The O’Toole Chronicles: Those Life-Changing Moments

In life, as in politics, if we try hard enough, we can identify the few key decisions that led to our success or failure. Whether it’s that new job offer, buying some cryptocurrency, running out of Tesla, or taking a chance and putting your name on a ballot, we can usually focus on this handful of truly life-changing moments.

A side of annoyance. The term life changing is so overused these days. Having a child, winning the lottery, investing in high-yielding stocks, or traveling to the Vatican can all be described as life changing. Having a new flavored, low-calorie ice cream sundae, finding that lovely, smoky Chardonnay, or buying a new set of all-season tires doesn’t quite make the list of life-changing things. So let’s stop overusing the term – the rant of the day is over.

Looking back on my years, I can identify the handful of critical decisions that have been shaped by life:

  1. On a lark I applied to law school in 1986, worked two jobs throughout and borrowed every penny to fund it
  2. I ran for local elections in 1989 (won) at the age of 24, with no experience or family background in the business. I note that my ragtag campaign team ran the most aggressive campaign ever and we knocked on every door twice and won 9 of 10 electoral districts against an incumbent incumbent.
  3. I took time off as a partner at a law firm in 1994 to serve as campaign manager for a long-running campaign for county executive. We won the countywide race by 2,500 votes.
  4. I announced a candidacy for the State Assembly in 1995, even though the current incumbents telegraphed the convention for their chief of staff. We worked the county committee votes until the last vote was counted. We won by 18 votes.
  5. I announced my candidacy for a vacant (won) Senate seat in 2001, even though the district agreement called for the senator to be from Union County.
  6. I announced my candidacy for the newly opened (won) Senate seat (2007), even though the incumbent supported his supporter in a district based in Bergen. Within 48 hours of the notice, I called every county committee member and every elected official and had pledges of over 300,000 and an all-star campaign team.
  7. I decided to start my own law firm in 2008 and borrowed $500,000. I didn’t expect a recession, but we survived. The team of six lawyers in 2008 now numbers more than 60 lawyers.
  8. In early 2017, I decided to retire from the Senate, quit politics, and serve as the Port Authority’s volunteer president. Not a bad perch after retirement.
  9. After talking about it for a while, in or around March 2017, it was decided to start the law firm O’Toole Scrivo, LLC – life changing.

My only memory point today is a warning to future leaders. Be prepared to take a chance, don’t always play it safe, be decisive and have a little imagination while dreaming big. The power of positive thinking and the willingness to risk it all are two factors that made some of my decisions above possible. I find most people to be risk averse and I totally understand that. Still, if you want something life changing, put something on the line that is truly life changing and go for it with all you have. Sometimes when you spot an opportunity you need to shift the trajectory that is your life and aim for the sky. However, understand that big decisions come with big consequences and we can’t lose sight of the fact that sometimes things don’t always go as planned.

Class adjourned.

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