Karen Kao is an author whose debut novel, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, will be released on April 1. Before she began writing, Karen practiced law for 22 years, first in the United States and later the Netherlands. Her last job title was Partner and Head of Corporate for Kennedy Van der Laan, a major law firm in Amsterdam. Karen was an expert in cross-border mergers and acquisitions. She speaks with us today about daring to make career moves across borders and disciplines.
You’ve made some major career switches. Tell us where it all started?
My original career choice was to become a poet. I was still in college at the time and thought I had it all worked out. I would learn how to cut hair. Then I would travel to Europe, live on the beach and write poetry. Simple!
My father disagreed. Law seemed like a much more stable career. He had me apply to law school. To my surprise, Georgetown University Law Center accepted me. At the time, it was one of the top 10 law schools in the country. How could I turn it down?
But I hated law school. I had to learn how to analyze text so that I could use the words as weapons. It killed my love of reading for a long time. Luckily, the practice of law is entirely different. As a young telecom attorney in Washington, DC, most of my work involved getting permits or exemptions from the government. From now on, my career path would entail a lot of time talking to engineers on the phone.