I have had many mentors throughout my life, starting with my father, who worked in the Pittsburgh steel mills. His chance to attend college was short-circuited by the Great Depression, but he did understand the value of education. My love of reading started early when he paid me a dime for each day that I read the newspaper. Although my three older sisters did not go to college, my father supported my college aspirations and I became the first college, and law school, graduate in my family.
After law school, adapting to the male-dominated environment of a Chicago law firm initially did not seem easy. Fortunately, a small group of women lawyers at the firm became a strong support group. We worked closely to establish the firm’s first maternity policy, and to end the firm’s patronage of social clubs that discriminated against women. Several male colleagues were also highly supportive, and arranged for me to become the firm’s first telecommuting attorney, which allowed me to relocate to Syracuse, New York to join my husband, while still remaining a partner.
While my children were still at home, my volunteering focused on activities that allowed me to fulfill both my passion for volunteering with my desire to spend time with my children. One memorable example was a trip with my son to Mississippi to work on rebuilding homes in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.
As I progressed in my career, I learned that the greatest rewards came from my impact on others. Taking the extra time to mentor a junior attorney, providing advice to a new mother about balancing family and work life, or listening to the perspectives of other attorneys on ways to improve the firm’s diversity efforts, I have learned that being a leader means more than just being a successful lawyer. In fact, my ability to care about people, by listening and seeing the world through their eyes, has proven valuable in my role as the first woman on my firm’s executive committee.
My advice for young professionals is to first determine and prioritize your professional and personal goals and aspirations, looking both at what you want and what is possible. There is no “right” answer—it depends upon what you are seeking out of your life. Take time to volunteer, spend time with your friends, and strengthen your family relationships. As my father taught me, it is your integrity and work ethic that will take you through life’s biggest challenges even when your intellect and inspiration wear thin.