Whether it is “success on your own terms,” as some have called it, or “personal definitions of success,” as I call it in the Best Friends at the Bar book series, all efforts by women lawyers to find the right balance for satisfying and lasting careers should be dignified. I learned all about this as I evolved through the women’s liberation and feminist years as a practicing lawyer with no children to the 1980’s when my children arrived and challenged my creativity as a professional.
I understand how important all of these phases of development for women have been. I acknowledge the work of the feminists, and I understand how critical they were to our journey to the independence we enjoy today. However, I also recognize that the male definitions of success that were embraced by those early pioneers have not worked for many women with home and family responsibilities, and defining ourselves in terms of male models has been, for many women, like setting ourselves up for failure.
At the same time, I acknowledge and applaud the women who have the support systems for keeping their homes and raising their children that allow them to aspire to the corner offices without interruption in their careers. We need those women to attain the critical mass of women in leadership and management positions to positively affect policies for women in the workplace. But, we are not all those women. I certainly was not, and I had to reinvent myself many times in my role as a lawyer, wife and mother over the course of my long career, and that is why the Best Friends at the Bar project is so important to me.
The overriding truth in all of this is that we need to get away from any models of success that do not fit our circumstances, and we need to create personal definitions of success that work for us at different times in our lives. Those definitions will change, just as our profiles change as we move through the various phases of motherhood, child rearing, parental care and other personal life issues. Fortunately, there are a multitude of practice choices to fit our needs at the various stages of our lives. In my book Best Friends at the Bar: The New Balance for Today’s Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2012) I explore these various practice models through profiles of women who have successfully moved from one to another. Take a look and find yourself in those pages.
Be strong and chart your own course. Have the courage to pursue a path that may be unique to you and only you and the confidence to know that you will find a way to make it work. Do not be deterred by the opinions and judgments of others. They do not walk in your shoes, and many of them do not share your values.
Stay true to yourself, and you will be rewarded by the pride of knowing that your choices are yours, your successes are yours, and your rewards are yours. You have to own your careers and your futures.