationals right now, David Martinez said, he goes, I can say this, and this is right after they won the series, he goes, I can say this often bumpy roads lead to beautiful places. And this is a beautiful place. And it’s interesting, we were crashing, I went to Hawaii right before the world closed down for John’s mass John Fisher’s mastermind. And there were moments whenever we were there, or were both just stopped and looked at each other. Holy cow, we should not like we’re here, we’re like, you’ve got to enjoy those moments. Like these are like mine movies or snapshots that you got to take. And kind of just I think you have to step back, you know, the, the fact that I think each day that you can wake up and you’re not, I don’t know, not living in my parents house right now is pretty damn good. And so it’s one of those things where I tell you looking where I’ve come from, you know, obviously my It’s everybody’s got their own individual perspective. But, and if you think you’ve got to have those things in life that kind of push you a little bit and put your back against the wall. So you have something to look back on too. And you know, part of it is is there’s a there’s a good talk by the rock that he gets to the Lakers, where he talks about why I named this company what he did, and putting his back against the wall, things like that. But he’s like, I never forget the point where I had $7 in my pocket. And that’s why my company is saying that he’s like, but look at him today. I mean, he should be just sad, but he’s like, I gotta keep remembering that. So it makes me appreciate where I am today. And so for me, it’s the that’s really I think what we’ve, you know, it’s important, as we’re all striving, we’re all trying to get better. Take a moment to step back and really celebrate and appreciate where you are. And if you don’t have the ability to do that yourself. Find somebody that will do it for you. You know, we’ve hired a coach Melissa Shanahan, who is phenomenally good at making us step back and celebrate our wins. It’s so important, you know, each each quarter, she’s like, You got to celebrate your wins, too. And she’s got that personality where you’re just like, she makes me want to be happier and kind of get balloons and do all these things. Because it’s just, it’s a really exciting piece when and she goes it is a big deal. Because even though we’re like we haven’t gotten where we want to be yet, but she’s like it’s a big deal on what you’ve done so far. And so I do think it’s important there. So, not to disappoint seven there won’t be a pop quiz, but, but the reality is, is that those are my seven lessons from failures to success, and I appreciate everybody taking a few minutes to listen.