For the first episode of our podcast My Life’s Work, Nathaniel Liu and I talked to David Stute, whose career path veered in an unexpected direction. David’s story taught us that there is no risk in dedicating ourselves to what has meaning to us in the moment –even if it doesn’t lead to a future career. He reminded us that especially in times of uncertainty, it is important to chart our own path forward.
If you have ever attended a Chiarina concert at St. Mark’s Church, you know David Stute as the friendly greeter at the check-in desk. While David is an enthusiastic supporter of his wife Carrie’s musical career, his own career path is fascinating, particularly due to the turns it has taken.
David grew up in Detmold, Germany–a tiny town near a music conservatory–the son of a carpenter and an elementary school teacher. Like many, David’s career path was shaped by his environment. He envisioned his future at a young age: “The only way to get out of that town as a teenager and to try to chart a path, the only path that I could see,” he said, “was through music.” By the age of ten, he had decided to become a professional cellist.
David spent his childhood practicing, attending music festivals, and soaking up the world of classical music. He described the impact that music had on his outlook: “It completely opened my horizons for what could come after. I wasn’t confined to my hometown,” he said. “I wasn’t confined to Germany necessarily.”
While David’s passion for music brought him across the Atlantic to the Cleveland Institute of Music, his fascination with history, philosophy, and politics grew and the seed of his future career was truly planted when he decided on a second major in philosophy. These competing interests had always been bubbling below the surface and David ultimately shifted gears from music to law, in part motivated by his realization that he would have more opportunities as a transnational lawyer than as a cellist.
“There are three or four openings in a good year in the United States for a decent cello position,” he said. “You compare that with thousands upon thousands of great jobs in law in a given year.” David reflected on the similarities in his seemingly disparate pursuits. “There was so much to explore in music between the repertoire and the people and the physical aspect of trying to master [the piece],” he said. “When I started philosophy and later law in college, I feel like it was in many ways a repeat of that same process just that the challenges were different.” David continues to keep music in his life, but as he said, “I felt like I really got what I could get out of that track [and] at the end of the day, I have never regretted that decision.”
After graduation, David landed on Capitol Hill during a blazing summer. His internship with Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) unexpectedly converted to an unpaid position and he moved to New York to work at a law firm. Always curious about new opportunities, a Craigslist search landed David at Google where his bilingual language skills enabled him to work with American and European lawyers to develop international protocols for the removal of personal, sensitive or defamatory material from the internet.
After Google, David enrolled at University of Michigan Law, and graduated with the question every young lawyer faces– what to do with a law degree? He clerked at the DC Court of Appeals and is now working in transnational law at a private law firm. David is excited to continue delving into new aspects of the law and expects to continue in this field for the foreseeable future.
David reflected on what he finds meaningful about both music and law. “It’s really expanding what you know and pushing yourself to do whatever you are doing very well that keeps me engaged. It’s wrong to think that you just become an expert in a given area at 35 or 40 or 45 or whatever age. If you stop learning or stop wanting to learn you are probably in big trouble because as human beings, we aren’t wired for stagnation.”
To hear more of David’s story, visit mylifesworkpodcast.org/episodes. The next episode featuring an interview with KK Otteson of the Washington Post will be released in late December. Nathaniel and I are excited to share her story and her life’s work with you.