One thing you probably haven’t thought about in relation to your legal career is whether or not you’re being true to your authentic self.
What does that even mean? Enough with the life coachy bullshit already!
I’m talking about being the person you truly are at your core.
Not the person your parents want you to be. Or that your friends see. Or that your boss expects.
Who YOU are.
Women in the legal field are particularly out of sync with their authentic selves. And who can blame us! The law is a demanding arena littered with unrealistic expectations of perfection, success and balance. And for some reason, society expects us to make it all look effortless, too. Effffffff.
As a high achiever, you strive to be everything to everyone. The dutiful daughter who makes her parents proud. The wife and mother who takes incredible care of her family. The dedicated student who rocks her exams, kills it in moot court and nails her clerkship interviews. The bright associate who exceeds her billable hours requirement, never complains and is destined for partnership. The friend who remembers everyone’s birthdays and hosts the best dinner parties.
Let me be clear there is nothing wrong with being any or all of the above. Not in the least.
But what I want you to do is consider the roles you fill and be brutally honest with yourself about why you inhabit these roles.
Which roles align with with your authentic self and which don’t?
Let’s take the role of successful lawyer. Although so many women are indeed successful attorneys, they admit to being downright miserable. Yet leaving the practice of law doesn’t seem like a viable option to them.
What would their family and friends think? What about all the outstanding law school loans? What about all that time spent earning a JD, taking the bar exam and learning how to actually practice law?
And these hesitations are so valid. No one wants to feel that they’ve disappointed someone, modify their comfortable lifestyle or question major life decisions.
But so often we forget to consider that we may be disappointing ourselves by staying in a role that makes us miserable.
It’s so much easier to just ignore that inner voice that wants something different. So you stick with the status quo.
But how long can you live that way? Making others happy at your expense. Fulfilling expectations that aren’t your own. Striving for someone else’s version of success. Equating self-worth with your career.
Truthfully, you can go for years like this. Year upon miserable year.
I did. I was so afraid of what people would think of me (hello, failure!) that I was willing to preserve an image others expected at the expense of my happiness.
One day the fear of living in extended misery exceeded my fear of what others thought.
It was as though something snapped, and I knew I couldn’t be a lawyer anymore.
I also knew that I wanted my growing family to be my top priority. And that I’d never deal with billable hours again. If I wanted to wear yoga pants and bring my dogs to work, I’d be able to. Above all else, I wanted a life that made me excited to get out of bed every morning. (Not an easy task for this sleepaholic.)
I could no longer stifle my authentic self.
I finally accepted that I can’t control what others think of me. Even in the unauthentic roles I filled to appease others, I realized I can’t control their reactions. So why the hell shouldn’t I do what makes me truly happy?!
Don’t get me wrong; the path of authenticity is still a tough road to travel. You can invite the people in your life to support you, but you can’t force them to accept the authentic you.
And you know what? That’s not about you.
When you embrace your authentic self by changing the way you live, you force the people in your life to confront their own authenticity. And that makes them uncomfortable. Perhaps angry. Often envious.
But that’s their problem. NOT YOURS.
And as long as we’re being honest, here, you’ve spent enough time worrying about the needs of others. Forget about what others want and expect, if only for the time being.
Today, I challenge you to tend to the desires of your authentic self.
You might even surprise yourself and do the same tomorrow. I hope you do, brave one.
This post first appeared on Ms. JD as part of my year-long column as a Writer in Residence, "The JD's Life Coach". Ms. JD is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and the legal profession.