Emilie Wapnick is an author, career coach, artist, and community leader. She is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike.com, where she helps multipotentialities (people with many passions, skills, and creative pursuits) integrate all of their interests to create dynamic, fulfilling and fruitful careers and lives. Unable to settle on a single path, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University in 2011.
Emilie has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, The Financial Times, The Huffington Post and Lifehacker. Her TED talk, Why Some of Us Don't Have One True Calling has been viewed 3 million times and translated into 30 languages. Her forthcoming book, How to Be Everything, will be published by HarperCollins in Spring 2017.
LET'S START WITH THE BASICS. DID YOU ALWAYS IMAGINE YOURSELF GOING TO LAW SCHOOL?
No I did my undergrad in communications at Concordia and specialized in film production. In my last year, I took a communications law class which discussed copyright policy and defamation, but the professor ended up doing a lot of first year law stuff. I found it super interesting- it was a very different way of looking at the world. Prior to law school I was mostly involved in art-based subjects like film, music, design. I applied only to McGill Law because it was in Montreal, cheap tuition and there was no LSAT requirement.
WHAT MAKES YOUR CAREER LAWFULLY UNCOMMON?
My career is totally weird and hard to explain. But basically I am running a business where I help people, who have many interests and passions, make sense of them. I help people realize that you don't have to choose one thing, that you can find ways of integrating it all into your life. I do a lot of coaching, writing, speaking. On the ground level, I specialize in helping people develop business ideas. I meet them on Skype once a week, for five weeks. The goal is to have the person launch their site and business after the coaching. I help them brainstorm names, taglines, content, and products. I launched "Puttytribe" where we run group "huddles". Usually it involves around 10 people who talk about their projects and the places they are feeling stuck. There are now 350 people involved.
AT WHAT MOMENT DID YOU REALIZE YOU WANTED TO SWITCH GEARS?
Was there a light bulb moment? Yeah! In my last year of law school, I took a music policy class called the "Treble Cliff" - which Tina Piper and David Lametti were involved with- and the final project was to get into interdisciplinary groups, something that would challenge the mainstream music model. We pitched at an entrepreneurial competition at the business school and we made it to the finals. But the moment for me was when I was going through Treble Cliff and we had to choose a niche for our project and I realized that I've never had to pick, I've always been interested in many things. I've done freelance, had jobs here and there, and I've made it work. I wondered at the time if there were people out there experiencing a similar thing to me and who were succeeding at it.
HOW MUCH HAS THE SWITCH IN GEARS CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
Law made me a better writer, better at issue spotting, better at re-structuring arguments. Now, I run into contracts and know what to do with them. I had to register my trademark, which I navigated totally on my own. In law school, after a year and a half, I was able to take classes I was more interested in. I loved common law property with Piper, IP, criminal procedure, family law, and refugee law. It makes all the difference if you are actually interested in the course.
Professor Leckey once told our contracts class "Just because you're in law school, that doesn't mean you have to be a lawyer". At the time, I wasn't sure what he was trying to communicate, but it makes so much sense to me now. When you're in law school, law becomes your whole world, but you'll eventually burst out of that bubble and you'll see so clearly how many other options are available to you.
WHAT GOT YOUR JUICES FLOWING OR TICKLED YOUR FANCY WHILE IN LAW SCHOOL? ANY GOOD STORIES COME TO MIND?
Copyright policy got me through law school. My friend and I revived a student group called "Rethinking Intellectual Property Policy" (RIPP). It addressed User Rights and record label rights, which presented problems when entertainment lawyers came to the faculty. I realized that information should be widely available, but I learned to be a little more careful about where and when you voice your opinion on copyright law.
WHAT MADE YOUR BLOOD BOIL OR MADE YOU SNOOZE WHILE AT LAW SCHOOL? ANY HIDDEN GEMS WORTH TELLING?
Some of the opinions of people at law school made my blood boil. Pretentiousness and competitiveness and people taking themselves way too seriously was frustrating. In undergrad, I thought I was the only one who was too serious, and then in law school I was with people who took it to a whole new level. I thought it was all so silly!
DO YOU STILL SEE LAW ALL AROUND YOU? OR IS THAT A THING OF THE PAST?
At first, I saw things through a legal perspective. Seeing the world through the eyes of law is interesting but it’s definitely not the only way to see the world. When I graduated law school, I pulled away from that perspective a little. I still see it, but it is not my everything.
YOU ARE AT COFFEE HOUSE SPEAKING TO A FIRST YEAR LAW STUDENT. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM?
If I were speaking to an overly-confident sutdent... well actually, I probably wouldn't talk to this person at all. I wouldn't have much to say! If I were talking to a nervous student though, I would say "I wish there were more people in law school who questioned the system and the degree like you do. Stick it out. Find the other people who don't fit in and who think that law school is a weird experience. Stick with them"
WHAT DOES A DAY IN THE LIFE OF EMILIE WAPNICK LOOK LIKE? GIVE US THE RUNDOWN
Probably not as exciting as you think. But, I live in Portland, Oregan, where it's green and beautiful and a lot warmer than where you are. I get up, do my morning routine, meditate, take the dog for a walk, and then hit one of the many coffee shops. I like to work from there because I get distracted working from home. It's too quiet. I like being around other people, but nothing too busy. Because I work alone and on my laptop, it's nice to be around people.
IF YOU WERE GIVEN THE BLESSING AND THE CURSE OF AN EXTRA HOUR EVERYDAY TO DO ANYTHING YOU WANTED, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Parkinson's law: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". The principle that the amount of work you have expands with the amount of time I have available. In theory, I could say I'd spend it writing or reading or spending time with my dog, but in reality, I think my current day would just expand to fill the space allotted.
ANY REGRETS? (YEAH, WE'RE INTROSPECTIVE LIKE THAT)
I definitely do not regret law school. There was a time where I questioned the degree but I always kept pushing and I'm glad I did. I hope I'm always a student. I feel like it's a healthy way of going through life and going through different phases.