THE FIRST JOB INTERVIEW
Despite all the questions I had to answer about myself in the early days after graduating law school, I never had to tell the whole truth about my hopes, dreams, or fears. Those were truths I couldn’t even confront myself at that time.
I can close my eyes now and imagine a different sort of interview that might have taken place right after I graduated law school. One where the interviewer had perfect access to the truth. One where the interviewer could get me to reveal my deepest hopes, fears, and anxieties that in most cases I hadn’t even admitted to myself. How? Who knows, maybe this interviewer is a cross between Perry Mason and Sigmund Freud. Maybe he or she has given me an injection of sodium pentathol. Maybe this person can read my mind, and there’s no sense in trying to hide the bullied, depressed thirteen-year-old at my core. Or maybe speaking with this individual is like looking into a flawless mirror, one that shows me who I really am instead of the distorted image I see most days.
This interviewer might ask, “Mr. Cuban, what are your biggest weaknesses?” And I might answer, “Well, I’m an alcoholic, clinically depressed bulimic with little to no interest in practicing law. I’m really not fit for this sort of work at the moment, and I’m not sure it’ll ever be right for me.” And that would just be the beginning . . .
“Brian, just make yourself comfortable. The truth serum should really be kicking in about now, so let’s get continue. It says here in your third year of law school you spent three months interning with the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office?”
“Yes. I took the internship in the DA’s Office mostly because I could usually get a better grade through an internship than classwork. I didn’t really have any special interest in becoming a prosecutor. And as soon as I started, I had even less interest. I mostly worked on low-level drug offense cases. I’d sit next to a real assistant DA who would correct me when I asked the wrong question. I’d try not to think too hard about how in many cases we were prosecuting kids who had been caught with nothing more than a joint, something I’d been “guilty” of plenty of times myself as a teen. Of course it was a different culture in 1986 than 1976. We were in the midst of Reagan’s ramped up “war on drugs,” including weed. But just because it was a different era doesn’t mean I didn’t have the hypocrisy of what I was doing in the back of my mind.
“I remember one day in court, questioning a young girl who was charged with marijuana possession while an assistant district attorney (ADA) watched over me. I’d ask the wrong question, the defense would object, and the judge would sustain the objection. I was getting nowhere, frustrated and embarrassed, and the ADA had to whisper in my ear the right way to ask the question to avoid drawing objections. I asked the question again, the right way. I was ashamed at my own incompetence.
“Then I looked into the eyes of the young girl and saw fear and shame on her face as well. She was starting to tear up. She knew she’d done something wrong in the eyes of the law, but had no idea that the young man interrogating her about it had done the same many times over. I was stunned that I was part of a system that was doing this to her, but more than anything, I just wanted to be done for the day so I could go for a run.
“Then while watching this girl start to cry, I remembered a time when I thirteen or fourteen. I was out with my friends with a BB gun. Egged on by friends, I’d shot a robin out of a tree. I didn’t want to hurt the animal, I just didn’t want to disappoint my friends. I wanted to be accepted. I’d shot the bird out of the tree and left it on the ground, slowly dying. I wanted to put it out of its misery, I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t show my feelings in front of the other guys. By the time they’d left and I returned to the bird, it was already dead. I’d bawled in my room for hours. I’d always felt great empathy for animals. I’d see a stray dog, and it felt personal for me. Killing that bird had haunted me all my life. But I didn’t feel more than mild pity for this girl. I could block out those feelings with people. But how alone does this girl feel? Why don’t I feel the same empathy for her? Suddenly, I did. The girl was like the robin I’d shot as a kid. I couldn’t block out the feelings anymore. I can’t do this, I thought. I can’t stand to carry other people’s pain like this. I can’t help ruin people’s lives. I knew then I’d never be a prosecutor. It wasn’t just that I cared too little about being a lawyer; I also felt too much to handle these sort of responsibilities. I could not bear the thought of feeling the pain of both the accused and the victims. And it wasn’t just kids I might be prosecuting: I knew the only way I’d be able to hold the burden of my clients’ traumas was to push the feelings away, preferably with a bottle of tequila.
“I hope that answers your question.”