We need to talk more about our failures, our hardships, our bumps in the road. The biggest gift we can give to those who come after us is the example of what we’ve overcome and how we’ve overcome it. In our society, and particularly in the legal profession, we are reluctant to talk about failures. We try to maintain an illusion of perfection, and we fail our mentees and employees by not showing them that everyone hits rough spots. As a result, too many young lawyers—particularly women—conclude that they cannot be successful in this profession long term.
I started my first post-law school job (a judicial clerkship) a week before 9/11. As a senior associate, I had my first children—twins—expecting to come back after maternity leave and make partner in my firm. That was in 2008. Instead, I came back to a merger that left me an unknown associate in a satellite office of a satellite office, and to a economic recession. I did not make partner for four more years. The year I made partner, I had a third child and transitioned to a different practice area that left me feeling like a brand-new lawyer again.
It was easy to be frustrated during those times, but with hindsight, I can see how each laid the foundation for exciting new opportunities. Experiencing 9/11 with my new colleagues forged lifelong bonds. Being forced to hustle at a new firm during a recession gave me great networking experience and, ultimately, rounded out my skills as a trial lawyer. Moving into a new practice area as a partner forced me to grow my skill set and experience beyond anything I had ever anticipated when I started practicing law. Having three children required me to let go of perfectionism and remember to embrace fun and chaos. Any one of those years, in a vacuum, did not look like my best year, but together, they are the years I credit with providing the most growth in my career.
It is critical that we share these experiences. The young lawyers with whom I share my story may not encounter the same challenges, but they will encounter challenges. By sharing my story, I give them the knowledge that they are not the first to hit a bump, that there are experiences you can learn from—even in your worst year, and that sometimes the worst days bring the greatest successes.