By Kristina Schneider
Interviewed by Attorney Philip Kavesh
Kristina Schneider began working for the Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis in 2004, shortly after graduating from Pepperdine University. She was attorney, Phil Kavesh’s, Executive Assistant and in 2011, she went on to help Mr. Kavesh develop his separate business that helps train and coach other estate planning attorneys throughout the country. She recently celebrated 17 years working for Mr. Kavesh but, more notably, she also recently made the personal decision to go back to graduate school and pursue her Master’s Degree.
Here’s an interview with Mr. Kavesh and Kristina about this decision to go back to school that we thought was worth a share. Enjoy!
PHIL: Did you always know that you wanted to go to college?
KRISTINA: I always loved school and had known from a very young age (5th or 6th grade) that I had wanted to go to college after I graduated high school. Nobody in my family had ever graduated college and it just became something that I knew that I wanted to accomplish for myself.
PHIL: You recently decided to go back to graduate school to pursue your Master’s Degree. Why didn’t you do that right after you graduated with your Bachelor’s Degree?
KRISTINA: To be honest, I was exhausted from school at that point in my life. I was pretty financially independent once I went to undergrad, so I was working anywhere from 25 to 30 hours per week. It took me 5 years to graduate, but I did it! In addition to being tired of balancing both school and work, I was not 100% clear on what it was that I wanted to do with my life in terms of a career. It didn’t seem like a smart idea to go to graduate school and get a more specialized degree in something if I didn’t know that was what I wanted to do. I had specifically chose to get my degree in Business Administration, because I knew that everything was a business and that this kind of knowledge and information would be helpful regardless of what industry or field I decided to get into. I had grown up in Torrance and just a couple of months after I graduated from Pepperdine, my mom had actually stumbled on the job advertisement for your law firm, so I applied. Within a few weeks, I had landed my first full-time job out of college.
PHIL: How did you eventually decide to go back and get your Master’s Degree?
KRISTINA: Once I began working with you and, more specifically, helping your other company that helps train and coach other estate planning attorneys, I saw a lot of opportunity for me to learn and grow more personally and professionally in this area. Through your help and guidance, I am now speaking and directly consulting these attorney business owners on how to properly manage their law practices as successful businesses. I thought that going back to get my MBA (Master of Business Administration) could really help me further develop my knowledge and skill as we continue to help other attorneys.
My grandmother passed away in May of last year from cancer. The months and years leading up to her passing, I saw a general decline in the overall quality of her life. Definitely in terms of her health, but also in terms of the activities that she participated in and the things that she would do. It really lit a fire inside of me that I did not want to live a life with any regrets. Too many people get to the end of their life and regret things that they never did that they had always wanted to try or accomplish.
I think her passing, along with the fact that I turned 40 years old this year, left me wanting to live my life with no regrets. Through the encouragement of my friends and family, I realized that there was no better time than right now to take action on my desire to go back to school. So in March, I went to an information session for Pepperdine’s Graziadio Business School Fully-Employed MBA program and the deadline was 2 weeks away, so I thankfully did not have much time to talk myself out of submitting my application. A few weeks later, I was notified that I had been accepted and that classes started in May!
PHIL: That’s awesome! I love it. I know that it’s only been a few months since you started, but do you have any thoughts or takeaways from your experience thus far?
KRISTINA: To be honest, it’s kind of wild when I stop and think about how quickly this dream of mine became a reality. But, what I will say is that I have no regrets about my decision. This is an opportunity to continue to grow and better myself and being almost twice as old as some of the other students in my class doesn’t mean anything. I have gained a lot of confidence in myself since I graduated from undergrad. I feel like this is another opportunity to prove to myself what I am truly capable of.
PHIL: As you know, I am a big advocate for higher education. Would you recommend and encourage everyone to consider pursuing further education, whether it’s a Bachelor’s Degree or some graduate degree?
KRISTINA: While I am very big on the concept of constantly improving yourself and working to push yourself to your full potential, I don’t believe that school is necessarily for everybody. Not every person thrives in that kind of formal classroom environment. One of my friends has a highly successful and lucrative recruiting business that he absolutely loves and enjoys and I’m not even sure that he graduated high school. Or I think about my own grandparents who owned a successful nursery business in Culver City for over 50 years. They figured out what they were skilled in and passionate about and they leveraged these things to be successful in life.
I think everyone needs to figure out what it is that they love to do and pursue that. There’s really no point in having all the degrees in the world and then going to a job that doesn’t bring you joy or bring you the kind of fulfillment that it should. I think that we can often times focus on the concept of being successful in life and the societal pressures of what it means to be “successful”, but then lose the idea of being happy and fulfilled along the way.
Thinking about what you guys do at Kavesh, Minor & Otis, I know that many of your clients build in educational incentives for beneficiaries, which I think is fantastic. But, I would also really love to see that potentially expanded to include perhaps financial support for a beneficiary that wants to start up his or her own business instead of having to take out a business loan. Or for it to help finance the expense for any specialized training or certifications they may need in order to get into specific fields they want to get into. I think the goal is really to give beneficiaries the financial help to thrive in life and I don’t necessarily think that school automatically equals success. There’s plenty of “unsuccessful” educated people out there, depending on how you want to define “success”.
PHIL: Well, actually, we do custom-design peoples’ plans to encourage and financially support beneficiaries with not only college education, but also vocational school, graduate education and starting a business.
Your story reminds me of some others I’ve encouraged and helped over the years to pursue higher education and achieve their dreams. We had a file room clerk at the law firm who we promoted to office management. She loved the daily accounting work so much that I recommended she go to school and get an accounting degree, and we assisted her financially. She now runs the accounting department of a large corporation! I recall more than one attorney of our firm who loved the tax planning aspects of estate planning, whom I recommended go back to school and obtain their Master’s of Law Degree in Taxation, and they now work in that specialty area. And I remember the “greeter” at a TV station, where I had a weekly show, expressing to me her hidden desire to be a courtroom litigation attorney. I encouraged her to attend law school at night. It took her several years, but at the age of about 45 she opened her own law practice and has been successful ever since. I’ve always believed people should apply their skills to their highest and best use, at something they love - - whether that means obtaining higher education, or not!
Kristina, that’s all the time that we have for today. This has been an insightful conversation and I wish you the best of luck pursuing your MBA. I really love the message you shared here today—you’re never too old and it’s never too late!