Building a career requires one to constantly ask oneself: What is my ultimate goal? It sounds trite, but without an objective, the path will never be clear. Of course, defining that objective is the hardest part, because one must be absolutely honest with oneself. I spent my first years as a litigation lawyer simply learning the job, but over time I decided that, in addition to building a successful legal practice, I wanted to have influence within my law firm and be a part of creating its future. To achieve both, I needed people inside and outside my firm to recognize me as a leader.
I didn’t create a formal business plan to meet this objective; my methodology was to seek out opportunities to hone my skills and raise my profile, say “yes” to every opportunity that presented itself, and work as hard as I could to do the best job I could every time. I found and took opportunities, even when I did not think I had enough knowledge or experience for the task. I believe we must make our own opportunities, and I knew that, if I worked hard enough, I could do most things. So I forged ahead, and became recognized as someone who would put in the time and effort necessary to find solutions to problems.
My advice to other women is the same: Take the initiative; demonstrate a commitment to hard work; become a person who can be relied upon to “figure it out.” don’t guard yourself too fiercely from feeling overwhelmed (because that is where the most growth comes from), and don’t let fear or doubt prevent you from trying.
On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
In my experience, having several models, mentors, and sponsors is profoundly important to building a career that is not only successful, but also satisfying. There are people in my life who play more than one of these roles at the same time. Not all of them are senior to me—some of them are peers or even junior to me. All of them have made a significant contribution to the creation of a career that I love and in which I feel valued and respected.
My most significant models and mentors have helped me cultivate the tools of my trade—writing, analysis, advocacy, and critical thinking. They also demystified some of the politics and processes relating to advancement within my firm and across the profession, so that I was better equipped to navigate my career.
My most significant sponsors have advocated for me, promoted me, and consulted with me. They have also helped me make smart decisions about my career, trust my own judgment, and build my confidence. I love the path I have chosen and the opportunities it allows me to create for others, but I never could have reached this point without this community of supporters.