Peter Thiel has done pretty well for himself. Thiel co-founded PayPal, invested early in Facebook, and is worth about $2.7 billion, according to Forbes.
But one of the biggest turning points in Thiel’s early career was actually a rejection, as Above the Law noted today.
Specifically, Thiel was turned down for clerkship positions under the Justice Anthony Kennedy and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Thiel discusses the missed opportunity (and the opportunity that it created) in his book, “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future,” as highlighted by Above the Law:
After clerking on a federal appeals court for a year, I was invited to interview for clerkships with Justices Kennedy and Scalia. My meetings with the Justices went well. I was so close to winning this last competition. If only I got the clerkship, I thought, I would be set for life. But I didn’t. At the time, I was devastated.
Naturally, Thiel did end up doing pretty well for himself. A Q&A in the “Stanford Lawyer” reveals that Thiel’s year of apellate clerkship followed his graduation from Stanford Law in 1992.
“Then I came back to California to start a business and basically do something other than the professional legal track,” Thiel said.
After spending some time as a derivatives trader, he started his own investment fund in 1996 and co-founded PayPal shortly thereafter in 1998.
Unsurprisingly, Thiel doesn’t look back too sadly at missing out on the clerk position. He elaborates in “Zero to One,” saying that, in hindsight, “winning that ultimate competition [for the clerkship] would have changed my life for the worse.”
A position in the court, Thiel speculated, would have brought a “career taking depositions and drafting other people’s business deals instead of creating anything new.”
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