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Winning Thoughts from Ben Stein
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When you hear the name “Ben Stein,” what is the first thing that pops into your mind? “Anyone? Anyone?” Perhaps it is his historic movie-magic moment in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or his six-time Daytime Emmy Award-winning game show Win Ben Stein’s Money. However, ladies and gentlemen, Ben Stein is much, much more than just “the Clear Eyes guy.” In fact, acting is only a small part of what defines the real Ben Stein.

After graduating with honors from Columbia University in economics and as valedictorian from Yale Law School, Stein launched a phenomenal and unbelievably diverse career that has taken him from the White House to the Big Apple to Hollywood. Despite a few bumps in his path, including a stint with drugs and his divorce from and reconciliation with his wife, Stein has overcome, achieving a multitude of life goals.

Although Stein has not practiced law for years and does not plan on doing so again, he believes, and exemplifies, that law graduates, in addition to being prepared to practice law, have a myriad of options available to them when it comes to making career choices. The talent and skill that one needs to become a successful lawyer can take young and eager professionals many places far beyond the courtroom. Fully embracing the road less traveled, Stein has responded to a continual hunger for exploring uncharted territory, demonstrating that bookworms and wallflowers can unleash their personal and professional capacities to blend their smarts with witty, clever, and outspoken ideas.

  
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Stein attended Yale Law School during the late 1960s, right when the Vietnam War was inspiring the rebellious behavior that his generation is known for—and the campus at Yale University was not exempt from being influenced by the spirit of the times. When asked about his experience at Yale Law School, Stein’s entire tone and expression brightened, illuminating his fond memories as he said, “Oh, we had fun at Yale. It was great; it was absolutely great. It was paradise there in those days.”

Professors and faculty might have referred to the late 60s as the “dark ages,” but Yale was a breeding ground for learning and expression; Stein and other students were able to freely speak their minds about the school and the world outside of it. With genius professors, such as prominent law professionals Robert Bork and Harry Wellington, Stein learned from the best and spoke out to the ones who were, well, less-than-best. “If we had professors who were great, we could appreciate and laud them, and if we had ones who we didn’t like, we could let them know of our displeasure. We could go down and demonstrate for the Black Panthers, we could smoke dope—it was great; it was absolutely great,” he reminisced.

After working as a poverty lawyer in New Haven, CT, and Washington, DC, and while working as a trial lawyer at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC, Stein had a realization: he hated what he was doing. “You have clients yelling at you, you have your bosses yelling at you, you have to work long hours, you have deadlines, you have tension, and I just don’t see what’s good about it,” said Stein. “I think there are plenty of good jobs as lawyers, but practicing law—actually having clients and practicing law—really, really stinks.” Stein acknowledges that law is one of the most basic and necessary elements of our society but encourages those with second thoughts about the field to explore alternative opportunities.

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“Please, please, please, lawyers out there, there’s a whole big world of things you can do. Your legal training has made you, presumably, a sharp, acute, analytical thinker and a good writer—use that training to do something other than be a prisoner of law,” Stein said.

Stein’s drive to venture out and strive toward self-satisfying career goals, regardless of what may stand in the way, is a wake-up call for those who settle and become stuck in the humdrum of careers they hate.





 

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