Looking at my career now (particularly in light of today’s economy), it appears to have been a plan well executed. But neither the path I have traveled, nor the degree to which I have succeeded, were what I expected, and are in large part due to my mentors, who helped me find my strengths and maintain and achieve greater perspective.
Like many women of my era, I started out believing that “professionalism” was equated with “toughness” and maintaining aloofness. But one cannot develop professionally (or probably in any other way) in isolation. Mentoring relationships can enable those starting out, to see what they cannot see, in their performance and themselves. It was my mentors who led me to understand that my viewing an issue in an unconventional way, and my habit of speaking in metaphors, were expressions of creativity I should not suppress, but combine with discipline to strengthen my analysis. Perhaps more importantly, each of my mentors pushed me to pause before reacting, and look at issues and situations from the perspectives of others involved. Though sometimes this is a challenge for independent achievers, it is in fact the key to true success.
My mentors have been a varied lot with greater and lesser roles in my development—senior partners, the women in leadership in my organization, the judge for whom I clerked, and, later in my career, my clients who cared enough to provide me feedback. To this day I stop and think, “What if I were the supervisor being handed this work product, the judge ruling on this argument, the client hearing this advice?” And now that I am myself the supervisor, I think, “What if I were the junior lawyer getting these instructions or that feedback?” These reflections have enabled me to reach greater levels of communication, teamwork, and results.
To those beginning their careers, look for mentoring in a variety of relationships, and allow others to help you see in yourself what might be obscured for you. And be aware of other views when confronted with a new or difficult situation—as your mother would say, stop for a moment and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.