Redefine Success, Submit to Passion
It's January 2013 in Denver, Colorado. Things are going well. My children have settled easily into the school year in second grade and pre-K. Becker Impact started a challenging and particularly meaningful new project. Then, as part of that project, I interviewed a charismatic young lawyer who mentioned what first year associates now earn at New York City law firms. Plus bonus.
And out of the "I am totally content, my life is exactly as I want it to be" blue, I panicked. Really? First years? Oh my. Quick, random mathematical calculations in my head. That's what I'd be making if I'd stayed at a big firm? I felt like I might throw up.
Sure, thinking about "if I were a partner at a law firm" at this point is about as useful as considering "if I were an astronaut heading a mission to Mars." Its been almost fifteen years since I left my position as an associate at a NYC law firm to take a job as PR director of a foundation whose focus inspired me so much that I cried when I first heard about the work. Securities litigation so did not move me in this way that I was willing to take a hefty pay cut so I could "spend my days working on something that made a difference." And the rest is nonprofit communications and motherhood history. Very good, right for me history.
Thankfully, my "what if" moment was transient. I got back to my work, my life, my choices. And later that evening, I gained a little insight into my moment of greed.
At the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado’s annual “Choices” women's fundraising event this past November, Israeli Member of Knesset Einat Wilf addressed an array of topics, including the recent U.S. presidential elections and what she refers to as the new Israeli contract with the Jewish world. Mostly, however, Wilf highlighted her experiences in the political fray, and the personal lessons that she has learned via her professional experiences to this point.
Einat is a relative newcomer to Israeli politics. She chairs the left-centrist Independence faction (formed as a breakaway from the Labor party in January 2010). She has degrees in government and political science from Harvard and Cambridge and is the author of two books. Prior to entering politics, she served in various senior positions in the business and nonprofit worlds. She is frequently quoted in the New York Times, and in a recent series of articles predicting how the world might look in 2031, the French newspaper Le Figaro envisioned Wilf as Israel's prime minister. In an interesting sign of the times, Wilf is intermarried, and her husband is German. Basically, Einat Wilf is brilliant; she's a Zionist, a feminist, and apparently, my newest hero.
I felt myself sit up especially straight and lean in towards the stage when Wilf started talking about anger and passion as life's great motivators. "In order to make a difference," she said, "you have to be sufficiently angry or passionate about something." She also said that she learned at a certain point that rather than try to be a particular someone or something, its best to simply submit to one's passions.
As Wilf elaborated, I thought about the two things that most compel me to try to do good and effect change - Jewish life and women's issues. I tend to view the world through a Jewish lens, and my commitment to the Jewish people runs deep. My connection and contributions to Jewish life are the result of passion. My work on women's issues, on the other hand, stems from anger. Raised by parents with traditional Southern values and strict conservative mores in an orthodox Jewish community, I resented, and rejected, the prescribed roles for girls and women dictated by my family, school and neighbors. These feelings inspired me to work to empower women--to protect reproductive rights, to fight against domestic violence and to try and be a champion of women's voices.
Though I admittedly enjoy many of the experiences and things that money can buy, I've never really thought of myself as being motivated by money. Apparently neither does much of my generation. Much has been written about the difference between the Baby Boomers driven by lucrative financial compensation and getting the corner office and title, and Generation X & Y who aspire to be leaders, and are driven by different "lifestyle choices." Baby boomers don't hesitate to work 60-plus hours a week, and "do what it takes" to get the job. Generation X and Y workers look for opportunities in a desirable city or neighborhood, and a chance to work with other dynamic young "intrapeneurs," doing something meaningful, while enjoying a balanced lifestyle.
So why did a reminder of private law firm salaries throw me momentarily off course?
In order to follow my passions, try to change that which made me angry, and achieve my life balance, I've had to choose certain things over others, and then leave those other things behind. Sometimes way behind. And then I've had to choose again. And again. Each time I make a choice, I open a new door. But another one closes. Not always, but often. Chatting with a young Manhattan attorney reminded me of one of the big turning points in my life, and of the consequences we must accept when we make the hard choices.
When I was 27 years old, I chose to veer off a path on which I saw no future for myself. At 33, I decided to leave a job that was a pain in my ass in exactly the right way that something you absolutely love should be so I could focus my energy on my newest joy/aggravation - raising my young children. And at 40, I am back to work, but I try to get it done between 9 and 3 while my children are in school, and also to set aside time in the early mornings or evenings to exercise and write. A prescription for a happy, balanced life, but not one for earning six to seven figures.
When talking about feminism (one of her passions), Einat Wilf said "If the 20th century was about women gaining equality, then the 21st century will be about women gaining leadership." What a beautiful way to sum up a hundred years of history and another hundred years of hope. Here's to Wilf being right. And to all of us--women and men--doing our part to make sure that leadership is defined in ways that value a vast array of choices and enable us to define success accordingly.