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 Joseph Gerstel Quality of Life Matters

 

Summary:

I had the opportunity to interview Joseph Gerstel, whose story is quite remarkable. He recently left his job at a prestigious law firm to start his own business called. GetSomeClass He shares why he made a career change. When he knew it was time. He shares some of the bricks he faced along the way and reminds us to find a career that reflects what we truly value in life. That money is not everything. Quality of life matters! If you are thinking of making a career shift, this episode is for you!

 

Episode Transcription

 

Intro Plays

 

Ari: Welcome to whispers and bricks. My name is Ari Schonbrun. I’m your host. I have an interesting fellow as my guest today. His name is Joseph Christelle, and he’s the founder and CEO of get some class a company that builds the coolest virtual Social Fund for businesses. Joseph went from barely eking out a high school diploma to graduating a Harvard Law School magna cum loud. Wow. After graduation, Joseph went to work at Davis Polk one of the best law firms in the country, only to realize that he hated practicing law, and was living his life from insecurity and fear. Now, Joseph took advantage of remote work to launch get some class on the side. And after some promising early success, left his legal career to grow the business full time, Joseph also as a side project, organizing other Harvard lawyers who no longer practice law and helping other lawyers transition careers. Please help me welcome Joseph. Joseph, how are you?

 

Joseph: Good, how are you? Thank you so much.

 

Ari: Great, thank you. Well, I gotta tell you, it certainly seems like you know, you’ve got you’re quite an accomplished individual. Harvard Law, really impressive. Davis Polk. Totally amazing. And, you know, as you know, the name of this podcast is whispers and bricks. Now, the whispers of those voices telling you what the right thing to do is, and they represent the good in life. The bricks represent the bad things we go through in life, and God knows we all get hit with bricks throughout our lives at some point in time or another. Now the reason I asked you to be on the show is because after I read your story, I knew that there were people in my audience who are going through some of the same things that you have gone through, they’ve been hit with bricks, much like you add, and they needed to hear and to know that they could get through the trials and tribulations, the same way that you did. They needed to know that there are whispers out there that could help them. Now, let’s start with it appears that the first brick that you got hit with was in high school, eking out a high school diploma, tell us a little bit about that.

 

Joseph: Yeah, sure. I like the I love the whispers and bricks, paradigm, it’s it’s a very, very poetic and very beautiful. So, you know, I went to very, you know, traditional, I would say conservative schools that had a very strong emphasis on religion, which could be great. But actually, very much the emphasized secular education. We had in high school, for example, we had two hours of secular study from five to seven. And I can tell you, those were not much more than time to blow up steam, and chase down the principal complaining about some romance seen in some book and why we shouldn’t be reading it and stuff like that. So yeah, but I was a curious guy, and you know, science and reading. And these kinds of things were always interesting to me. But like, we didn’t have any physics or biology, or chemistry, or even calculus, any kinds of anything sophisticated like that. And to me, you know, that’s a large part of the beauty of the world, or at least has become as I’ve developed. But, you know, at that age, I didn’t really realize that yet, because, you know, I was just following what people were telling me and, you know, I completed high school, I didn’t have a high school diploma because there wasn’t they do enough coursework to actually get a diploma. And then I spent, you know, a number of years, studying Torah, in yeshiva and Israel in New York, and then at some point, I was like, hey, you know, I don’t really think it’s my voice that wants to be doing this full time. I’d like to go get to college and get a degree. And and to put this in context, I don’t think anybody in my high school has gone to college period. And, you know, I’m 35. Now I don’t I think that holds meaning for my class. Maybe there are other people who kind of made their way. So, you know, I was, I had done I did a bit of extra coursework, I managed to get myself a diploma and then I took the LSAT in Israel at I think I was 21 or 22. I studied for it on my own. There were two places in Israel that it gave the sad one was around the corner from my apartment just by serendipity and I took it I managed I had read a lot my mother had always encouraged us to read a lot. So I managed to score perfect on the verbal I did okay on the math. And then I started taking courses at night in, in Touro, college later branch at Israel in Jerusalem. And I started, you know, going in at night biking over there. And taking some initial courses, I did some English writing and some psych courses, I moved back to the States. And over the next few years, I finished my degree I majored in psychology, I minored. In finance, I did some work on behavioral finance, just to connect the two. And then I figured, you know, I’ll go try to apply to psych PhDs now.

 

Ari:Hold on, hold on, hold on, slow down. Go ahead. You’re going from I didn’t take enough courses in high school to get a diploma. Yeah. I’m going for a PhD. Yes. What what a leap that is now let me ask you something else. I mean, that’s, that’s absolutely amazing. What? You mentioned that you were in Israel. How long were you in Israel? Actually, I mean, you must have left how long? Two years? Two years. So you were probably about

 

Joseph: 18. When you went? No, I was like, 2021 2021.

 

Ari: Okay, a little bit of a like, what did you do? I mean, high school, you normally end by about 18 years old?

 

Joseph: Yeah. I was in a Shiva in Queens for another four years. Ah, Israel.

 

Ari:Okay. All right. So that was the missing piece that I was missing. Okay, so you went to Israel, realize that you’re going to need to get some sort of an education if you want to do anything in this world? I mean, yes, it’s important to study Tomlin and everything like that, but at the end of the day, you’re going to need to make a living and, you know, you’re gonna need some sort of an education, I guess. Yeah. And

 

Joseph: there was curiosity there, you know, I think the world is, is unbelievably complicated and assume much beauty and to me, that’s, you know, an integrated spirituality finds ways to find the beauty and meaning in all parts of the world, and that was missing.

 

Ari:Okay, so you go to college, you go to Touro in Israel, and then you come back and you take some more courses, you finish it. You got a bachelor’s, I assume? Yep. Okay. Did you after the bachelor’s? Did you do? Did you do any more? Did you go on for like a master’s or anything like that?

 

Joseph: Yeah, I got a master’s in Jewish history. While I was in the process of applying to psych PhD programs.

 

Ari: Oh, wow. Okay, that’s interesting. Okay, so now you got a Master’s, you got a bachelor’s, you got a master’s still nothing that’s really going to help you make a living as far as I’m concerned. You know, it’s like people graduate with a degree in English, you know, and it’s like, Now what could go? You could be an English teacher. Yes. Okay. So you got your masters, what was next? What happened?

 

Joseph: Yeah, so I, you know, I had this interest, and I still do have an interest in human psychology and well, being in rationality, and I thought I’d go try to get into an academic program for social psychology, which, you know, looks at, it’s not, it’s not like clinical psychology that looks at, you know, abnormal psychology or people’s problems, it’s focused much more on, on, you know, individuals in society, there will be, you know, how people conform to society, and people individually, you know, much more kind of normal psychology in a certain sense. But these programs tend to be rather small and much more of a mentorship models. So professors take on, you know, one student per year, and they’re very invested in that student. And so it’s much more relational in the sense of this professor has a colleague who recommends this particular student, and you know, they’re more likely to get in because they’re, they’re, they’re investing very much in a particular relationship. And I didn’t really have any kind of serious credentials at the time, I probably didn’t know what I was doing or how to get in and how to work, how to network so I didn’t get in. And, you know, I’m happy about that. Because even if you’re interested in something, when you have to turn it into a career and make money off it, sometimes there are some times where that’s the right thing to do. And sometimes where it’s just not the right thing to do and need to force your curiosity into something financial is not the way to go. And then now it was kind of like, you know, what do I do now? I had a kid already and I needed to start earning money and I didn’t know

 

Ari: so you’re married at this point? Yeah. Well, how old were you when you got married? If you don’t mind my asking.

 

Joseph: I was 2424 Yeah, okay.

 

kind of middle of the road in the Orthodox in the Jewish Orthodox world, I think yeah, yeah. Not too old. Not too young.

 

Yeah, was relatively young guy can text contextually. You know, he’s still not so developed at that age, but socially was in the norm.

 

Ari: Okay. So, tell us what’s, what was with Harvard Law?

 

Joseph:Yeah, so I mean, law school was kind of just a path that led to a solid job. And with law school, it’s more, the numbers are much more in your favor. So if you’re bright, and you can get you take tests, well, you can get strong test scores. Getting into a solid law school is not as challenging as getting into a small, you know, academic Ph. D program. You know, Harvard is challenging to get into, but they do accept, like 800 or so students into their class per year. So there may be 6000 applicants or more. But at the same time, if you can, if you’re bright, they’re not necessarily looking, it’s not that kind of relational, the new need to have relationship with a particular individual, as long as you score well, and your LSAT, you know, you have a reasonable resume, you have a good shot at getting it. So I took the LSAT. I took a course the first I did, we did a diagnostic in the beginning. And I scored on my diagnostic 172 I think the highest you can get is 180. And I took it to the guy leaving the course. And he’s like, you know, if you want to back out, I’ll give you your money back. I think I’ll get you up, you know, as high as you can to go. But if you want to back out, I’ll give you your money back. But I figured you know, it’s worth taking it. And it was it was this guy was awesome. Official Benziger l said by fish is very well known awesome, really awesome teacher. And I took the LSAT I applied I got in, I applied to I think five or six schools. And I think I got into all of them except for Yale. Yale doesn’t know how to distinguish the goods, obviously. Yeah. No,

 

Ari:they’re, they’ve got didn’t George Bush go to Yale?

 

Joseph: Yes. Not Yale Law School, though. I don’t think he is a lawyer. But they have a much smaller class and looking for pedigree and things like that. So yeah, anyway. But yeah, I got in. And, you know, it was a little bit of designing, but it was see, it’s pretty once. When you get into Harvard, you take it seriously. Obviously, my wife was hesitant to move up to Boston random, you know, bit random, but we ended up moving there. And it was a very, very positive experience for both of us, because there was a whole group of us that live together in Brighton, which is a neighborhood in Boston. And, you know, there were we had a lot of close friendships that evolved over time, which was really, really beautiful. And law school itself was just an awesome, awesome experience being in Harvard and have been able to avail myself of the intellectual riches in a place like that.

 

Ari: Wow, that must be amazing. You know, I, you talk to a guy who, you know, went to Bar Ilan University, you know, in Israel, it’s, you know, Harvard Law. I mean, you know, I’m, I’m in all I have to be honest with you. So you graduated, I assume? Yeah, I’ve heard law.

 

Joseph: Yeah. Well, why don’t we spend a moment just on on the school for a second? Just yeah, I’d love to Hey, yeah. Cuz it’s really, you know, coming, especially coming from a, you know, an all boys schooling straight through for like, 25 years walking into university that was co Ed and that had so many bright, intelligent people. It’s just a really, really powerful experience. And you’re talking about a place where like, every week, there’s someone coming in there who’s just like, and giving a talk or a small session, and they’re just unbelievable. So, you know, justices on the Supreme Court would come a few of them would come each year congressmen, senators, heads of agencies, I actually took a class with 20 students. I think the January turned last with Brett Kavanaugh before he became a Supreme Court justice. Wow. Yeah. Yeah. So that was, you know, cool. Awesome. It was just awesome opportunity. And I just have to say this, you know, once we’re on that subject, he’s an awesome guy. And it was just I felt so bad as by what happened to him and how he was dragged through the mud. I don’t, you know, I’m not going to comment on, on on history or that, you know, but I can tell you character wise from what I saw and interacted with him, he was so so such such a good person. He like he listened so carefully considered opinions. He was thought out, he was humble. It was just real, really wonderful experience. And I you know, I think he totally deserves to be on the bench and is really, really, you know, good person to have his justice.

 

Well, thank you for that. I’ll, I’ll have to send them an email, let him know that. You think very highly

 

of him. Yeah. We actually signed a letter, you know, a bunch of his students got together during the, the nomination process. And like, I think like, 80 of us or something, signed a letter, you know, attesting to our experiences with this character.

 

Ari:That’s great. That’s great. Wow. Okay, so you got through Harvard. Yeah. Amazed it. Now what have they You have to

 

take the bar, right? You got to take the bar. Yeah. How was that? How was that for you? 

 

Joseph: The bar was okay. You know, you got to put in your time studying. Basically everyone takes one of these curated courses, courses with Barbary or Themis, or some other bar prep company. And the law firm that you’re going to usually foots the bill. You spend, you know, two months studying and then you go you go take it. I took it. I left an hour early. I did just fine. Yesterday, on the first on the first shot, pass it on the first shot. Yeah, like, I think it was in like the top five or 10% or so. But

 

Ari:God wonder why I’m not shocked. Yeah.

 

Joseph: test taking is, has thankfully not been a challenge for me. And yeah, so took the bar went to went to work at Davis Polk, which is an awesome law firm. They do, you know, their work is, is excellent. The people there are so competent, so many really bright people are nice people there as well. And it was just an awesome learning experience in terms of the just getting a sense of excellence, you know, reliability, quality of work, and the like, at the same time, it was an awesome learning experience, because I realized there’s no way that I was going to enjoy or be able to practice law as my primary occupation long term, especially in kind of a large law firm, where I’m just, you know, a small part of the huge picture.

 

Ari: Really? Wow. So how long we would Davis Polk,

 

Joseph: I was there for three and a half years,

 

three and a half years.

 

Yeah, okay. But, uh, you know, I really realized early on in the game, that not going to be my, I’m not gonna survive there. And, you know, the pay is unbelievable in this place, you know, this year, I’d be earning $400,000. And the partners this year, on average, were earning six and a half million dollars, just sense. What’s on the table, but like, you have to be doing that, basically, your whole life. And it’s like, a very, very demanding career, you know, so they’re working nonstop, they’re always on call. And, you know, the way I saw it is, the money is not worth anything if I don’t have the ultimate currency in my life, which is how I get to use my time. And so it doesn’t really matter to me how much money I have, if I don’t control my time, right?

 

Ari: Sounds like, It’s not unlike, you know, guys that go into work on Wall Street, you know, investment bankers, and everybody wants to be I remember, look, I spent 30 plus years on Wall Street. And I’ve seen kids come and go, and you know, every time you talk to them, it’s like, why, you know, why do you want to be an investment banker? And it’s like, Oh, there’s the money is so great, you know, yeah, I said, But, you know, have you considered quality of life or anything like that? All they saw $1 signs? Yeah. Right. And so I imagine that you had certainly in the top tier law firms, probably the same type of attitudes as well, while the money’s Great. Yeah. But you know, you have to what about your quality of life? Yeah. And, yeah, so I hear you. So at what point like, what was what was the final, call it the final straw that broke the camel’s back to the brick that you got hit with that ultimately led you to actually leaving law and becoming an entrepreneur?

 

Joseph: Yeah, well, I think the brick, you know, kind of is the whole experience. And I was looking relatively early on for something that would be more compelling and would talk to, you know, talk to my strengths and autonomy and give me more autonomy and control over my life. And, but I was stuck, because, you know, I needed income, I couldn’t jump into nothing. And I wouldn’t be responsible. And I didn’t really know where to go. I also hadn’t had much time in my life for just extra self exploration and trying different things. So you know, I was in yeshiva for many years, and I was in college, and then I went to law school, and then I’m practicing as a lawyer. And that’s really my first work opportunity. So you know, where was I going? And, you know, I consider things like consulting or investment banking, but I just felt the same kind of, you know, miasma of like, considering go doing those things, because it wasn’t my soul that wanted to do this. He was just I was, you know, kind of, like, this isn’t for me, maybe I should jump to that, but not really going there. Because that was actually interesting to me. And so, you know, I kept, you know, thinking and reflecting and I had, we had I one point I started a project relating to data privacy because a friend had started something even though that was also you know, opportunistic. There was nothing there interesting for me, but I’m like, Okay, this is gonna be better than than then what I’m currently doing. But you know, that didn’t pan out, we decided to let it go, the space was too crowded. And then the pandemic came along. And, you know, I don’t know, I don’t know, if you watched Game of Thrones, I imagine you didn’t. But there was this character there, called his name his little finger. And he’s always scheming and, you know, finding ways to climb up the ladder, and he has the same, he has the same chaos as a ladder. And it comes up a few times in the series at the end, you know, he gets paid back by, he gets held to account with that statement. But it’s true, you know, chaos and disruption, create a need for people to build new things to respond to the new world. And we’re very much in a new world, because you know, our whole work life has been shifted to a whole different way of working. So I was thinking during the pandemic about virtual classes of one sort or another, maybe for kids to keep them occupied while they’re at home. And then I participated in some, you know, social events on zoom at work, corporate, corporate social events. And I thought, you know, what about virtual corporate events? So I reached out to the events director of my firm, and I said, Hey, you know, can you help me understand the space? I don’t want to remain as a lawyer long term, I want a sense of, Well, you know, how this works. And we had a couple conversations. She was very gracious, very supportive. In at one point, I suggested, what about a chess event? Because my brother had gotten me back into playing chess during the pandemic online. And so I just popped it out. And she’s like, that sounds interesting. Why don’t you put to get put it together and do a demo. So I went ahead, I found like a top US chess champion, you know, one of the best players in the world, Sam Shankland. His name is he’s like number 29 right now. And I reached out to him, I looked for a player that didn’t have an agent that was pretty high. And he was the first one I found like that, and I said, Hey, would you be up for this? And he’s like, Sure. So we did a test run with a group of friends. I put together a package to go along with the event, the chest said, and a chest team snack package. I think I’ve shown it to you with the chessmen cookies and the milk and white chocolate queens. I remember and yeah, so I sent it to them. It’s kind of early form. And we did it. We had a little tutorial and a strategy talk and then a little tournament on Zoom together, and they liked it. So I was like, Okay, if they liked it, then I’m gonna go invite other events, people at other law firms to come to see a demo. So I invited like a whole bunch of events, people at law firms to come. And we did a demo, and they liked it. And then a friend who would participate in the test run, asked me to do for his company, we did it. And then two weeks later, one of these law firms widened case number 20 in the country, or something asked me to do the event. And we did it for them. And then I figured, you know, I’m gonna make some other events. So I made a couple others, and I started marketing them. And then I landed a program in March for Oliver Wyman and the Boston Consulting Group, focused on women in chess, where we went through the chess of the Queen’s Gambit, it’s a super popular Netflix ChessBase series that had just come out right after I created the first chess concept.

 

Ari: Timing is everything, isn’t it? Yeah,

 

Joseph: I didn’t know it was coming out. It was. It was a blessing, a real blessing. And so once I landed those programs for the Boston Consulting Group and Oliver Wyman, I, I said, you know, look, I’m landing clients like this, doing this on the side surreptitiously. While I’m doing my job, I’ll find ways to build enough programming and build enough clients over time. I think it’s a, it’s prudent at this point, and not completely irresponsible to jump ship and try to build this into a business. So I decided, I’m going to go for it. And I left March 1, I had a custom sand art video made for me to make make my departure positive and memorable by a sand artist. And I emailed it to the whole firm with a nice letter. You know, saying the all the qualities I learned from the firm and that but that I decided to go on, I said, Life, people say life is not about fun and games, but I never believe what people say. So I’m going into the business of fun gators.

 

Ari: Wow, that’s great. So let me ask you this, the name of the name of the company is get some class. Mm hmm. What was your habit? I’m not sure how that relates?

 

Joseph: Well, I see what we’re doing as providing rich and inspirational instruction. In is most of our so the first line of products that we did is a line of social events. But even within the social events, there’s ideally a learning goal in there. So for example, you know, the chess program, there’s kind of a there’s a there’s a significant amount of chess instruction going on. And then there’s an interactive element as well. We have a painting program. But the painting program is curated around environmental art and within artists that paints coral reefs, and she talks about coral reefs. In addition to leading the the the painting what the painting is, we do a simple coral reef painting and sometimes I’ll bring on a marine biologist as well. So the goal is really not just to have fun, but to do it in a way that’s intellectually rich, educational and inspirational as well. The other thing to note is that, that directs larger direction of the company, I see more in kind of, you know, rich, fun engaging classes, rather than just social events, if that makes sense. So this kind of element of education is integral to what he does. So

 

Ari: class classes and like classroom type of that, Matt, as opposed to a classy guy.

 

Joseph: Well, that’s the double entendre of the name is the class C, it has a dual meaning that’s okay on words. But yes, classes not as an not as an a classroom is a classroom often conveys, you know, to people a sense of, of boredom, or of of work, and we’re trying to do things in a way that it’s, it’s all fun. But yeah, but still educational. But that said, you know, we’re looking, we’re right now we have a beta program, focused on a concept called masterclasses at work. And the idea there is that if you have a company, and your team is distributed around the country now and people aren’t connecting, you need to worry about how you build community and relationships amongst the individuals in your company, because that’s integral to having a sense of shared enterprise that makes a good company. So how do you do that, and this is, in my view, the problem of the decade, given how COVID has upset the workplace, so So you need to think about this in many ways. But one, you know, offer like one solution or partial solution to it is this concept. And the way it works is basically, we offer you a series of really cool classes with world class experts in different domains. So for example, you know, chess with a US chess champion, or with a world class artists, how to cook meet with a expert, meet chef, improvisational dance with a, you know, a world class dancer. And people get to take that class together at work with the same group around an interest that they all share with on a recruiting basis, just for fun. And that’s just connection. So that’s more in the class direction.

 

Ari:That is, that is incredible. That’s what a story what a great, great story. I’m so happy you joined me here today. If people want to get a hold of you, all right, whether it’s be yours, they because they’re, you know, they’re interested in hiring you and your program, or because they, you know, need some advice. They you know, they hate their job and they want to, you know, they want to talk to somebody who’s in who’s in that position. So, what was the bet? What would be the best way for you to get a hold of you, you have a website, you have an email, what was what was? What would be the best way?

 

Joseph: Yeah, we’re in the 21st century. So we have both of those it’s get some class comm get some class, and my email is Joseph get some class calm, that’s just Joc pH at get some class comm or events at get some class COMM For Booking purposes, either one of those will do and people are more than invited to get in touch for either either purpose weather events or, you know, just chat.

 

Ari: Just check. Great. That’s wonderful. Last but not least, do you have any words of wisdom that you would like to share with my audience?

 

Joseph: Yeah, so I mean, I love the whispers and bricks,Title, I think it’s, um, it’s really nice, there are things I think the there are bricks that get thrown into your life, I think I think are your story is more of kind of some really powerful brick getting, like, really thrown into your life. And then there are bricks that, you know, they’re they’re ever present, they were kind of the are in many ways, maybe it’s you’ve kind of lived your whole life for much of your life, in an attempt to be something for someone else, or for many other people. And that’s kind of an underlying brick that’s, you know, itching existentially in the background. And for some people, they live their entire lives without becoming conscious of those bricks. And, you know, I remember I had a close relative, you know, who passed away. But like, her whole life, she thought of herself was just like, you know, like, like a rag just like she would say the most horrible things in regard to how she thought about herself. And, and that’s, you know, it’s all this kind of story that she internalized from her surroundings. And it’s just what a shame it is to live your life like that, but that I bring that up just as an illustration of how you can live with a brick that’s there that you never ever realized and and, you know, the other side of the bricks, the whispers the whispers or, you know, there’s a wise part of yourself, that whispers and wants to guide you in a direction that can allow you the kind of fruition and self actualization that is your birthright. And but it’s a, you know, skill to be able to kind of learn to listen to that to those whispers and, you know, have a diet electic a give and take with those whispers that allows you to learn about yourself and what it is where it is you’re going. I like to say that, you know, a career or whatever a job is a data point. It’s not your destiny and the fact that you went to school for something or you started in a particular job, you use that as data to inform what you should do next, but not as something that says, Oh, you spent all those years doing this. How are you going to leave that? Right? Yeah, we need most some people are born knowing what they want to do, but many other people, it’s a process of self exploration. If you don’t try your hands at something, it’s hard to know. And then you kind of want to approximate over two things that match your skill set and you know, are self actualizing for you in more, in better and better ways as you try new things?

 

Ari: Yeah. It’s it’s interesting, because I interviewed a woman who, you know, went to high school, went to college, went to medical school, spent four years in residency did 10 years as an attending, and then quit. Yeah, because she was just totally burnt out all that schooling, all that work. She quit, she became a coach. She coaches, people in the medical field who are who are suffering from burnout. Wow, she helps them get through it. It’s absolutely amazing. It’s kind of along the same lines. 

 

Joseph: Yes. As

 

much as she was much more invested than I was, but that’s brave.

 

Ari: Yeah, absolutely. Joseph, thanks so much for sharing your story with my audience. I’m sure you’ve touched the hearts of many people in my audience. Good luck going forward. You’re listening to whispers and bricks, and I’m your host Gary Shaman. Until next time, listen to the whispers avoid the breaks, and never ever give up on your dreams. Bye for now.

 

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