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Leaving An Empire To Pursue Your Dream
Sean: Hey guys, what is happening? Sean here and welcome back to Leadership Stack tonight. We have Mr. Jeff Nischwitz and I’m super excited to learn from this guy. Guess what? I guested in his show as well, but I think you’d learn more from him than he would learn from me. He has had a very colorful career starting as a lawyer.
And now he is a coach, a serial entrepreneur, and the things that we would learn from him would be real stuff, based on his journey. Not just his expertise, not just being a coach or consultant, but this is real stuff because he started as an entrepreneur, as a lawyer and being a lawyer, you have to sell yourself, you have to sell your services.
It’s different. And so I’m so excited to bring Mr. Jeff Nischwitz. Jeff, thank you so much for being here today.
Jeff: Hey, Sean, it’s great to be here. I’m excited about this conversation and I’m sorry, Sean. I’m not buying it. They’re going to learn more from me than you because you were, your conversation was Epic.
We’ve been sharing it with so many people.
Sean: Jeff, I want to know your story from being a lawyer, which a lot of people aspire to be. They go through lengths and mountains to be a lawyer. And now you’re a serial entrepreneur. And tell me, are you still practicing law?
Jeff: No, I am what I call a fully recovered ex lawyer.
For years, for years, I said I was recovering and now I am fully recovered. I’ve been, I did it for 17 years. I’ve been out for 19 years. So I have crossed over to the former attorney status.
Sean: Wow. So what happened in between? Tell us about those 17 years and then tell us about the 19 years.
Jeff: You’re right. You used the word aspiring, you know, people aspire to be a lawyer and that’s absolutely what it was for me.
I guess ultimately one of the problems, if I re or unpacked my life is I had a reason to become a lawyer, but it wasn’t a very good one. I decided to become a lawyer when I was pretty young, like 15, 16, and even did some research about what it takes and how to get a job in a corporate law firm. But the main reason I did it is, you know, when you’re that age, you’re like, what am I going to do with my life?
I had no idea. And my mom who has since passed, but my mom used to say, you know, Jeff, you should be a lawyer because you love to argue and you’re really good at it. I think back on that and say, well, if that’s true, then all teenagers should probably be lawyers because most teenagers like to argue, maybe I was good at it, but that was so real as a motivator. Because probably five years into practicing law my mom sent me a letter and said, “I really hope you like what you’re doing, because I know that me saying that had an impact on you deciding to be a lawyer.”
So I never really understood what lawyers were. I mean, I sorta knew what they did, but I didn’t know what they were about. And so what happened was I laid it out, man.
That was an example early in my life to figure out the plan, execute the plan. And I had a goal to be a partner in a corporate law firm. And I went to law school, did really well, got the job. And eight years into it, I became a partner at a corporate law firm. I was 33 years old and had achieved my life’s goal.
Like nailed it. I mean I nailed it. I had a high paying job, was married, you know, all that, you know, house, kids. And, but that’s what I started to ask the question like, what’s next? Because I achieved my goal. And so I needed a minimum, a new goal and I looked around the very big firm. And I said, what I concluded I wanted was I wanted to be in leadership.
I really felt called to leadership. I just did. I felt like I had unique perspectives. But I took a look at them, they were run by a committee with a managing partner and I looked at who was on that committee. And I said, I’ll never get in that room because I realized that the firm leadership saw me as unusual.
Let’s call it odd and not in a personal way, but professionally, they used to say, I asked too many questions and I would say, isn’t that the idea? And they say, no, it’s actually not, you’re pain. Because you know, and here’s, what’s really interesting. I don’t know where this came from. I suspect it came from my dad who was an entrepreneur.
One thing that sticks out of that time was in leadership or the leadership perspective, people at the firm regularly said to me, why do you spend so much time with the staff? I ended up marrying a legal secretary at the firm. And I said, well, because they’re great people. And I realized that they saw themselves as different from the staff.
And they saw themselves as in many ways, better than the staff when I didn’t. And so early in my career, I was a guy that treated everybody with dignity and respect, which I think is frankly, the heart of leadership. And so as a result, I said, well, if they’re not going to let me in the room, I’ll go create my own room.
And I left and started my own firm. And. Did that for seven years on my own, 10 years at a big firm, seven years on my own building an awesome firm, we had a great team, great people. I was very committed to building that from like a business versus a firm. And we built this amazing firm and it was rocking.
And then I was running the firm and I was bringing in clients just like you said, and I was doing the work building the team. I was doing it all. And I had a life to make it, I mean, I had achieved Nirvana for lawyers. Cause I had a life. Most lawyers work too hard. This is the life you just go. I nailed it.
Except when I had nailed it, I started to think about what I was doing and realized I didn’t actually like practicing law. I loved the business, but I didn’t love practicing law. And it was a challenging decision, but it wasn’t a hard decision because I knew that I couldn’t do something I didn’t love.
And I quit. I walked away from all of it.
Sean: There are entrepreneurs who have come to that position. And I would say, I personally have thought about how I’m going to be doing the passing of the baton to who’s going to be running SEO-hacker next. And I wonder how you did that with your, your own firm.
Because you don’t just dissolve a law firm. There has to be some things that you’ve done. Can you share that with us?
Jeff: You know, Sean, I’d love to tell you that I did it well. I will tell you that I was very thoughtful about it and it didn’t work. The couple of things that I did well or intentionally was, had really empowered our team throughout the seven years.
And one thing that I know is true is that in a law firm, especially that size we were at our largest, we had maybe 20-25 people, 13 or 14 lawyers is to make sure that the firm wasn’t dependent on a couple people for clients. The intention was good. The outcome wasn’t what we wanted it to be because the firm was still very dependent on the three partners.
Now one thing I did to try and ease the transition, you know, I’ll tell you, I went to my partners when this all happened, I went to my partners and stuff. Things are working, but I’m not happy. I want to figure out a way that I can continue to run the firm, bring them clients, but practice law less. If I can do that, I’m in and they couldn’t see it.
I mean, they understood it, but that was just so foreign to them, that it was very clear I wasn’t going to be able to get their help to make it happen. Well, I did a very slow exit. You know, they made a decision. I was leaving and I did not leave right away. I left about seven months later and man, did I work hard that seven months.
So I was doing everything I could, you know, in the entrepreneurial journey, you don’t know what’s going to happen. So I made a decision. I announced I was leaving and said, may, I’m going to leave at the end of the year, December 31st. And in September of that same year, one of the other three partners came to us and had been offered the opportunity to go in-house at one of our clients.
It was going to get stock, which proved to be a great deal for him. They’ve been, you know, they’ve been sold and funded three or four times since, you know, financially, it was a boon for him and his family, but he left with about three weeks notice. So we had two partners. Out of three who left the firm within four months and you know, the firm continued, but the firm was never the same.
That was a devastating blow. And I said a moment ago, it was an easy decision because it was the right decision, but it was the most difficult decision I’ve ever made because I knew that the livelihood of the firm would be at risk without me, because I was bringing in a lot of business and I was the leader.
And there was a point probably the most difficult decision point was, do I do what’s best for everyone else? Or I do what’s best for me? And in saying that that certainly can sound selfish. And I would say what it was very self focused and realizing I was not willing to do something that I not only didn’t love.I really didn’t like it.
I wasn’t willing to sacrifice myself for the firm, but I knew people were depending on me. So when people say it must’ve been hard to stop being a lawyer, I said, no. What was really hard was to walk away from something I had created. And to know that me doing that, puts people and the business at risk. But I do believe people have to do what’s right for them, because if I don’t do what’s right for me, I can’t be the leader.
I go to work every day and say, okay, two thirds of the day I spent doing something I hate. One-third of the day. I got to have fun. That’s not a life. That part was a hard decision.
Sean: I remember the quote in it was “The Dark Knight?” “You live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” And if you go to work everyday with that kind of mindset, it’s just difficult to still be the hero and still be the leader that you were when you started.
So a lot of leadership lessons already, from what you mentioned, from that story alone. A lot of people are also wondering the same about the same – maybe they’re in the same boat, struggling to find out if I should do what’s right for me, or like a lot of entrepreneurs where we’re kind of cursed with that.
We think about the people. Thinking about what’s good for everyone. It’s both a blessing and a curse. But it’s a curse when you come to that crossroads where you want to do something for yourself, what happened in between after the 17 years? How did you decide that this is what I wanted to do?
Jeff: That was, that’s been definitely a journey.
One of the most important lessons I took from that change. Because what other people perceive as difficult? It actually wasn’t for me, but it can be is, you know, I had gone down this road a long way. You know, I had gone to college. I had gone to three years of law school. I had invested, you know, a lot of time in education.
I had a self identity and another identity. Like people saw me as a lawyer and it became part of my identity. And now I’ve done it for 17 years. So I’m way down this road. And a lot of people perceive that it’s almost like if I’ve gone down this road way over here, I’m gesturing like this my hands way apart that I’m trapped over here.
Like, I don’t know how to do anything else. I don’t know how to get over here. I don’t have, I don’t know who I am without this. And I think a lot of times entrepreneurs get stuck. I’ve come so far down this road that I have to stay on this road. Okay. I can’t create a new road. The reality is we all can, we are brilliant human beings.
We can. The question is, are we willing to do what it takes to do it? That’s the only question. We all can do it. Are we willing to do what it takes? And the other thing I would share, it was a very personal lesson is I was married at the time. And when I left the big law firm, you know, that had a lot of security.
I mean, I’m a partner. I have an income that’s, I’m locked in security wise. And when I started my own shop, I mean, I left him literally. It was just me in the beginning until I formed the firm, my wife, that didn’t, that didn’t really phase her. And we didn’t talk about it a lot. It was just like, this is what I’m going to do.
Great. How about it? But when I quit being a lawyer, we have the same minimal amount of conversation because to me, it’s like, to me, I’ve just changed again. Apparently not with her. And late in the process I learned, she shared with me, she was freaked out because she had the same thing. She had been down this road with me.
She saw me as the lawyer. And so for her, it wasn’t just the unknown. It was the fact that she was caught on that road. And now we’re going to change highways that freaked her out. And so the lesson I learned is more communication. When you’re making a big change and that’s the same thing I apply in business and I encourage other leaders to do in their business.
If you’re going to make changes, you have to communicate more, especially big changes. Don’t assume everybody’s okay with it. Understand that people have their own attachments to the way things are. So amp up the communication. Don’t assume everybody’s good with it because you are. I wanted to share that because that was such an informative time in my life.
That has continued to inform what I do today. That’s awesome.
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