Welcome back to Thrillable Hours! I’ve got several great Thrillable Hours interviews lined up for the next few weeks, the first of which is with Karla Valenti. Karla reached out to me through Legal Nomads with the following message: “I stumbled upon your blog via Kristin Butler (and read the article about you on CyberPresse) and wanted to let you know how much I enjoy what you are doing. I too am a lawyer “having fun,” in my case having quit my job as a corporate attorney after five years to focus on empowering children through creativity.”
I love the fact that Karla took our common ground to reach out, and really enjoyed learning about her collaborative storytelling initiatives and aims of connecting people indefinitely without (and across) borders. With a goal of creating a global space where everyone can come together and tell stories, she’s launched in the US, Mexico and Switzerland and is looking to expand into other countries.
I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did.
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Interview with Karla Valenti
What made you decide to follow a less conventional path than typical law school graduates? Was there a particular moment that catalyzed the decision for you?
I went into law school after working in the field of cross-cultural training (and a brief stint in advertising) for a number of years. The decision was not so much driven by a desire to practice law but rather because I was eager for the intense intellectual challenge that it would represent and I saw it as a valuable opportunity to develop an important and highly-marketable skill-set. My three years of law school and five years of practice did just that and allowed me to not only develop sound critical and analytical thinking skills but also acquire invaluable knowledge and experience which have made it possible for me to take this next step in my life.
Upon graduating from law school, I worked at a large firm in Chicago and ended up specializing in transactional work; specifically, secured lending. I was surrounded by brilliant minds solving incredibly complex problems, I was mentored by remarkable people who have accomplished extraordinary things, and I was truly inspired by the caliber of the individuals with whom I had the privilege of working. That said, to the extent that my professional life was rich in intellectual and even innovative endeavors, it was also lacking in creativity and the absence of the latter began to weigh quite heavily on me. In addition, I was raising a family of 2 (soon to be 3) and the demands on my time, energy and motivations where becoming unsustainable.
The real catalyst for my shift in careers, however, was a book that I wrote for my son. I have been a storyteller my entire life and for years I had put aside all forms of creative writing. With the birth of my son, my inspiration resurfaced as did my love of fiction and the writing began to take precedence in my life again. The book I wrote hailed a new beginning for me. So, with the support and encouragement of my husband (without whom I could honestly never have pursued this new track), I shifted my focus and founded a company geared towards the development and implementation of projects design to empower children through creativity. The company is still in infancy but the first project, Rock Thoughts has taken off and been received with tremendous positive acclaim.
What do you find most fulfilling about your current job?
One of the most rewarding things that one can do is bring to life an idea. The process of ideation is a dynamic and constructive exercise. The dynamic nature of it keeps one constantly engaged while the constructive aspect ensures that one is continuously getting value from the experience. I am busier now than I was before, but I am intensely engaged and creative on a daily basis. In addition, it is a huge benefit to be able to control my time and allocate it in the most efficient manner. I am able to accomplish a lot more and feel more connected to that which I am doing at any given moment. The nature of this job also makes it very easy for me to work from home and spend time with my children. They are three of the most interesting people that I know and it is (usually) a privilege to be able to interact with them throughout the day. Moreover, the nature of the work I do allows for my children to actively participate. Not only do they serve as a great test audience but they can feel like they are supporting me in as I develop my career (something I think is invaluable for parents to enable their children to experience).
Do you have any advice for professionals who are interested in leaving private practice but concerned about what is out there?
I fully realize that the decision to leave private practice these days is a complicated one, there is not much “out there” and a highly qualified pool of candidates vying for that which is available. That said, the skills one develops as a lawyer are incredible transferable and can be applied to most anything. That gives us a huge advantage and tremendous flexibility in taking that next step.
How did your legal education inform the way you see the world today? Do you still identify yourself as a lawyer?
I was fortunate enough to go to an incredible law school where I found myself surrounded by some extraordinarily brilliant minds. It was a most humbling experience and not without its challenges (one of which was simply trying not to be overwhelmed by the sheer talent of my fellow peers). I would say that what I learned most at law school was how to think critically and analytically, how to organize my ideas and formulate my thoughts, and how to manage extreme levels of intense intellectual, physical and emotional strain (compounded by the fact that I was pregnant through my second year of law school and was raising a baby during my last year). Private practice taught me the importance of great customer service, high attention to detail and the tremendous value of networking. All of these skills served me exceedingly well during my time as a student and practicing lawyer. More importantly, however, they have been fundamental in allowing me to build a sound business and to grow beyond my legal career. To the extent that I embody the skills I have learned as a lawyer , I do still identify with that part of my life. On the flip side, I no longer think of myself as a professional in the field of legal practice.
** Says Karla, about the above rocks: “They can be adopted on the site.”
What do you see for yourself in the next five years?
I am eager to continue expanding Rock Thoughts into other countries and to use it as a way of enabling children in disempowered situations (for instance, due to poverty, disability, illness, etc) to learn how to use their creativity to transcend their challenges. Over the next few years I also hope to launch two additional projects that I am currently developing and to shape my business into a valuable resource for parents and educators around the world. Finally, I hope that my children will continue to be involved as my company grows and that they will feel a sense of pride in building something that is meaningful to them and us as a family.
What do you have to say to those who tell me lawyers can’t have fun?
There is perhaps some truth to that but, like everything, it really depends on what you are doing and why. I wouldn’t say that I had “fun” per se when I was in private practice but then again, I didn’t go into the field of work because it would be fun. I chose to practice law for the intellectual challenge that it would provide and that it delivered, in grand scale. That’s not to say that peers of mine weren’t having fun. There are many different kinds of lawyers and, more importantly, just as many different ways to employ lawyering skills. I may not be practicing secured lending law anymore but I am certainly applying my skills as a lawyer in my new endeavors and am having a tremendous amount of fun doing it.
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Karla Valenti runs Rock Thoughts and Tot Thoughts. Rock Thoughts is a global art and collaborative storytelling project designed to empower children through creativity. Participants paint rocks to resemble “monsters” and hide them in public spaces for others to find. The rocks serve as plot devices for the finders who submit a story for that rock. The rock is then re-hidden for another to find and continue the narrative. Tot Thoughts is a voice for Karla’s stories, photos and visions as she raises her children. You can also follow Karla via her Facebook Page or on Twitter.