Set Your Own Priorities … or Someone Else Will

I am a woman of color, a first-generation professional, a mother, and a finance partner at Latham & Watkins. Being true to myself and my priorities has been a critical element of my career development, and has helped define my success.

When I decided to begin my law career, I felt that I might be at a disadvantage because I did not fit what I perceived as the traditional mold of a “BigLaw” associate. Early on, I wanted to find a balance between fitting into my new work environment and maintaining my identity. In fact, I chose Latham because I felt comfortable here being myself. I was not willing to waste any mental energy pretending to be someone other than myself.

One defining challenge for me was the decision to start a family while I was an associate. I knew I wanted to have kids, even before I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. As a younger lawyer, I watched several of my friends and colleagues struggle as they tried to balance work and family. Some would leave their firm to go in house, or leave the professional world altogether. I wanted to stay at my firm and find a way to make it work. Very fortunately, I had partners and firm leaders around me who were parents, so they understood the competing demands of parenthood and partnership, and juggled them successfully.

My practice group was extremely supportive when I decided to start a family while continuing to pursue my professional goals. I have never been shy about the demands of my child; his photos are all over my office. I hope this signals to associates on my team that their children and families are legitimate parts of their lives, and that we want them to be open about who they are.

I have watched women take on unreasonable workloads to the detriment of their families and their well-being because they were afraid of being labeled as unreliable or missing an opportunity their male colleagues would take.

I try to say yes, rather than no. If I need to stretch to make it work, of course I do. But if you don’t ever try to find a balance, it will never happen. Balance doesn’t happen by accident. If you don’t express your priorities, others will set them for you, and probably not in the way you want.