While external career development strategies and planning are often emphasized in education and the workplace, little attention is typically paid to your own “inner work.” Why? Perhaps because institutional obstacles have historically dominated the success equation. But, while identifying and working on my own perceived limitations has presented challenges, it has also accelerated advances in my career.
Team design projects, an integral part of an engineering education, helped lay the groundwork for forcing me out of my comfort zone; I had to present my “great” ideas to my peers, who might acknowledge their value—or shoot them down. I was forced to have some personal failures for the greater good of the project.
During my 16-year engineering career, assignments often involved risky projects with crazy deadlines, tight budgets, and extended travel to less than optimal places. Not knowing exactly what I was getting into helped, but it still took a stretch of confidence to pursue these assignments—confidence I had built with the inner work begun in engineering school. Over the long term, these projects helped me learn to seize opportunities—not wait for them to be handed out—and avoid creating my own preconceived limitations.
With my shift to a legal career 14 years ago, the challenges morphed. Choosing change can be hard. Although I was the oldest lawyer in the firm’s entering associate group, I still had a new profession to learn. And the work on inner issues was renewed—learning to trust my instincts, recognizing that there is no such thing as 100 percent success, and shoring up my honey badger resilience for those times when adversity comes a-knocking.
Forcing yourself to change can be uncomfortable and scary, but it can also be liberating and fun. If you haven’t tried it, give it a whirl!
On Finding Success and Staying Competitive
Smarts are nice, but continued success is achieved by adaptability, a willingness to change, and (unfortunately) a great deal of hard work.
On the Importance of Role Models and Mentors
I have been fortunate to have had a series of great mentors throughout both my engineering and legal careers. They taught me important practice skills and professionalism by their examples. Perhaps a bit more important, they motivated me to make my own way in my own style. My sincerest gratitude to all of them.
On Facing Challenges
Effectively balancing your professional and personal life can be very tough.
Sheila’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
Never underestimate your own strengths.