By Claire E. Parsons • November 17, 2017•Writers in Residence, Careers, Other Career Issues, Issues, Mentoring and Networking
The best career advice I ever received was so simple but so fundamental: stop thinking and start doing. Like many lawyers, one of my prized assets is my analytical mind. Personal strengths, as many of us discover, can often double as areas of challenge. Early in my practice and as a new mom, I regularly worried about what the future might hold, and how I could achieve equity partnership and balance the other demands in my life. I focused on the odds and stark realities instead of developing a plan and planting the seeds that would be necessary to reach my goals. And it limited—and sometimes paralyzed—me.
Through my local Chamber of Commerce, I was lucky to find a mentor who properly diagnosed my condition: I was suffering from the “grape nut” effect. She explained that, in the same way Grape Nuts cereal seems to get bigger as you chew on it, problems seem to enlarge and become insurmountable the more we think about them.
I will always be a thinker and I accept the good in that. But, after that realization, I took active measures to balance myself and to start doing the things that would help me accomplish my goals. I developed practices, like daily meditation, to keep my overthinking in check and to stay in touch with my intuition and emotion, which usually lead me to the right places. I focused on nurturing relationships with friends who share my values and colleagues who I could count on for support. And, most of all, I said yes to every opportunity unless there was a very good reason to say no. I am now a newly minted equity partner at my small firm outside of Cincinnati and I know that this is, in part, because I learned the limits of thinking and the value of doing.
While I absolutely do not believe that the legal profession lacks gender parity primarily because of the actions or inactions of female lawyers, I believe that this advice is still useful for other women lawyers. Women tend to be introverts at greater rates than men and they tend to ruminate at greater rates than men. Coupling the heavy emphasis that law practice places on rational, analytical thinking, I suspect many other women lawyers have had similar experiences to my own. More fundamentally, however, the situations and systems in which we operate every day are all filtered through our internal thought processes. Thus, while systems should and must change in the legal profession, our thought processes may affect how we experience and navigate those systems. That was certainly my experience and I am grateful to the mentor who helped me realize just how powerful internal thought processes can be.