My Advice to Young Women Just Starting their Careers

I’d say that you should always be the one to define what “success” means for you. What is considered a successful career for one person—or even most people—should not be your measure of success.

Be true to yourself, and always be guided by your values and passions. Using the legal profession as an example, a successful legal career can take on multiple forms. It can range from being an expert and thought leader in a substantive area of the law, to being a member of a multidisciplinary team within a corporation or not-for-profit setting, such as a hospital or foundation. It can mean being a line prosecutor or public defender, a law professor, a business owner, a policy maker, or a judge. It can involve working at a legal aid clinic and giving a voice to those who are disenfranchised or working in a big firm and doing great work for your clients. It can mean making a difference in the lives of others, irrespective of your work context. It can be as simple as getting up every day, working hard, sharing your talents, and being kind to those with whom you interact.

Also, what may be success at one stage of your life and career may not be success at another stage. That’s a good thing and a sign of personal and professional growth. When I was an associate 25 years ago and had two babies, I was able to work a flexible schedule that enabled me to spend more time at home with my daughters, while still being able to do what I love to do—practice law. I saw a number of my peers enjoy what could be viewed as greater success, including on the financial and client-development fronts, because they were not working on a part-time basis. I had other professional women tell me that I was selling my career short. But I would not have traded my situation for all of the money in the world. For me, that period of my career was a success.

Be a good listener and draw on the life and work experiences of others throughout your career. Be open to growth, which requires taking risks and experiencing inevitable failures. In drawing on others’ insights and life experiences, don’t just look to people who look like you. Also, don’t just look to people in the same profession for advice—although that is important to do. In turn, be a mentor and advisor to others—sometimes the most valuable learning and growth occurs when you’re offering advice to another person and you realize you should take it yourself.

Finally, balance a sense of humility with a positive self-esteem and respect. If you don’t believe in yourself, it’s hard to expect others to believe in you. Never sell yourself short or pretend to be someone you are not. Work hard and sharpen your skills, because quality matters, but also take care of yourself. Keep a sense of humor and a sense of balance. When approaching a tough or even scary decision for yourself, imagine you have a daughter (if you do not) and do what you would tell your daughter to do. You’ll probably make a good decision!