One of the hardest things to do is to “find yourself” in your career, but it is the most important. Watching others and trying to learn from them is a necessary building block, but finding your own style, voice, and approach is critical. As a trial lawyer, I have learned that what works for a large man with a booming voice, simply won’t work for me. Rather than pounding the table, I sometimes speak more softly, but confidently, and find that juries will lean in to listen. In short, I have learned from wonderful lawyers whom I have admired over the years, but ultimately the only voice that works is my own.
You have to be yourself. That’s how you gain credibility. This can take years to develop—and that’s okay. Happily, our world is increasingly diverse, so there may be people who have blazed a trail ahead of you. If you are blessed with mentors who are like you, that is a gift. Cherish it. Having those mentors may make work easier, but realize that they are not you. You are different and, ultimately, must find your own approach.
Some of the most successful people I know experienced very different career trajectories. There are those who start strong and others who are late bloomers. A career is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be life demands that will take time away from your career, and those should be celebrated. Whether it’s taking care of children or aging parents, or just pursuing other interests, if it is important to you, do it. I have found that taking time for family and outside interests makes me a more complete, balanced person. Without doing that, I couldn’t succeed in my career.
Karen’s Advice to Young Women Starting Careers
First, find a career that you love. Have a vision and try to look to the future—remember that Rome was not built in a day. Careers take perseverance, so don’t expect to love everything about the job from day one. Try to look past some of the challenges you encounter, whether it is the degree or education required, or the mundane tasks that come with an entry-level position. If you know what you want to do, be patient, stay focused, and you will get there.
Second, you will need help from others. This includes speaking to successful people who can advise and mentor you, but also your family and friends, who will be an important network of support.
Finally, stay flexible. Sometimes you will find a different path from the one that you first envisioned. But if you listen to your heart, and are not afraid to pursue what speaks to you, you will find the right path. Trust your instincts, and don’t be afraid to try new paths in your career.