Ms. JD

Redefining the Summit in High-Stakes Careers

Editor's Note: We are pleased to present this guest post from Becky Beaupre Gillespie and Hollee Schwartz Temple, authors of the new book, Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood.

Hollee’s moment of reckoning came when her oldest son was less than a year old, and she decided to leave her job at a prestigious Pittsburgh law firm. It was a job she’d earned through years of hard work and academic achievement. She’d graduated first in her class from Northwestern University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism, and had then gone on to Duke Law School. The next logical step, it seemed, was to make partner.

Problem: It wasn’t what she wanted.

The law firm, truthfully, had never been the right fit for Hollee. And once Gideon came long, her discomfort increased. She completed an assessment with a career counselor and learned that only a tiny fraction of lawyers shared her personality type. Teaching was her greatest strength. (And no wonder: She’d grown up with a passion for musical theater; she’d always been a natural in front of an audience).

And so she quit the law firm — and took a job teaching legal writing at West Virginia University College of Law.

When we began researching Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood (Harlequin Nonfiction, April 2011), we were particularly riveted by the stories of women in high-stakes careers like law and medicine. Our data had shown us that the happiest and most successful working moms were those who had let go of their perfectionist tendencies, and had been willing to redefine success on their own terms.

But how does one do that in a job where “perfect” often matters? How can a mother define her own success in a field with predetermined markers?

It isn’t easy, we found out — but it is possible. We cover the issue at greater length in chapter 8 of our book, but these were the highlights:

  • Moms in high-stakes careers need to learn to channel their perfectionism. They need to learn when to pull out all the stops, and when to opt for “good enough.” Knowing the difference is everything.
  • Same goes for technology. Working moms need to learn when it’s essential to be available — and then turn that BlackBerry or iPhone off the rest of the time. This take discipline and experience.
  • Moms (and moms-to-be) need to think long term. Are you choosing a field and specialty area that will allow you to be the kind of mother you want to be?
  • It’s important to be honest with yourself about what you want to do. Our research showed that many of the most successful and happiest working moms had something in common: They loved their jobs.  Maybe not every day, but in the end, their jobs felt right.

And, for Hollee, that wasn’t the case. And that meant taking an uncomfortable step. She gave up money and prestige in exchange for happiness. It wasn’t easy — she felt uneasy when people congratulated her for “taking the mommy track,” and she was embarrassed by her new title: lecturer.

But, once she began following her passion, things began to fall into place. She loved teaching — and her new job made it possible for her pursue her other passions: writing and speaking.

She had redefined the summit, and she’d found her New Perfect.

Becky and Hollee’s new book, Good Enough Is the New Perfect: Finding Happiness and Success in Modern Motherhood, is available for purchase online.  They also blog about parenting and work/life balance. Becky is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Chicago Sun-Times, The Detroit News and USA Today. Hollee directs the legal writing program at West Virginia University College of Law.



Wow! I really have mixed feelings about this. I am in favor of finding happiness.  However, I have to ask: Is the new feminist mantra going to be to “redefine the summit”?  I’m not really okay with that.

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