My Three Lessons for Success

Nineteen years ago, I graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Law. My class had female law students from all walks of life—some entered law school immediately after college, some were already married with children, some had successful careers in other fields, some were first-generation college graduates, and one even gave birth shortly before exams. What we all hoped to achieve with our respective law degrees was as varied as our backgrounds and, accordingly, we had myriad definitions of “success”—and even those have changed in the nineteen years since graduation.

Three lessons I have learned in my personal pursuit of success may help guide women who are just getting started:

  1. Life is a series of winding roads with twists and turns; how you define career success will vary based on the road you are traveling.

Three years after I began practicing law, my husband and I were thrilled to welcome our first child. How I defined “success” changed while my children were very young. For example, I worked on a reduced-hours schedule until they both entered elementary school. During those years, I measured success by the number of hours I slept and whether I remembered to turn off the oven. And that was just fine! I was keeping my professional expectations in line with what I needed to accomplish personally. As my kids have aged, my definition of career success has grown right along with them.

  1. You must never compromise your integrity!

No one can have a successful career (or life) with compromised integrity. Your reputation is more valuable than any number of zeros in your bank account. Once you mar your reputation, it is nearly impossible to repair it. That said, fierce female professionals are human. You will make mistakes—admit them, apologize for them, and learn from them. Never let your integrity take a hit, or you will not be successful under any definition.

  1. You are most successful when you help others achieve success.

I love the “ladder pin” utilized by the South Carolina Women Lawyers Association, which the organization notes, “is symbolic of the commitment to remember the women who are still climbing the ladder behind us as we achieve different levels of success in our careers and our lives.” No matter how you define your personal and professional success, it is imperative to help one another reach our goals.