By Tanya Falleiro Neha Sareen • March 14, 2011•Writers in Residence, Guest Bloggers and Profiles of Women in the Law
Ms. Karen Gebbia practiced business reorganization and commercial transactions law with Nachman & Munitz and Winston & Strawn. She left practice in 1993 to teach at the University of Hawai`i. After, she “retired” in 2004 as a tenured full professor to raise her three children, who were at that time ages 1, 1 and 3.
Ms. Gebbia currently teaches at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco. She graduated Villanova undergrad magna cum laude and Georgetwon Law cum laude.
What are your hobbies/activities that you enjoy doing out of the office? My children are still fairly young, so much of my time away from the office is spent with them doing things we all enjoy, such as sports, crafts, museums, and exploring nature (not to mention the world of children’s play dates, birthday parties and sleepovers).
When I have time for myself, I, like many energetic people with relatively sedentary jobs, enjoy physically challenging sports such as swimming, running, hiking, yoga, and figure skating. In the recent past I have found time to swim with a master’s group and skate competitively. I have less time for that level of sport these days; however, I have learned over the years that you can let an activity go for a while and come back to it later when your life allows you to do so.
I also enjoy domestic activities that are associated more with my grandmother’s generation than my own, such as knitting, sewing, cooking, baking, making bread, reading, and gardening. I started making my own clothes when I was 7.
What do you consider is the key to creating a balance between one’s life in and out of the office? For me, the most important skill has been developing the ability to be fully present to whatever I am doing at that moment.
Second, to create balance, it is important to make choices about career options, job options, family size, etc., according to your larger life priorities. For example, a woman who wants to have four children and be very involved in their lives might not be best suited for a job that requires unpredictable long hours and lots of travel when the children are young.
Third, a wise person once told me that you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time.
Finally, I think that my job makes me appreciate my family more and vice versa.
Have you ever had to turn down any special projects or additional work in order to maintain a solid work/life balance without hindering your career? Of course! I left a lucrative career in practice to teach because it better suited my interests. I left a tenured faculty position for several years to focus on my family, and then I returned to teaching when the time was right for me. I am happy where I am now in terms of my job and the balance of work and family.
If, and when, you feel your life is out of balance, how do you manage it? What are some of the consequences of living out of balance? Sometimes it is a matter of recognizing your priorities and making small changes to rebalance your life. Other times, you may need to make a major change, such as a career shift. The most important thing, however, is recognizing that you need to make a change.
Do you feel that technology has made maintaining a “work-life” balance easier or harder? In other words, is it beneficial or burdensome to constantly be within reach? Technology has undoubtedly made the work-life balance easier. It is possible to accomplish so much so quickly, without chaining yourself to your desk 16 hours a day, and without needing to rely as heavily on administrative assistants.
Also, keep in mind that the world will not come to a screeching halt if you turn your devices off from time to time.
Do you feel that it is difficult to make time to network, become involved with bar associations etc? Is this something that can be given less priority as one gains more experience? Especially in the early years of practice, it is important not to spread yourself to thin. Make intelligent choices about the types and amount of networking you want to do based upon your interests and the benefit to your career. You will find more time and more opportunities as the years go by.
Some people do quite well being involved in a wide variety of activities at the same time. I prefer to become more deeply involved in one or two organizations at a time for an extended period.
How has your work/life considerations changed throughout your career? In my early years of practice, my life revolved around my job. As I became more established, in my career, I had more freedom to balance my life in different ways.
Overall, what are some of the challenges that you have seen, and notice today that females face in the legal field? Many say that the legal field is male-dominated, do you agree? The biggest and most valuable change I have seen is that today’s entry level and mid-level women attorneys feel more empowered to take risks that they could not have taken in the past without fear of losing career traction.
Is there any advice that you have out there for new female attorneys? Find mentors. If you work in a large organization, be known to your colleagues within the organization. Don’t be afraid to risk your career for something that works better for you and your priorities in life.
Do you have any advice or words of wisdom that you would like to leave our readers with? Strive for perfection but permit yourself to settle for excellence from time to time.
Interview conducted by Tanya Falleiro and Neha Sareen.