By Sarah Villanueva • November 19, 2012•Writers in Residence
Last month I ran the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. You learn a lot about yourself over 26.2 miles. You learn what motivates you, how determined you are, and how strong you are over those 26.2 miles. (Not to mention, all the aches and pains that develop; and who knew skin chafed so dang easily??)
When I started at my law firm, my mentor said to me, “Sarah, the one thing you have to remember is that this is a marathon, not a sprint.” I heard his words, nodded in agreement, but did not truly understand him. I just celebrated my one year anniversary with the firm, and have now run two marathons in that same time frame. And I think I’m starting to get it.
I came into the practice of law with high expectations; not only for myself, but also for my working environment. And – as I think anyone who reads my blog regularly would agree – I have not always been happy about what I’ve found. And I thought I could be that catalyst and start the chain reaction to alter everything right away. But, just like in a marathon, you may want to cross that start line with a bang, but if you do you will inevitably hit that wall at mile 14, 18, or 22 and wish you had started out slow and steady at a pace you knew you could manage.
I’m finally realizing that things are not going to change overnight. Just like I’m not going to learn how to be a great lawyer overnight, we are not going to change the practice of law overnight. But we can, one baby step at a time. All those steps do eventually add up and will make one hell of a difference.
Another thing I learned this race that also applies to the practice of law – especially for women – is you have to run your own race. So much of my energy is spent comparing myself to others: Why haven’t I billed as many hours as she has? Why did that partner ask him to work on the project and not me? Why does she always look so put together all the time? Why? Why? Why?
The same thing happens on race day. Once you’re out there, it is impossible not to think, “Why can’t I pass her? She’s taking in fuel, should I? Why does she look so great at mile 24?” Over the course of the race I had to keep reminding myself to run my own race. I was out there doing what I knew I could do, at a pace I knew I could do it in, and on the race plan I knew was tried and true. No matter what anyone else was out there doing, I had to run my own race.
The same applies to law practice. There is no one right way to do it. We all must find and forge our own path. We can learn from others and take those bits and pieces that work for us from that, but no two paths will ever look the same. And that is okay. We need to start focusing on ourselves instead of constantly comparing ourselves to others.
The last lesson I took away from my race is that no one can do this alone. Although it inevitably is you that needs to put in those miles, put in the work, and run those 26.2 miles come race day, the support from people around you in invaluable. I would not have been able to get through those last three, painful miles without my husband by my side. And I know I would not have gotten through these last six years without him – and countless other people – either. It’s knowing who your support system is, who you can count on, and not being afraid to ask for help when you need it. Once we learn to rely on those support systems, we can all be successful.
If we all can remember that this is a marathon and not a sprint, to run our own race, and to ask for help when we need it, we can – and will – cross that finish line together.