Why You Should Lean in…Later

(Let me preface this rezooming post as one which appears to be ‘female focused’. It does involve a discussion of women’s issues and how they may impact/assist rezooming our legal careers.  For my male readers, however, please read between the lines.  Anyone can rezoom their career by using these helpful tips.  Although the book discussed is about women as a group, rezoomers can use these thoughtful suggestions no matter their gender.  Enjoy!)

This has been an extraordinary year for diversity discussions; specifically examining the role of women in the professional workforce.  Articles covering how we should act, or not, given social norms and expectation, abound in print and social media.  It is also summertime and as good a time as any to take a book on vacation that may change your life’s trajectory.

The single most talked about book for professional women on the ‘how’ of being a successful women in a male dominated work place is Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (Knopf, 2013).  In this book, Sheryl talked candidly about the limitations she placed on herself.  She explores the methods and guidance she received, used and applied to maintain her upward mobility.  One of the examples she gave involved her negotiations with Mark Zuckerberg for the position at Facebook.

In the book she reflects on how both her husband and brother-in-law considered her acceptance of Zuckerberg’s first offer crazy.  Based on these conversations she changed her discussion with Zuckerberg.  She went from navigating the discussion in gratitude to discussing the value she brought to the position.  More importantly, she initiated this change in attitude without fear.   Her story continues to inspire professional and non-professional women and enlightened men, who read her informative book and chant, ‘she did it so can I.’

Discussions of Sheryl’s book sometimes became mired in the world of self-destructive comments.  Struggling professionals, non-professionals and rezoomers kept saying ‘well it’s easy for her to say she has the money, help, position to move in these circles and retain/advance her position.’  The majority of women who read this book however, decided to recognize her message for what it was, a story about deciding who you are, what you want to do, ask for what you want and make it happen for yourself.

That is also the theme of this post.  What is good for the professional, woman or man, rezooming their career is in the pages of this honest book. I am not demanding you read this book, rather I challenge you to believe in yourself and what you are willing and able to do to Rezoom your career.  It could be argued reading this book is one of those necessary steps.  It challenges you to find the way to support yourself and your rezooming journey so doors open.  First you must believe in your ability to get back in the game then believe you can do anything you want.  It is in your mindset, as Sheryl points out, that success is born.

Lets look at how women, who left the workforce to raise their children or pursue other opportunities, can Lean in…Later.  How do they navigate the Lean In of reentry? As Sheryl would say, it starts with ‘the ask.’

Ask Yourself—

Why do I want to re-enter the legal profession?

If you are planning to re-enter the legal field ask your self WHY? Without the right motivating force it will be an up hill slog. You cannot do it for anyone else.  You have to decide you can and be fully committed to do what’s necessary to succeed.

As an example, I will share my WHY of rezooming.

In 2008 I decided to re-enter the legal field after the banking industry tanked.  Everyone in banking, including my husband, didn’t know if they would have a job tomorrow.  I saw my law degree sitting in a basement closet and said, “well, let’s dust this thing off and see what I can shake from the trees.”

I had ‘retired’ from the practice of law, for good I thought, 13 years prior. I wanted to be home with my children, know their friends and become an integral part of the fabric of my family’s life as CEO of Hamilton HQ.  I’d reached a pinnacle I’d set for myself in my profession and decided to walk away and never look back.  What’s the old adage, never say never?

What do I uniquely bring to the table now?

This is the hardest piece to identify and quantify.  Historically, women who quit work to stay home with their children, downplay the positions they fill while home.  Let’s name a few jobs a retired working mom gets to do as chief executive officer of the house:  chauffeur, doctor/nurse, dietician, housekeeper (even if you have one there is more to it than clean toilets) and financier.   We find it difficult to fully value such mundane daily tasks as we see our ‘working’ friends going to power lunches, being written about in national and local newspapers and getting away from this self described mundane.

When I decided to Lean in..Later, the value I placed on the years I spent at home was “0”.   For me being a PTA class parent and officer was nothing special.  I simply kept other student’s parent informed about their kids and organized events for the entire student body or the entire PTA.  I didn’t value it at all.  It was just what I did to keep my finger on the pulse of my children’s lives.  For me there was no value in the fact I made peace between school administrators and parents, refereed parent disagreements and tactfully accepted suggestions and criticisms from parents who never offered to help but had a lot to say about how they would have done it.  I learned to be a good listener and inclusive of people I may not necessarily describe as friends.

It wasn’t until I went to Pace University Law School’s New Direction Program that I realized my ‘stay at home mom’ gig brought unique talents to the professional table.  Now, when I speak about my 12-year stint as a PTA officer, the crowds groan in recognition of the talent it took to work in this venue, either as participants or observers of the PTA.  They value the people who helped run their own children’s schools for free.  Once I valued what I did it became clear to me it was a position seen by my new colleagues with varying senses of appreciation, but appreciation nonetheless.

Until someone else valued what I’d done, I didn’t value it.  When they did, I was self-deprecating in my acceptance of their praise or avoided it altogether. You need to quantify your current experience first, then recognize its value for yourself.  Learn to speak of it with pride not apology.

Remember, Sheryl didn’t negotiate with Zuckerberg in a vacuum and neither should you.  She was about to stand in her own way and sell her magnificence for the first offer she received from Facebook.  She didn’t value herself as highly as her husband and brother in law did.  Like Sheryl, old/new practitioners coming back into a professional field or just back into the work force, need to join a mentoring program or group to facilitate their re-entry .

What do I want to do?

While you are contemplating the rezooming of your career you need to ask yourself what it is you really want to do and truly listen to that inner voice.  The slate is clean; don’t do what you did before because it is what you know. Start the trek by asking what would I have done if I could have done anything? Better yet – What would I love to do now because it makes my heart beat just a little bit faster?  Think beyond what you are comfortable doing.  Think about how you want to serve your future clients in a unique way.

For me, my journey was guided by thinking I would go back to litigation.  It was safe and inside my old box of possible professional choices in law. It was what I knew and thought I loved. Ha!  After dealing with two boys, 3 years apart in age, a hard working husband and those parents from the PTA, I had acquired a skill set recognized by to a true litigator.  I had learned how to mediate conflicts.  Really, no more arguing for the sake of proving my client right at the expense, literally and figuratively, of my client and the adversary.

I had a set of skills that helped people work side by side, without the need to agree with each other but with an ability to work together for a common goal.  The common goal had been lost in their personal issues.  Once their issues were addressed, heard and respected the parents were often willing partners, working alongside each other, to get projects done even though their feelings about certain things differed.

I realized litigation didn’t fit me anymore.  I was a different person.  Against all odds and my colleague’s dire warnings, I followed my passion.  I opened my own office practicing mediation of conflicts between people involving animals.  I only mediate now.  I handle conflicts involving people in disputes involving animals.

Lest you feel I have niched myself into a corner, 62% of Americans own pets and they spent  55.5 Billion dollars on their pets across the board in 2013.  Pets impact our lives and create potential conflict in death, divorce, neighbor relations, veterinary issues, ADA, contract, civil and criminal venues.  My practice enables people in conflicts about an animal to address those conflicts, have a conversation in a safe space and confidentially discuss/resolve what the problems are while avoiding litigation altogether or minimizing its destructive impact.

How do I jumpstart re-entry as I Lean in …Later.

I alluded to it earlier.  I strongly recommend going to a ‘restart your practice program’.  In the beginning of this Lean In…Later journey you will be the one holding yourself back. Fear and self-doubt often rule the day.  You need someone who possesses a clearer objectivity about what you did, where you now stand and willing to help you evaluate what you now bring to the workforce. It helps formulate YOUR mindset.  This is the most important take away message from this Lean In …Later article.  Don’t do this alone.

After finding a support network for returning to the practice of law go out into the world and ‘farm’.  It is up to you to engage people in a conversation about what it is you do.  Show them your passion in an authentic way.  You cannot expect to be hired or open an office and then just sit behind a desk and wait for clients to walk in.  You need to get out and speak about what it is you do.  Let them know why they need you and how you can help them solve their problem.

Educate your ideal clients by visiting them where they live.  Don’t wait for them to find you.  I cannot tell you how may conferences I have attended involving animal issues and service providers.  They would never have known I existed if I hadn’t show up.  Now I am their partner in resolving conflicts before litigation.

Lastly—Give your time away

This brings me to the part where I talk about networking smartly.  Since women who choose to return to the work force are often older, the workforce itself may not even notice you have been out of the loop. I found volunteering for ABA and NYS Bar Association Committees my initial entree into a world of wonderfully giving professional women who welcomed me with open arms. I worked my bottom off learning how to moderate and run a section of a committee’s annual program and worked alongside these women in rewarding and connective projects.  Each colleague has helped me rezoom my career by assisting me in her own unique way.

We Lean in….Later groupies have so much going for us if we would just take the time to ask the WHAT, WHY and HOW of returning to practice.  Then add GIVING BACK to our journey.  We need to believe it first before it will ever happen.  We have all had unique journeys.  Those journeys bring magnificent individuality to the workplace.  Don’t minimize that experience and don’t forget to monetize what it is worth.

Ask yourself the 4 questions listed above then Lean in ..Later with all the passion you know you have to do what it is you were meant to do.  All the tenets Sheryl Sandberg illustrates for her readers works just fine for the rezooming attorney as well.  It’s back to school time…get busy reading!

Simply put we need to believe:

  • we have value
  • what we did had value
  • what we want to do now has value.

Once you have mastered the power of personal worth go out and foster relationships with your peers.  They will be happy to mentor you on your way back in!

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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