life

17 articles in category life / Subscribe

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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NewYearPost

This was a momentous year. I’d call it a marathon. It was a marathon – not necessarily (or at all) of the body – but of the soul, of the spirit, of the heart, of the brain.

In all honesty, this year has left me fulfilled but also a bit exhausted, mentally and emotionally.

It was an exercise in calisthenics for one sore brain. It was a year of turning from fresh-faced 1L into seasoned 2L (I hope!). The joyful completion of one of the most difficult things I’ve done: the first year of law school. This year meant many late nights in the library studying everything from property to public international law to sex equality to immigration policy. Some more lovable than others, but all instructive. Much work, little play. Finishing my second and third set of law school finals. My first (mock) and real oral arguments as a budding lawyer. Reuniting with old friends in the district.

It was my first step onto African soil — years in the making. Sierra Leone, green with its lush and verdant countryside. Bumpy, helmeted okada [motorcycle] rides through dusty red roads. Avoiding malaria. Innumerable cold bucket showers, refreshing each time. Playing in Freetown, Kenema, Bo, and Portloko. Traveling by bus, buying corn by the roadside. Working with clients and communities to solve their legal problems. Legal awareness sessions. Dealing with unspeakable violence and abuse of women. And yet immeasurable joy. Dealing with police and local courts. Visiting the prison in Bo. Getting caught in the heavy downpours. Raincoats, rainpants, on okada, on foot. Endless greetings in the morning and shouts of ‘pumoui!’ Children! Cassava leaf (perhaps too much!). No electricity. Dark nights. Lots of kindle reading. Lots of fish, for the first time ever, with lots of bones. Dancing to battery-powered radio. Dancing in the local court with the entire town. Dancing with children, young women and girls, and grandmas. Clubbing in Bo. Late evenings spent at roadside shacks. Drinking palm wine with a local chief. Beach views and haggling for bargains in Freetown. Colorful dresses and beads. Getting Africana clothes stitched. Sitting at the junction, watching generator-powered Nigerian movies late at night. Poverty. Friends. Kindness. Laughter. Town gossip. Dancing, lots of dancing. Yet, feelings of futility. Guilt.

Getting back to America; re-adjusting to seeming luxury – endless coffee flavors, long menus, delicious food at your fingertips. Running hot water and constant electricity. Internet! Tv! Friends and family. Comfortable beds and couches. No spiders or centipedes! A return to Cambridge. 

Love, and an engagement! Reunited after years apart. Celebration upon celebration. Photoshoots and parties in Boston and New Jersey. Finding not just a house but a home in Cambridge. Moving in. Decorating. Printing photos from travels to hang on the walls. Painting a red room off-white, eggshell, cream. Pangs of adulthood. Missing youth. Staying in, instead of going out. Fall colors. Crunchy leaves. Walks along Walden Pond, peaceful musings. Hectic pace of work – in over my head. Realizing 2L wasn’t going to be relaxing either. And yet, loving time in between spent with friends and family. Finding moments to breathe.

This year brought a first step into court, not as an observer but as a lawyer. Representing clients. Negotiating with opposing parties. Speaking before a judge. Giving an opening statement. Working with domestic violence survivors: trauma, hope, joy, frustration, love, sadness. Cycles of violence. Family law. Understanding and navigating the system. Believing in client-centered lawyering even more deeply. Loving my clients; understanding but a glimpse of their complex lives.

Here’s to 2013, a year that taught me a lot — about myself and about the world. This year, I was immersed in the present, absorbed with work that I loved. I confronted many fears and followed some dreams, and grew as a person in the process. In 2014, I hope to be: more joyful, continually immersed in the present, and more willing to follow and listen to my heart despite the risks it may entail and the pressure to do otherwise. I hope to dedicate more time to the things that matter: the work I truly love. Most of all, I hope I find inspiration and passion that re-ignites my life. Happy New Year, all!

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Sometimes, you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of student life to enjoy a morning of solitude, crispy fresh air and crunchy leaves, and the beauty of nature to rejuvenate yourself. This visit to Walden Pond reminded me of so many pieces of wisdom that Thoreau gives us, and his reminder to always walk your own path, be a truly and genuinely good person, be present, live simply, and pursue your dreams. It is a much needed reminder in a hectic year for me, in which it is easy to forget those simple lessons.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”  – Thoreau

2013-10-13 12.14.22-1Jars of Jam in a Turkish Bakery in Cambridge

2013-10-13 10.17.33-1A crisp autumn morning spent in seclusion with Thoreau at Walden Pond, MA

2013-10-13 10.13.01Beautiful autumn colors at Walden Pond, MA

2013-10-13 10.00.46Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. – Henry David Thoreau

2013-10-13 10.03.54I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. – Thoreau

2013-10-13 10.00.25-1What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lives within us. – Thoreau

2013-10-13 09.29.02Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence. – Thoreau

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“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
–       Rabindranath Tagore

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done.
We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
–       Mother Teresa

This was a year spent with nose buried in the books, head firmly stretched into the clouds. It was a year spent in the ivory tower, filled with theory and a vague idea that we were learning “the law.”  It was a year spent backing away from direct engagement in social justice, and focusing instead on myself. On learning. On studying. On surviving – and maybe even succeeding.

Law school demands such deep focus and commitment. The workload is intense and all-consuming: you spend hours in class, then hours out of class reading, learning, absorbing.  There is competition to get top grades, join a journal (maybe compete for law review), to get prestigious internships and clerkships, to make yourself the strongest candidate for jobs – whether in public interest or corporate. Perhaps like all graduate school, the focus is on yourself – on gaining valuable skills and experiences.

This isn’t a particularly revelatory statement. School is, after all, about learning, and growing, gaining skills, and challenging yourself intellectually and personally. You go to school primarily to better yourself. And I love(d) every bit of it – the challenge, the material, the inward focus.

Yet, in that process, I felt like I lost a little bit of why I came to law school.

I lost, and missed, a mindset of service. Now, working and even volunteering is often about acquiring skills or accolades – and sometimes less so about the meaning of the work itself. Work has become less about service, and more about personal and professional achievement. Each internship / project / activity must fit into your professional puzzle, teach you new skills, or help you leapfrog to the next step.

Perhaps this mindset is simply reflective of what society values. And yet, I felt something missing. And it was that – the feeling of working late into the night, not poring over casebooks in the library, but on a grant to expand access to justice for women, or on solutions to the problems faced by an immigrant survivor of domestic violence. There is a magical feeling that comes with doing, implementing, acting – rather than solely discussing or debating ideas. And there is something incredible about serving simply out of a desire to serve, rather than a desire to further your career.

This summer, then, will be a process of rediscovery: of rediscovering why I hope to work on access to justice, rule of law, and women’s rights. Of focusing once again on others, and on the work I value – rather than just myself. Of serving out of a desire to contribute to the world, not simply to pad a CV. It will be a summer of living simply – without even regular electricity, running water, or Internet. It will be a summer where I re-learn how the rest of the world lives, and how much we have to be grateful for — and hopefully, of the commonalities we all share despite our differences.

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After an absence, I’m back – at least temporarily! Thank you all for sticking with me and reading this blog, despite intermittent postings. The last month-or-so has been a blur of writing my final legal research and writing assignment, giving my first oral argument, and studying for and taking finals. After many weeks of hard work, I can finally say that I survived the first year of law school!

I’ve also redesigned this website, so I hope you like the brighter and whiter look!

And finally: I’m excited to continue my work on legal empowerment, women’s rights, and access to justice in Sierra Leone this summer. I’m not sure I’ll have consistent internet, but will try my best to continue posting at least a few times this summer. Thanks for sticking around, and I’m excited to delve deeper into grassroots legal empowerment very soon!

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2012, you taught me much. A year packed with many years worth of memories, changes, challenges and movements. I failed  dramatically in many of my goals — of which I set far too many, and dreamt too big. Yet, I learned a great deal.

In March, after visiting Harvard and falling in love, I sent in my seat deposit for law school with a tiny bit of apprehension and a huge amount of excitement. In April, after much planning and fretting, I left my job and traveled to California to volunteer with two non-profits I admired. I had a magical 6 weeks in California, until June when I packed up once again and headed to Dhaka, Bangladesh. For two months, I worked with BRAC’s legal empowerment program; it was my first long stretch in working on legal empowerment and women’s rights, and it taught me immeasurable amounts. I learned some difficult lessons: how hard it really is to work effectively in an international context (sickness, language barriers, and all that fun stuff!) and how much I had left to learn and improve. Bangladesh taught me far more than I gave to her, but in the end, I learned to embrace that, too. Despite the challenges, I still managed to come away inspired – not disillusioned, as I always fear. BRAC’s programs are so fantastic that it’s hard not to leave inspired and excited by the possibilities.

In August I traveled to India for two weeks to reconnect with my family. One of my favorite moments in India was reconnecting with cousins who I hadn’t seen in years, spending time at their home and better understanding the lives of contemporary middle-class Indian teenagers — which is not all that different from life for the average teen in the U.S. Lesson learned (especially worth remembering in light of the #DelhiGangRape attack, which has led to many – in my view – somewhat orientalist depictions of life for women in India). Then, I returned to the U.S., and packed up once again (this was a constant theme for much of  2012!).

In September, after a whirlwind orientation week and moving in to Cambridge, I started law school! I completed my first semester — though I failed to live up to my hopes and dreams, which admittedly were quite lofty for the first semester of law school. The semester was incredible, and different. After spending the past two years largely externally focused on social justice issues I cared about, this semester was internally focused – on myself and my studies. I was intellectually challenged every day and had a fantastic set of professors who made classes like civil procedure and contracts interesting, relevant, and thought-provoking. Who would’ve thought? I read and studied a lot. A lot. Every day, for more hours than I would’ve liked. The flipside: I had little time to focus on projects that made my heart content, that satisfied my passions, that bolstered my soul. I had little time to write, to create, to dream, to photograph, to raise funds, or to work with clients. But, I survived. I survived – and mostly enjoyed – the reportedly worst semester of law school (at least, I hope I did!), and I’m ready to move onto a year where my passions come back into play, alongside continued hours buried in the books. I’m ready to once again shift the focus to others, to causes that move me, rather than only myself.

I think 2012 was a year of dreams coming true for me. I’ve been so, so very lucky to be able to travel within the United States and abroad to work with organizations I’ve long admired; to have many meaningful conversations about social justice, women’s rights, and the law; to finally attend my dream law school – something I hoped for for so long.

I am most grateful that 2012 was a year in which the universe allowed me to experience and learn from so many new and different things. Every month has been different. The variety was a refreshing change.

What did I embrace and let go of in 2012? I think they are one and the same thing; I embraced living in the moment for much of 2012, and I let go of many of my constant worries of the future. In past years, I never could fully immerse myself in the present, because I was constantly looking towards future goals and opportunities. I was dreaming or regretting, but not living. For most of this year, I embraced the present. This was a huge shift in my worldview and it truly altered my year for the better.

For 2012, I had a long and detailed list of resolutions, many of which I sadly failed to adhere to. Instead, I was simply living in the moment, soaking up whatever knowledge and experiences I could. For 2013, I am not creating any resolutions. I simply have some big themes and hopes in mind: get courage to do the right thing for summer 2013. To do work that matters, even if it scares the hell out of you. Speak up & be confident, though you might tend towards staying quiet. Take initiative & take your nose out of the books. As a cousin wonderfully reminded me this past week, Mark Twain said: “I’ve never let my school interfere  with my education.” Most of all: focus and make difficult decisions that I’ve been putting off. On second thought, these are pretty ambitious hopes and dreams. But 2013, I’m renewed and refreshed and ready for you. Let’s do this!

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India is, for me, always a whirlwind bursting with color, flavor, anticipation, love, community, and family. The weeks I spend there are always vibrant and joyful, filled with shopping for glittering saris and shalwar kameez, stopping by the roadside for sweets and coconut water, enjoying cups of masala chai, and building beautiful human connections with family and loved ones. There is a sense of belonging – that even though I’m an Indian living abroad, I’m still welcome in this country.

My return to the U.S. after these joyful trips to my motherland always proves a shock to the system. India (and South Asia) is chaotic, colorful, and busy. There’s never a quiet moment: living there is an exercise in constant caution and living in the moment – whether it is crossing the street, warding off the dust and grime in a careening auto ride, bargaining with vendors, or having Kulfi in the midday sun.

But the minute I landed in the airport, America struck me as cold and sterile. The landscape is wide and open, breathtakingly open, but also inviting of loneliness. There are few people to be seen, and the highway is full of only cars – no scooters, auto rickshaws, men and women crossing, or even the occasional buffalo and goat.

What has immediately struck me is the isolation and impersonality that America can create, amplified in large cities. In India, I’ve noticed a deeper sense of community than what I’ve seen in the States. My grandparents know all their neighbors; they take care of one another and help each other out in times of need. My grandparents describe random encounters with people in the nearby park – perfect strangers becoming friends or exchanging words while on their daily walks. Neighbors, relatives, and friends are often stopping by to say hello. My aunt tells me stories of all the women on her floor getting together, caring for children, drinking chai, and gossiping in the middle of the day when their husbands are at work.  And this is not just a generational divide; many younger people I’ve met in India also seem to be more deeply connected to real-life communities, rather than the virtual world alone. Family, religious, and spiritual values continue to be extremely important, and in India, community is remarkably built into the fabric of daily life. No matter who you are, you are never completely alone.

But here in the U.S., life tends to be a lot more individualistic, isolated, and fragmented. I see people running in the park, but rarely do they stop to chat with strangers. In New York City, pedestrians do all they can to avoid making eye contact with strangers, let alone talk to them. People walk briskly to their destinations, iPod in hand and headphones in their ears. And from what I can tell, most of us do not know our neighbors, other than the occasional “Hi, how are you?” There are certainly no mid-day chai breaks with the entire apartment floor.

Part of this erosion of community has been the rise of technology – or perhaps we’ve turned to online communities to fill the gap. Many of my relatives in India still don’t have iPhones or constant wireless connections; some of them don’t even have internet. But they don’t exactly need it. In the U.S., lacking a strong sense of community in real life, we turn to Twitter, Facebook, and the social web to form our own groups of people with similar interests and passions.

As Shelly Turkle mentioned in her TED Talk “Connected, but Alone,”

A 50-year-old business man lamented to me that he feels he doesn’t have colleagues anymore at work. When he goes to work, he doesn’t stop by to talk to anybody, he doesn’t call. And he says he doesn’t want to interrupt his colleagues because, he says, “They’re too busy on their email.” But then he stops himself and he says, “You know, I’m not telling you the truth. I’m the one who doesn’t want to be interrupted. I think I should want to, but actually I’d rather just do things on my Blackberry.”

In his renowned work “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,” Robert Putnam expresses alarm and concern about the long-term decline in social capital since the 1960s. Technology – from TV and radio to now, the Internet – has increasingly disconnected people from civic life and community groups. Putnam’s observations sadly ring true almost two decades later, accompanied by an even greater intensification of retreat into the virtual world.

Every time I return to India, I’m forced to unplug a bit and remember the value of human connection in creating meaningful relationships, forming supportive communities, and even encouraging social movements, civic life, and public participation that are so essential to democracy and social justice work. At the end of the day, immersing myself in India always reminds me to live in the moment, embrace the present, and step back from this online world to live, and love, the real one.

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Today I am happy to present a guest blog from the lovely Clare Herbert, who works on social entrepreneurship projects by day and is a writer by night. I love her blog and am glad she’s here to share some thoughts with us about her passion, what makes her tick, and why she does what she does! Thanks for stopping by, Clare.

It’s such a pleasure to be visiting Akhila’s blog to share a few thoughts today. Akhila was one of the first blog friends I made and I really appreciate her ongoing support. She writes about the things she loves making her blog a delightful melange of engaging content, inspirational ideas and personal reflections. Every time I visit her site, I leave inspired, informed and hungry for more. Love your work, Akhila!

It wasn’t easy to think of a topic to write about. Should I talk about living in India, working in social entrepreneurship or trying to forge a career as a writer? Should I share advice, tell stories or talk about my life?

I couldn’t choose, so I’ve decided to write about my motivation for all of the above.

The perennial question: “Why Do You Do What You Do?
The answer: Martin Luther King on our world:

MLK
I first really travelled at 19, when I went to volunteer in Zambia. I didn’t add much value but the experience had a transformative effect on me. Standing in the immigration queue listening to Celine Dion blast through the terminal, it was hot and dry. People were staring at me: white, freckly red-heads stand out in Lusaka airport. I was exhausted, trembling and totally overwhelmed by the world. ‘What had I done?

Weeks later, when I came home, I struggled to settle in. I just couldn’t get my head around what I’d seen and how it fitted with my understanding of the world. I was in the shower (itself a shock after bathing from a bucket!), putting conditioner in my hair. The conditioner contained vitamin B12, something we had struggled to source in rural Zambia to help our patients with leg circulation problems. Standing in the shower in Ireland, I was washing it down the drain.

How could this happen?

Since that moment, the inter-connectedness of life fascinates me. The impact our lives have on the rest of the world. How the World Cup in South Africa lead to increased sex trafficking, due to a huge spike in demand for prostitutes. How milk prices rise when China eats more dairy. How I couldn’t get baking powder in Kolkata because the shipment takes 6 months and there was some problem at sea.

My work is about connecting and understanding the complexity and contradiction in our world. Or at least, that’s what I’m trying to do.

Social Entrepreneurship lights me up and it’s where I spend my days. The organization I work with finds entrepreneurial solutions to social problems and scales them up with a combination of financial and practical support. Our social entrepreneurs create change all around Ireland, and we support them to dream bigger, grow sustainably and have a greater impact.

By night, I’m a writer. I write about career and personal development, which in our modern world are really the same thing. I write about my personal journey as a young change-maker and share the lessons I’ve learned in the hope of inspiring others. I write to connect with like minds, to contribute to the debate, to create community. I write because that’s how I understand the world.

For fun, I travel to random places and live there for a while. I love to sink into new cultures and try to comprehend them. I love the buzz that comes from being someplace new everyday. I love the random adventures and friends that make traveling worthwhile.

My work is about inspiring impact. By writing an article, by connecting like-minds or by scaling change, my mission is to create positive, lasting, sustainable change.

Inspired by Martin Luther King, that’s why I do what I do.

Why do you do what you do? 

About the Author

Clare Herbert is a writer and social enterprise enthusiast based in Dublin, Ireland. She loves to travel, read and create impact through her work and writes about these topics on her blog. She’d love to hear from you by email or to connect on the twitter machine.

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