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My Success Story: Be Careful What You Work For, You Just Might Get It
After pursuing an acting career in my early 20s, I was working the third shift (midnight to 8:00 a.m.) in a large New York City law firm in the word processing department. Lawyers would drop off their marked-up documents before they left for the evening. We would make all the changes and have the documents ready for the lawyers when they returned in the morning. I learned a bit about being a lawyer, and felt I could be a good one. So, I went to law school.
I worked hard in law school and loved every minute of it. I loved logical reasoning, problem-solving, identifying issues, advocating for a position, and writing.
I graduated magna cum laude and received a job offer from a large law firm in NYC. I was thrilled. This was the prestigious position in “Big Law” that I envisioned for myself. I was going to be like one of the lawyers I saw when I was working in the word processing department. I went in full force and it was great … for about six months. By then I realized that the values in Big Law were not my values — something that became abundantly clear to me on my birthday.
I had invited friends to a dinner party at my apartment that evening, a Friday. I had planned to leave work around 5:30 p.m. to get home and start cooking. I was still at the office at 6:30, with my friends expected to arrive at 7:00. I went to the partner with whom I was working and told him about the plans I had for my birthday, and asked if I could head out. He put his pen down, perturbed. With a dramatic sigh and an unhappy face, he said, “Be back early tomorrow morning, by 8:00. See you then.” Then he went back to work. “Tomorrow” was Saturday.
He didn’t wish me a happy birthday. He didn’t suggest that I take the weekend off to relax or do something enjoyable. That was my first indication that perhaps I had worked really hard to achieve something I didn’t actually want.
Six years later, I was still practicing law as an associate in Big Law. I was on the “partnership track, working toward the goal that everyone in the firm was supposed to want: to be asked to join the partnership.
One day I heard an analogy that changed everything: Becoming a partner in a large law firm is like winning a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie. I realized that, if I didn’t enjoy the value system in Big Law when I was on the periphery as an associate, I would like it even less when I was enmeshed in it as a partner.
For me, the analogy was more accurately stated as: Becoming a partner would be like winning a pie-eating contest where the prize is more pie … and I don’t even like pie!
Holy crap! What had I done? I had spent all that time, effort, and money to achieve great success at something I didn’t even like.
My mistake was that I didn’t take the time to determine my values, what was important to me, and what I truly wanted before I started down the long path to law firm partnership. If I had taken the time in the beginning, all my hard work, time, and energy could have led me to a successful life I enjoyed.
I finally did this – figured out what is important to me and what I want my life to look like – when I was a senior associate. I realized I wanted to be a lawyer, but I also wanted to be a wife, mother, daughter, and friend. Once my priorities were clear, I realized I had to change my career path.
I finally decided to live within my value system, not someone else’s.
I planned my exit strategy and was able to leave Big Law. With the reduction in stress and increase in time for self-care, I was able to get pregnant and have a baby, which took three rounds of in vitro fertilization to accomplish.
Almost three years after leaving Big Law, when my daughter was 18 months old, I started my own law practice, one built on my values, working part-time and tailored to my family’s schedule. Later, I had the opportunity to bring my practice to a small law firm with other lawyers who share my values. Today I am a partner in that small firm with three other partners, and we all have families and interests outside the law.
Still, even after I figured out work-life integration, there was another skill I needed to learn: how to manage all my competing responsibilities without feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. I had to figure out how to manage the stress and schedule of simultaneously being a professional, mom, friend, family member, and individual. I spent nearly ten years researching, talking to innumerable people, and experimenting in my own life to develop a practical and profound time and mind management strategy that allows me to create space and time for the life I truly want.
Now I help other women create space and time for the lives they truly desire and deserve.
I teach and support women so they can have personal and professional success simultaneously, without feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. I share my time and mind management strategy in my book The Lawyer, the Lion, & the Laundry: Three Hours to Finding Your Calm in the Chaos. You can read and implement the tools in less than three hours. With my webinars and individual and group coaching programs, we work together to transform our lives from the inside-out.
I love to hear what other women are working on, where support is wanted, and how we can grow and change together. Reach me at email@example.com, and learn more about how we can transform together at www.JamieSpannhake.com.
I enjoy connecting on social media. I hope to see you there!