In my last blog, I discussed messages about success and the Personal Definitions of Success that are key to the Best Friends at the Bar project as a way of combating the low retention rates for women lawyers and keeping more women in the profession. I explained that Personal Definitions of Success are the only practical approach that makes any sense to me and why. I also told you that other people have been talking about success in similar ways, and who some of those people are. I also promised to share with you what some others have to say. Here are two of those people.
In delivering the commencement address at Case Western Reserve Law School several years ago, Stephen Ellis described what he thinks are the necessary elements of being a happy and successful lawyer. And, they are not money and power. In fact, Mr. Ellis, a graduate of Case Western Reserve Law and a partner at Tucker Ellis, stated, “But the worst of all this is: that we’ve chosen simply money, as our measure of success. It’s too simple to say, “Money is the root of all evil” because it’s not. And I know that the absence of money is a pretty good predictor of unhappiness. But money, just money all by itself, does not provide a sense of worth or accomplishment, or even peace of mind. The fact is, it’s in our DNA to always want a little more, and getting more only feeds the need to get a little more.” Instead, Stephen Ellis says that the keys so being a successful lawyer are passion, people and principles. Passion for what you do, the desire to help people in need, and being true to your principles and your values. I hope that you are beginning to see a theme developing.
Here is another person who spoke about success recently and whose views I think will interest you.
Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of Huffington Post, recently told graduates of Smith College in her commencement address that they must redefine success in terms of the lives they actually want to live instead of being possessed with climbing the ladder to where money and power will take them. She said that the world desperately needs people who will define success in terms that are not limited to money and power, and she wants the new graduates to not just take their places at the top of the world but to change the world. She called on them to lead the third women’s revolution—-just as I call on my readers in the Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer to join the new liberation for women lawyers.
Ms. Huffington describes success as a three-legged stool: Money, power and well-being/giving back to society. According to her, without the third leg, the stool will topple over, as so many stools of success have done recently when the people standing on them cannot find their purpose in a world where the definition of success is limited to money and power. She challenges young women not to settle for just breaking through glass ceilings in a broken corporate system or a broken political system but to change the system by getting to the bottom of what is wrong with it.
Think about it. The well-being and sense of purpose that Arianna Huffington is talking about is the same well-being that I emphasize in the New Balance book. It is knowing what matters to you, what values you respect for yourself and your family, and finding a way to make a personal definition of success work for you. Having the necessary time for your young family may not have the same impact as leading an effort to solve world hunger, but it is all a matter of perspective and timing.
Only you can define what success means for you at any particular time. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are “unsuccessful”—-ever. Not the bar examiners, that I talked about in the last blog, or the people who sign your pay check. Success is a relative term. It is what you define it to be based on your personal circumstances and values.
Good luck with redefining success to create a better world and with crafting your own personal definitions of success! I am betting on you!