There is no one path for success. I’ve found having options is liberating and has allowed me to chart my own course.
As a child, I saw firsthand how my parents’ educational level limited them professionally and financially. This experience ingrained in me a desire to never be limited by any job, employer, career path, or place or situation that I deemed unfruitful, unstimulating, or unhealthy for me. I saw education as the first step in creating options for myself.
As the youngest of three girls, I knew that I would need to finance my education. I was fortunate to attend one of the top public high schools in the nation, which paved the way for me to go to an elite engineering school on both academic and athletic scholarships.
One reason I chose Georgia Tech was because I believed it would give me the widest range of opportunities. I chose a major that was challenging yet marketable, enabling me to distinguish myself. I took advantage of exciting and unique job opportunities—including working for the CIA—to enhance my education and expand my options. These experiences positioned me to attend a top law school. I chose Penn Law with the same goal in mind—broadening my range of future choices.
One of my sponsors told me many years ago that “cream always rises to the top.” That observation stayed with me and was motivating. While I cannot always control all my circumstances, I can control the quality of my work product, study habits, and preparedness—a theme I try to propagate among my teams. Every professional success I’ve achieved is attributable to a team of people putting their talents and hard work together towards a common goal. But I also value what each individual uniquely brings to the team.
Knowing yourself, being true to yourself, and being self-confident cannot be overstated. People will try to question your readiness to tackle new challenges, or doubt your intellect and abilities. It’s up to you whether you buy into that mindset. I still have a Thurgood Marshall poster in my home office, captioned, “Those who refuse to place limitations upon themselves will always succeed.” I believe that.
Is there a role model who has had a profound impact on your career and/or life?
What did he/she motivate you to do? My father always told me, “Whatever you do, you be the best.” He was a constant supporter, who helped me develop physical and mental toughness that has served me personally and professionally. My mother was studious, always prepared, hard working, and a pillar of strength and faith. She taught me to be resourceful, self-sufficient, and thorough.
Has discrimination affected you as a woman in the workplace? How did you deal with it?
Yes. Sometimes, I ignore people that are undeserving of my energy particularly when the impact of their behavior is minimal. Other times, the situation necessitates me to stand up for myself by confronting it directly. That’s not easy and makes people uncomfortable, but we can’t be afraid to be our own advocates. Ultimately, we can’t control others’ behavior nor make people do the right thing, but I’ve learned that when I focus on my performance, everything else comes together eventually.