You can fake your way to the top but you can’t stay there

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Many years ago I knew an attorney who had everything going for him. Penthouse suite in Beverly Hills, a roster of big-name clients (including several celebrities), competent staff—the works. He drove a Rolls Royce.

Those of him in the building admired what he had accomplished. And yet, most of us didn’t like him. He was distant and looked down at those of us who didn’t have what he had.

One year later, his practice was in trouble and he went down fast.

It turned out he wasn’t the success we were lead to believe. He was living beyond his means, spending money right and left, tapping out lines of credit, borrowing from friends, and doing everything he could to keep up appearances. Finally, out of desperation, he got involved in something shady and when it came to light, everything fell apart.

What we saw as arrogance was fear run amok. He was in trouble and didn’t know what to do. He was caught up in his own Ponzi scheme and he couldn’t get out.

We all put on appearances to some extent, because of ego, because we know that success (or the appearance thereof) begets success and because we know that nobody wants to hire a broke lawyer. But most of us are grounded enough, or have enough positive influences in our lives, to keep things under control.

It’s good to aspire to great things. And we shouldn’t be afraid to take some risks. But as this cautionary tale illustrates, you can’t fake your way to the top and expect to stay there. The law (of the universe) will eventually catch up with you.

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