Throughout my career what success means to me has changed quite a lot. The one constant is that up until we had our children, my pursuit of success in my career was only focused on me. The other thing is that for a long time in my career I didn’t look at success as relating to all areas of my life – only work. Now that I think about it that strikes me as very odd; because when I looked for mentors and role models I was always drawn to people who seemed to have rich and full lives in their personal and professional worlds. I have found in my career that when I turned my gaze outward I had objective success come my way and also great personal happiness. I will try and tell you how that may have happened but there’s also a little bit of magic involved – a golden thread that now flows through my life – that I can’t quite put into words.
1. Success means being happy in your personal and professional lives and being the same person everywhere
I don’t stop being a mother or a wife or a daughter or a friend or a sister or a mentor ever; and I don’t stop being a lawyer. I don’t panic anymore about arbitrary distinctions of time or this peculiar quest for balance – which doesn’t exist when you don’t have kids – so why we think it will when we have kids had always struck me as odd. I just use the time I have in the way that I need.
Being a human
I have things I have to do as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, sister or mentor and things I have to do as a lawyer. All together these are things I describe as what I need to do to be a human. For a large chunk of my early career I lived like I was only a lawyer. I lived like my life was only about clients and billable hours. I look back now and see that as being really sad; the only saving grace is I didn’t realise it while I was living it.
I am not one thing or another
I don’t feel success is a stellar enough word to describe how empowering and life changing it is to give myself the freedom to apply the same attention and priority to my personal life as I do my career. I am not one thing or another. I am many things, and more; and I can’t be happy in my whole life if I only focus on my career. It’s as simple and as profound as that.
2. Success means knowing there is room for us all
To all the lawyers reading this you will know that there is a very pervasive blanket of competitiveness that casts a shadow over our industry and the daily lives of all lawyers. There is a pressure that if you don’t work harder than the next lawyer, or the next firm, you will be left behind. Billable hours do not do anything to lessen this pressure. I now look at success as not being something that one person can have to the exclusion of all others. AND THIS IS LIBERATING!!!!
Once you know that your capacity to be successful is not at all impacted by someone else being successful it gives you so much peace. Success to me means knowing that there is room for all of us. This perspective on success has fuelled my passion to support everyone around me to achieve. This makes me happier and makes my life richer and fuller.
Letting go of better, busier (or more exhausted)
I am never concerned that by supporting someone else I will diminish my own chances or prospects. I know that by supporting other people to achieve I am creating an engaged and empowered group of people around me who are all trying to do the best they can. Letting go of the pressure that I have to be better, busier (or more exhausted) than the next lawyer has changed my life. It has lead me to rich and meaningful relationships with other people who I support and who support me. This to me is success; and when we share success around I have found the world opens up in magical ways. It’s as simple and as profound as that.
3. Success means my family knows that their lives matter
My day to day life broken down to its simplest parts is that I am a wife, a mother and lawyer. Success to me means that my husband and my kids know that their stuff is important too. Success means it’s not all about me because I’m a lawyer and I’m busy and I’m stressed sometimes. Their lives matter. Their stuff matters. When they need me I am there; just like when I need them they are there for me. This is success; its everyone in my day to day life feeling like they matter and they are important and that their stuff counts.
Family is a glorious collective
The success that I feel I have in my life is magnified every day by being part of this glorious collective of humans eeking out success together, for each other and alone. From that we can weave our way into the world as sons, daughters, sisters, aunties, nieces, ethics teachers, soccer coaches, nephews; lawyers, students and friends.
Doing what I can when I can
It’s not always easy to do when priorities are competing; but success to me is the freedom that comes from knowing that these people are my world. My family drives me forward and pushes me higher. I also now know that fulfilment and success are achieved, not by balance, but by doing what I can when I can. I felt such a release of pressure and stress when I came to understand this; and that in itself is one of my greatest successes. It’s as simple and as profound as that.
4. Success is passion and purpose – it’s not a title
I have left this to last – but really this is the magic thread that flows through every other aspect of what I now believe success really means.
We take ourselves wherever we go
I now get that it’s not about titles – even though I work in a structure where titles and promotions propel us forward. For years I wanted to be a senior associate; and when I finally got there; all the issues and challenges I was having followed me to this promised land. What I had discovered was that it is true; we take ourselves wherever we go.
4 billion miles away
So if the title wasn’t what I was craving; what was it. Now I know. Now I really know. It was passion and purpose. And once I worked that out it gave me the wings I needed to really fly. But I had to fly through storms of discomfort and doubt along the way. The good news is that once I became comfortable with being 4 billion miles away from my comfort zone I landed right where I needed to be. It’s actually funny (or a bit sad) that for years I had been telling people I mentored that you need a passion; you need a purpose. But somehow I thought that didn’t apply to me. In reality I was riding so high on the wave of billable hours that I never thought about passion and purpose for myself.
Once the penny dropped; it was like I had walked right into the sun. And I have stayed there ever since. Having passion and purpose has totally changed my life. Identifying what that passion and purpose is has shined a light on where I need to go. I know now that my purpose is to take as many people with me as I can. I want to do the best work I can and be the happiest lawyer I can; and I want to make sure that every lawyer I come into contact with feels the same way. Once I understood that, I made fulfilling that my purpose; and I have never felt so passionate, inspired, energised and alive. Not a single autopilot in sight.
Passion + Purpose = Succes
And funnily enough when you open yourself up to all the joy that passion and purpose can bring to your life; other people can’t help but come on the journey when you share this incredible secret with them. Passion + Purpose = Success. Passion + Purpose = Success. Passion + Purpose = Success. It’s as simple and as profound as that.