career

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I’ve lost track of panels I’ve attended with women leaders and activists – who are invited to speak about their careers, accomplishments, and lessons learned – where the conversation almost inevitably skews to questions about work life balance. And quite often, the questions are asked by other women (often younger women) who want to know how to achieve similar success, but also have a life at home.

But rarely have I attended a panel about careers where men are asked how they manage to balance their life at home with their career ambitions. And I don’t think I can recall a single instance where young men in the audience have asked questions about balance, or sought advice on managing family and work in their own lives.

Work life balance is undoubtedly important, but these are questions we should all be asking and answering.  Balance, and the need to care for family members, is a problem that affects both men and women.  Although it affects everyone, it is unfortunately (and inaccurately) perceived as a “women’s problem.”

In her new book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, Anne-Marie Slaughter notes that a 2013 Pew study on parenting showed that 50% of fathers, and 56% of mothers with children at home said that they find it difficult to balance the responsibilities of work with those of their family. Slaughter writes,

“…both women and men who experience the dual tug of care and career and as a result must make compromises at work pay a price. Redefining the women’s problem as a care problem thus broadens our lens and allows us to focus much more precisely on the real issue: the undervaluing of care, no matter who does it.”

She goes on to note that “it’s easy for employers to marginalize an issue if they label it a ‘women’s problem.’ A women’s problem is an individual issue, not a company-wide dilemma.”  But if it is a broader, more systemic problem of valuing care, it suddenly becomes much more pressing of a challenge for businesses and workplaces.  Slaughter also underscores that journalists, the media, business, and industry all choose to frame issues of care, and work life balance, as “women’s issues.”

Indeed, attending events and asking female panelists questions about how they manage to balance work and life — and failing to ask male panelists the very same questions — shows our bias as a society, and further perpetuates this myth that care and balance is “women’s work.”

So the next time you attend a panel (and particularly if you are male!), why not pose the very same questions to male panelists? Ask them how they managed to achieve career success, while also managing to balance family and care.

Only by posing these questions equally can we start eradicating the assumption that balance and care is for women alone. It may not solve the problem, but it is certainly a start.

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lean-in-book-review

In reading Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, I found many lessons that were highly applicable to my own life. Her words provided encouragement to stay confident and to push forward for my dream career rather than stepping back at a young age to focus instead on family and marriage. And yet, I found myself ultimately deeply skeptical of her intrinsic argument for a variety of reasons.

 First, although Sandberg herself acknowledges this, her book largely applies only to the 1% — to privileged women who have had the opportunity to pursue higher education and who have the option of building a successful career. Her lessons do not apply to the vast majority of women in America or even around the world, who are poor, struggling to even find minimum wage jobs, who are subject to domestic and gender-based violence, who are new immigrants lacking basic financial security. Her arguments also make the assumption not just of economic advantage, but heterosexuality. Lean In is entirely targeted towards women in traditional, heterosexual relationships, who desire to have children and have a traditional conception of ‘family.’ But what of women who do not fit this mold?

 I do agree that a criticism of feminism through the portrayal of (and attack of) the “wealthy white feminist woman” is itself a stereotypical construction, since the majority of white women are also poor and systematically battered in their homes. Much of the gender violence occurring today in the U.S. to white women – such as the recent rape of Daisy Coleman in Maryville, MO – is no less horrific than what is happening around the world to women of color. And yet, Sandberg is specifically targeting heterosexual women of privilege, not just white women. She focuses on getting women who are already economically privileged into the top positions; in the process, she not only ignores the needs of women who are in positions of socioeconomic disadvantage, but she also misses a key point, which is that simply placing already advantaged women into the topmost leadership positions will not change much about our society. Inequality will only be reduced if we address the roots of inequality, and focusing on getting privileged women into positions of even greater privilege does not do so.

Second, Sandberg’s critique is a highly individualistic one that serves to perpetuate inequality through our country’s capitalist structure. She buys in completely to our capitalistic economic model, focused on getting ahead rather than a true balance of work and life. She never pauses to ask the question of whether our current model is even the right one. Most of all, she places the onus squarely on women themselves to correct the power imbalances in our country and to right the dismal statistics showing so few women in positions of top leadership in business, finance, law, academia, and politics. Sandberg urges women to remain confident, not to step back too early from a burgeoning career to instead care for family, and to find the ‘right’ spouse who will be supportive and shoulder an equal burden at home.

Yet, for all this to happen, the opportunities have to be there in the first place; societal expectations and our current socioeconomic structure must change. A dramatic societal shift is needed: currently, far fewer men than women stay home to take care of children, and men generally do not spend equal time on household chores. The reality is that the majority of men “do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job,” as Anne Marie Slaughter observes in her piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” As she notes, every male Supreme Court justice has a family – but two of the three female justices are single with no children. Although men are regularly supportive and encouraging, on a statistical scale they are still less likely to take a step back in their career to prioritize family. Yet, there are reasons for this too: employers penalize men who attempt to cut back their careers for personal reasons. Further, social stereotypes and expectations continue to preference rigid gender roles for both men and women.  I believe the blame lies more in patriarchy as a whole than the attitudes of individual men.

But any societal shift towards a more equitable division in household labor will only happen if our policies radically shift. Our government must, to begin with, provide equal paid parental leave for mothers and fathers.  Currently, mothers and fathers are not guaranteed any paid leave, and only 11.4% of workplaces in the U.S. provide paid parental leave. Since employers tend to assume women shoulder the burden, maternity leave is more common than paid paternity leave, leading to further inequality. In comparison, France and the Netherlands provide 112 days of paid maternity and paternity leave at 100% pay. As noted in the article, “In Sweden, Men Can Have It all,” a shift in the laws related to parental leave and childcare could easily lead to a significant societal shift over time by normalizing and legitimizing the decision of men to spend more time at home, thus lessening the burden on mothers and making the choice of leaning in actually possible.

Yet, Sandberg does not pay much attention to such need for structural reform, instead choosing to focus on the individual. This parlays into the prevalent idea of the American dream – that if women work hard and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, they can achieve anything. Sandberg’s philosophy – assuming women can choose from various prime job options, that they can choose a truly supportive spouse, that women can even choose when exactly in their career to have children – is premised on those very same ideas of individuality, freedom and liberty. Unfortunately, the reality is very different than Sandberg’s construction of choice, opportunities, and freedom, and most women throughout the world lack real choice in making decisions related to their own careers and bodies due to historical disadvantage including an intersection of racism, sexism, poverty, and violence.  Without addressing the root of this disadvantage, putting privileged women into positions of greater power will not necessarily make our society fundamentally more equal.

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In a previous post, I spoke about how this fall has been a time of being plunged into a whirlpool of questions.

There are questions about personal career choice as law school begins to come to an end (even almost two years away, as graduation is, these questions loom ever closer). Do I love direct legal services, or international women’s rights and access to justice — or as is more likely both? Am I pursuing my dream or am I giving them up for something more comfortable, less challenging? Am I abandoning my biggest hopes for fear, once again — or am I actually pursuing what I love most?

And there are also questions about effectiveness. What is the most effective strategy to combat violence against women? Does direct legal aid help, and if so, how much? What about legal trainings of lawyers and judges? And public interest litigation? And legal awareness trainings in communities?  Is the focus on judicial system strengthening needed or is it myopic in its ultimate goal? What about holistic legal & social services — does it actually make as great an impact as I think, and hope? Many of these questions come down to: how do I find what to dedicate my life to — what makes the most impact, and also what makes me come alive the most? I wish I knew the answers immediately. And yet, sometimes they seem more elusive than ever. Not knowing the answers immediately and intimately often seems to cause me the most frustration.

Yet, I recently came across these words by Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet, which helped to drastically change my outlook:

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps indeed you carry within yourself the possibility of shaping and forming as a particularly pure and blessed kind of life; train yourself for it — but take what comes in complete trust. – Rainer Maria Rilke, from Letters to a Young Poet

And on enduring a state of doubt:

To be genuinely thoughtful, we must be willing to sustain and protract that state of doubt which is the stimulus to thorough enquiry, so as not to accept an idea or make a positive assertion of a belief, until justifying reasons have been found.

And so, here I am — trying to take these lessons to heart. I am trying to, instead of demanding myself to arrive at an immediate answer, learning to love the journey of exploration and of navigating through these questions. Ultimately, it means following my heart in the moment, rather than demanding ultimate explanations. It is about eschewing ultimatums and learning to love the questions, the process of finding oneself, the learning gained from each step, and slowly, but surely, getting closer to the answers.

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I absolutely loved this TEDx talk by Priya Parker, who designs visioning labs and creates techniques to encourage people to “reboot” into work they are truly passionate about.

Much of the talk, certainly, is only applicable to a small percentage of people – the elite, who are lucky enough to have jobs, and to have lucrative positions. Parker talks about investment bankers, management consultants, and corporate lawyers. I acknowledge that this is a bit problematic and sidesteps the challenges faced by much of the world in securing gainful and non-exploitative employment. Yet, Parker acknowledges this herself — and I think that many of the fears she describes — of the unknown, of instability, apply to many of us, not just the 1%.  And for those of us lucky enough to have choice and option in the work we do, I believe it offers some useful tips and suggestions on doing meaningful work. I hope you come away energized and inspired, as I was.

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In law school, raising your hand is a competition. Hands shoot up every second, thoughts are formulated rapidly with no room for deep thinking, and the spotlight is on you as eighty of your classmates train their eyes on you — often to raise their hand and proffer a counterpoint in the next minute. Professors call you out (the “socratic method”) and can question you about the minutiae of each case.

This can be a hostile environment, especially for those of us who prefer to think in writing than in speech. At my core, I am a writer. I express myself on paper, not aloud. I am not a speaker or orator, and I lack eloquence in my speech. I am outmatched by others in my ability to think aloud on the spot, under pressure with a volley of questions slung my way. Thankfully, the course culminates in a final exam: testing your ability to write quickly, write a lot, and analyze issues rapidly. My oft incoherent or timid answers in class will not count, and my writing is the final test. For that, I am grateful.

Is this a ‘male’ or ‘female’ way of thinking? Are women less likely to raise their hands in class? I tend to think that there is no inherent ‘female’ way of speaking or acting. Women can be loud, strong-willed, aggressive, passionate, and outspoken, just as men can be. I have met very quiet men and extremely assertive, confident women. Further, is confidence truly correlated with speaking up? After all, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently broke his 7-year streak of not speaking on the bench. Seven years! And I would wager a Supreme Court Justice does not lack confidence, but simply prefers to think rather than fire questions. I shy away from overgeneralizations, stereotypes about an entire gender. Yet, there is certain truth to the fact that we women are exposed to different media messages and socialized to act in a certain way. We are told that it’s more important to be a pretty face than to be a strong, intelligent leader. Perhaps that’s why this is happening in law school:

A male student was 50% more likely to speak voluntarily at least once during a class meeting than was a female student. Men were also much more likely to speak multiple times in a given class meeting. Compared with female students, men were 64% more likely to speak three or more times in a class, and 144% more likely to volunteer three or more comments.

This is why I love Sheryl Sandberg’s message, in her new book: Lean In. 

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,” Sandberg writes in the book, called “Lean In.”

“We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives, the messages that say it’s wrong to be outspoken, aggressive, more powerful than men. We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve. We continue to do the majority of the housework and child care. We compromise our career goals to make room for partners and children who may not even exist yet.”

And yet, there are questions, I believe, that must be asked. Is Sandberg suggesting that women simply act… more like men? Instead, should we work together to shape a world where the fastest talker, the most aggressive person in the room, is no longer considered the most brilliant? Are we now simply placing more burden on women to pursue opportunities, rather than shaping a world of equal opportunity? This is an individual, not a structural solution. And I believe this raises some hard questions that we must address before telling women: lean in.

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In the past few days, I blazed my way through “Work on Purpose” by Lara Galinsky and Echoing Green, devouring the stories and winding pathways of the five social entrepreneurs profiled within.

This book is a reflection of our generation – slightly confused, constantly searching, never settling, seeking meaning. For Generation Y, work has been transformed from a simple means of supporting oneself to an opportunity, a blank space which we can paint with our passions and imbue with our spirits. Work is no longer about plain sustenance, but about creativity, innovation, and possibility. And most of all, our generation seeks a deeper purpose for our work. Helping large corporations make more money is no longer satisfying; being a cog in a robotic machine is deeply unsettling.

But you have heard all this before. The way the Millennial generation views work and meaning and life and purpose is nothing new to you. We have been inundated with blogs and articles examining my generation’s characteristics in painstaking detail.

Yet, many see my generation as entitled–we feel like we are above grunt work and endless spreadsheets and paying our dues. We do not want to settle for something we don’t love. And yes. Perhaps this quest for meaning reeks of entitlement. But aren’t we all working towards a world where our children have the freedom to pursue their passion for a living? And isn’t it a good thing– no, a great thing– if this generation springboards from entitlement into a generation of social change leaders? And this, indeed, is what is happening. We are experiencing an unprecedented movement of young people passionate about tackling deeply entrenched social problems. And I would argue that our entitlement is, in part, what has allowed us to do important work. What has freed us up from the need to focus only on salary, allowed us to pursue work for reasons beyond supporting our families.

Work on Purpose echoes this quintessential quest that myself and many of my peers are undergoing. What is inspiring, and different, about this book is its painful honesty. The social justice leaders profiled did not follow a linear path to doing good work. Indeed, the roads they took were often winding, painful, and confusing. Most of them did not find their ideal job doing game-changing work that also harnessed their valuable skills immediately after college:

“Although the words and actions we absorb in our homes profoundly shape our ideas of what is important, when it comes time to start a professional life, we often put those early experiences aside. They can be overshadowed by the desire to earn a good salary, the pressure to follow a particular path, and the need to satisfy competing demands from our families, our peers, and ourselves.

Few people fall immediately into jobs or paths that satisfy all these desires, let alone stem from what they think is meaningful. Most people…wander or take misguided turns.”

Cheryl Dorsey

Cheryl Dorsey, President of Echoing Green, did not find her place in the world until 38! She spent time meandering, learning, falling in and out of graduate programs and ill-fitting jobs. She went to medical school, got an MPP, and even enrolled in a history graduate program. None of them seemed to click or truly ignite her passion — she did not want to be a doctor or a policymaker — but she kept seeking. She found the right place once she joined Echoing Green. She got there eventually. And it’s a lesson to all of us that we can find the right fit — we may just have to exercise a bit of  patience and refuse to give up in our quest.

Along the way, we must ask ourselves certain questions:  What moments from your childhood shaped what you think is important? When in your life have you felt out of whack? In those out of whack periods, what was out of balance? What would you do if you were not afraid of failing? When have you felt in the zone, like you were doing exactly what you should be doing? What is your issue or cause to own?

Why do you do what you do?

Ultimately, Lara Galinsky comes up with a powerful formula: heart + head = hustle. The perfect career lies nestled in this combination: passion and love for what you do and your mission (heart) and the utilization of your concrete skills and talents (head). If you find work that allows you to harness your professional skills to your fullest potential while also allowing you to do something you love & feel strongly about, you have stumbled upon something truly magical.

This is the journey of our generation, and future ones. My pathway seems blanketed in fog for now, but at the same time I know where my feet are taking me. I am asking myself the questions that matter, while knowing things will become clearer with time. This book gives me faith that I, and you, will eventually find that magical balance that sets things in motion to change ourselves, and the world.

We just have to have a little patience.

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When I heard about Steve Jobs’ death, I felt a sudden flash of sadness hit me. Why was I so sad about the death of a man I never met? Because Steve Jobs is not just a man, but a legacy — an inventor, innovator, entrepreneur, and creative genius. Steve Jobs changed our lives by creating beautiful technology infused with love, passion, and the desire to “think different.” His marketing of Apple products was successful not simply because iPhones, iMacs, and iPods have sleek, fashionable design — but because of the brand he associated these technologies with. By purchasing a Mac, you’re daring to think differently. You’re not just purchasing a phone or a computer, but a brand — a new way of living, thinking and breathing.

I am sad that the life of such an incredible innovator has ended too early — and I wish Steve Jobs could have spent the next twenty years changing the world even further. But I am thankful that he has lived a full life — and most of all, I know that his legacy will live on. And not just in the devices that we spend our lives using — but in his words, and his inspiration to young people.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is a message from Steve Jobs:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. – Apple Inc.

I’m sure many of you have read this quote already — but whenever I read it again, I feel inspired. It’s a reminder to me to follow my passion, to do what I think is right — even if I think differently. It reminds me that the only way I can participate in change is to believe, crazily enough, that I can change the world.

This message, to me, is at the heart of Apple’s success and Steve Jobs’ legacy. Steve Jobs dared to think differently, and his message resonated with us all. The only way we can succeed is to follow our hearts, even if it leads us to reject the status quo.

The world beats us down, every day. People tell us that our goals are impossible. We are told not to dream so big, but to be more realistic. Not to follow your heart, but be practical. That your visions of shifting paradigms are foolish. That you’re crazy to think differently, or to do what you love.

But Steve Jobs tells us that we’re not too crazy, but maybe just crazy enough to change the world. And I believe him.

Thank you, Steve Jobs. You will be missed.

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I have a lot of interests and passions. I am driven to find ideas in justice & social change that make sense, are about the people, and fill real needs. So what excites me? Carlos recently asked me, “So how do you keep yourself motivated when it doesn’t seem like things are changing in this world?” Well, here’s part of my answer. This is what inspires me, even when the going gets rough. Change is not easy, so we have to selfishly reach deep inside and pull out what drives us, at the core.

I get excited when I find people driven by a cause larger than themselves. Whether on social media or in the “real world,” I want to have long late-night discussions over coffee & hot chocolate (well, okay, I guess “IRL”) about justice, oppression, feminism, human rights, the law, social enterprise, traveling, and building something out of nothing. I want to find others who think outside the box, who are not confined to narrowly defined career paths, who are willing to take a risk to better this world. Perhaps selfishly, I want to find a team of people who will be completely dedicated to a vision and will work ruthlessly to achieve it. I get excited when I find people who understand what social justice is really about. And I get excited when I have the opportunity to converse with them, work with them, learn from them.

I get excited when I find something that works. Most non-profits suck. There, I said it. But when I find a non-profit that seems to work, whether it is “grassroots” or “multilateral,” whether it is domestic or international, I get excited. Because many non-profits (and social enterprises) are flawed, it’s not easy to find one that has the right mindset of change and makes a real impact. Not many people (and thus, organizations) get it. I mean, really, get it. When I find something that is really making a dent in the horrific things that exist in this world? Yeah, that gets me excited.

I get excited when I find ideas combining social innovation and the law. I am fascinated by projects expanding legal services to the poor, and am excited by the idea of rebuilding fragmented justice systems. I don’t know why, but this inspires me. At the same time, I have had one foot in social enterprise for some time now. I get excited when I see someone combining innovation and the law. I get excited by organizations that are innovative and new, while also harnessing legal solutions. Law is a conservative profession and somewhat slow to change — so to see someone taking a risk and going for their idea in this context gets me all fired up.

I get excited when I have an opportunity to write something meaningful. Writing is my deepest passion — which is why I started this blog, and can’t keep myself away. But beyond blogging, the chance to write something meaningful makes me want to stay awake. Anything from a personal statement to a grant to a case analysis — if it’s important and can make an impact, I want to write it. If it’s about something I love, I am endlessly excited.

I get excited when I find myself on a plane to somewhere new. Ever since I found myself criss-crossing oceans alone to return to my motherland at age ten, I have found myself with a permanent case of the wanderlust. Today I am in D.C., but planning my next adventure enthralls me. This is selfish, yes, but I want to see the world. I want to understand people and cultures everywhere. I want to make friends scattered across the map. I want to learn, absorb, grow, challenge myself. When I am on a plane headed somewhere across the globe — that is a moment to treasure.

What gets you excited?

*I got the idea for this post from the wonderful Diana Kimball. Did I ever tell you about her? She may not know me, but she had one of the first blogs I ever found and fell in love with. Her writing was beautiful, and formed part of the inspiration for me to start blogging. I just found her blog again yesterday, and she did not fail to inspire me yet again. Thank you for inspiration.

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