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Kevin J. O'Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is a former New Jersey State Senator. (Photo: Kevin J. O'Toole.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: Those Life Changing Moments

By Kevin O'Toole, July 05 2022 12:01 am

In life, as in politics, if we try hard enough, we can pinpoint the few key decisions that led to our success or failure. Whether it be that new job offer, buying crypto currency, going short on Tesla, or taking a chance and actually putting your name on a ballot, we can usually zero in on that handful of truly life changing moments.

A side annoyance. The term life changing is so overused these days. Having a child, winning the lottery, investing in the high reward stock, or traveling to the Vatican might qualify for the term life changing. Having a new flavored, low-calorie ice cream sundae, finding that charming and smoky chardonnay, or buying a new set of all-weather tires do not quite make the list of life changing. So let us stop the overuse of the term – rant of the day is over.

When reflecting back on my years, I can identify the handful of critical decisions that shaped by life:

  1.  On a lark, I applied to law school in 1986, worked two jobs throughout, and borrowed every nickel to finance it
  2.  I ran for local office in 1989 (won) at age of 24, with no experience and zero history of family in the business. I note that my ragtag campaign team ran the most aggressive campaign ever and we knocked on every door twice and won 9 of 10 voting districts against an entrenched incumbent.
  3. I took a leave as a partner in a law firm in 1994 to serve as campaign manager to a longshot campaign for County Executive. We won the countywide race by 2,500 votes.
  4. I announced a bid for State Assembly in 1995, even though the current incumbents wired the convention for their chief of staff. We worked the county committee votes until the last vote was counted. We won by 18 votes.
  5. I announced my bid for a vacant Senate seat (won) in 2001, even though the district agreement called for the Senator to come from Union County.
  6. I announced my bid for newly opened Senate seat (won) (2007), even though the incumbent backed his supporter in a Bergen based district. Within 48 hours of the notice, I called every single county committee member and elected official and had commitments of over 300K and an all-star campaign team.
  7. I decided to start my own law firm in 2008 and borrowed $500,000. I didn’t count on a recession, but we survived. The six-lawyer team in 2008 is now over 60 lawyers strong.
  8. In early 2017, I decided to retire from the Senate, leave politics, and serve as a volunteer Chair for the Port Authority. Not a bad perch post-retirement.
  9. After some time of talking about it, in or about March of 2017, it was decided to form the law firm O’Toole Scrivo, LLC — life changing.

My only point of going down memory lane today is an admonition to future leaders. Be willing to take a chance, don’t always play it safe, be decisive and have some imagination while dreaming big. The power of positive thinking and being willing to risk it all, are two factors that made some of my above decisions possible. I do find that most people are risk adverse and I fully understand that. Nevertheless, if you want something life changing, put something in play that truly changes your life and go for it with everything you have. Sometimes when you spot an opportunity, you need to move the trajectory that is your life and aim for the sky. However, understand that with large decisions bring large consequences and it cannot be lost that sometimes things do not always go as planned.

Class dismissed.

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