By Jeena Cho • August 03, 2014
As we get older, we gain life experience and wisdom. Often, I’ll learn something and think “gosh, why didn’t someone tell me this sooner?” This is where advice comes in handy.
I asked my female lawyer friends and colleagues the following question “what advice would you give to your 20-something year old self?” I was overwhelmed by the response. It really touched my heart and I wanted to grab each bit of advice and store it inside, so I can recall it when I really need it.
Here’s the advice I received from my wonderful female lawyer friends.
Love, Relationships, and Marriage
Katia Bloom, Avira offers the following advice on marriage and making a relationship work.
“I can't believe I'm saying this, but who you choose to marry/build a partnership with will matter much more than where you went to college/law school. It's not that you can't do it alone and though it can be hard, it's way harder to try and do it with someone who isn't the right fit.
When you're fighting with your significant other, try and paraphrase what you hear them saying. It's really awkward at first, but you'll be amazed at the fact that what you hear and what they're saying is actually totally different.
Don't expect your relationship to meet your every need. That's what friends are for.”
Rhonda Kraeber, Kraeber Law Officesuggests finding a great partner. When I asked what qualities makes a great partner, she said:
“Unconditional support. When I told my husband I wanted to quit my job in hotel management and go to law school, he blinked once and said, “Ok.” When I told my husband I wanted to quit my very lucrative job as a partner in a mid-sized law firm to open my own law office, he said, “Ok, what do you want me to do?”
He has always had faith in my ability to do whatever I set my mind to and his backing has given me the confidence to do it. He handles all the kid-related things that I simply don’t have time to do, like coaching sports teams, working in classrooms, helping with homework, etc. He makes sure the house runs smoothly (most of the time) and that I can focus on the business and law practice. He gave up his job to be a stay-at-home dad when it became impossible to handle dual careers and 3 kids. Something had to give and he chose to do the giving.”
Marriage can be great but it’s also hard work. Carla Miller, Wallace Law Firm says:
“Marriage is the hardest job you will ever have. It isn't a fairy tale and it takes real work. Don't jump into it lightly.”
“Read David Bach's The Automatic Millionaire and learn how truly easy it is to save and the rewards of 'automatic' savings even just $1 at a time. It's a game-changer.”
Katia Bloom, offers these practical advice:
“Maximize your 401K.
Money and your relationship with it is much more emotionally charged than you realize: focus on figuring out what your money issues are and address them ASAP.”
My advice is to get out of student loan debt as quickly as possible. Work the magic of compounding interest to your advantage. Start saving early and regularly.
Children & Motherhood
I received the majority of advice on this topic.
My favorite is from Katia Bloom, who said:
“Life doesn't end when you have children. However, if you can build a little "village" before having them, it makes it much easier to keep having a life of your own.
On a related note: if you choose to have children - it's really your choice what kind of a mom you are. Sometimes, it's just that simple and tuning out the myriad of "shoulds" can be very helpful.
If you choose to have children - most women have had some kind of pregnancy issues - it's just this thing nobody talks about and women have to carry the majority of that weight. Maybe talk about it to help it be less lonely for someone that's going through pregnancy loss/infertility/etc.”
Anna Hysell, North County Immigration offers these words of wisdom:
“1. Pick a career and establish yourself in it before you have children.
2. Do as much international travel as possible before kids.”
Having children or not having children - both are perfectly legitimate choices. Emmie Thomas, Knowji says:
“Having children is an option, and not a societal norm that everyone should follow. If and when you decide to have kids, be ready to give all that you can to that child. You are responsible for their well being and happiness until they are at least out of college. Have kids for the right reason and love unconditionally.”
Self Care & Being Kind to Ourselves
Many lawyers talked about the importance of self-care, authenticity and the importance of taming the inner critic.
Don't wait to be authentic. You will be your best lawyer/mom/wife/partner, etc. when you bring the real you to the job.
Katia Bloom says:
“You're not too thin/fat/curvy/pale/etc. for the love of ANYTHING else, stop picking your body apart.
Stop judging yourself in your head so harshly: you feel what you feel. Acknowledge that and let it go. Remember, happy and sad are just two feelings. One isn't better or worse than the other and feelings can change very quickly (half the time they're just thoughts).”
When you feel as if the world is crashing down on you, remember these words from Sarah Summerall, Summerall Law, PC:
Don't be so hard on yourself. It's going to work out, and if it doesn't work out, you will do something different. Also, retirement isn't a promise, it's a possibility. Loving your life now is the most important thing. Its, okay to take chances.
Lori Krauss offered the following advice. It touches on many of the categories listed above. I’m reprinting her advice it in its entirety.
1. Don’t shut yourself off from opportunities (whether work, romantic, family oriented) because they were not “what you thought you would do”. Most of my world now consists of things I had vowed I would never do and I am so happy I did it. That includes getting married, having 3 kids (well, the twins were kind of a surprise but…) and leaving big law and corporate life to work solo. As a 20 something, it was all about being a partner in a great firm and frankly, I don’t think that would have really made me happy. It might have made me rich, but happy, probably not. I have come to the conclusion that because we only get one go around, I should make it count (for myself, my family and my community) as well as have some fun.
2. Failures happen to everyone, but don’t let it get you down for longer than an acceptable “mourning period”. We have all been turned down from or lost jobs, lost partners and even friends along the road. While these things are heartbreaking at the time, they do provide you with invaluable insights into yourself and what really matters and also, I have found, lead you to another path that is probably where you should have been to begin with. I know that sounds hokey, but many women of my age seem to have had the same experience. Check with your other sources for that.
3. Take care of yourself because no one else will. That means taking a vacation, getting outside with your friends, leaving the office or desk or just reading a trashy book with absolutely no substantial value other than entertainment. I think so much clearer after a break and I am far less grumpy.
4. Look for a great boss. That might not be the most powerful person in the office, but someone who will be a great mentor, co-worker and friend. Having that type of relationship is great. And, if that person turns out to be the Great and Powerful Oz, so much the better.
5. Be yourself. If you are quirky and don’t belong in a white shoe conservative firm, don’t go there. You will be unhappy (see items 1 and 2).
Finally, many lawyers wrote about the importance of finding the right advice and ignoring advice that doesn’t resonate with you.
“Don't worry about advice when it contradicts your instinct.”
As the lyrics from one of my favorite song Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) says:
“Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past
From the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts
And recycling it for more than it's worth"
Read more: Baz Luhrmann - Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen) Lyrics | MetroLyrics (If you haven’t heard this song, head over to YouTube and listen.)
As a parting thought, remember that your career is long. There will be many twists and turns. Some expected, some unexpected. Some joyful, some painful. Look back on your life and see all the obstacles and challenges you’ve overcome. If you’re hitting a rough patch, know that you’re resilient and that “this too shall pass.”
PS - I’d love to hear from you. What advice would you offer to your younger self? You can read my Letter to My Teenage Self.
Jeena Cho is San Francisco bankruptcy attorney with JC Law Group PC. She is passionate about personal finance education. She’s working on her second book,The Anxious Lawyer for the ABA. Jeena teaches classes on mindfulness and meditation for lawyers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jeena_cho.