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Role Models: Be Careful Who You Surround Yourself With

Role Models: Be Careful Who You Surround Yourself With

Welcome to another edition of my Weekly Journal! I use this space to share a bit about jewelry, and a lot about my journey from lawyer to jewelry business owner. In this week's journal entry I wanted to take a minute to talk about role models. Two weeks ago, I wrote about breaking out of your traditional office job to do work you love, and this journal entry falls right in line with that concept. The "leaders" we work with have a lot of influence over our perceptions of our career, and their power often goes unnoticed or unacknowledged. Role models shape how you see your career and what you desire for your career. Sometimes for the better, but also sometimes for the worst. So let's take a minute to become aware of the role models in our life and to consciously decide whether they represent what we want for ourselves. If not, the first step to breaking out of your current career to do work you love might be to get some new role models. 

I was prompted to write this journal entry for two reasons: 1) it's something I really struggled with as a lawyer as I'll explain below and 2) there are some famous women that people are idolizing these days and it just seems so misplaced to me. Often, I feel people "worship" other people just because everyone else is doing it. Not because they've actually stopped to think whether this woman is a solid role model for their own goals and is truly representative of their values. So, I guess you can say that I see this problem playing out on a macro level (with famous women) and on a micro level (with the women we work with in our own career on a daily basis).  

We've all heard the phrase, "If you don't want the job your boss has, it's time to move on", right? The idea is that if you don't like what your boss is doing, you should probably reevaluate whether you are on the right career path. Makes a lot of sense. But there's something missing here. Everyone focuses on the actual tasks and responsibilities, and no one ever talks about the kind of person your boss is - whether he or she has a good life outside of work, whether he or she is truly happy, whether he or she seems at peace with life, whether he or she is healthy and thriving, etc. 

Let me illustrate this with my own experience as a lawyer. There came a time in my legal career - and it was quite early on - where I couldn't help but think to myself, "These people are miserable. I don't want what they have. I don't aspire to be them. I don't even like them." I've always been an observer and this was such an obvious, glaring, punch-you-in-the-face kind of observation. But it seemed that a lot of my peers didn't even notice this, let alone care about it. It really disturbed me. If you've worked at a law firm before, you know. A lot of the partners (the highest level you can achieve at a law firm) were still working until the wee hours of the morning, a lot of them were divorced, all of them were stressed, most rarely went to the gym and often ate unhealthy meals because they were always working late. They seemed to never have time for their kids for the same reason. For example, I worked at a very large law firm in NYC before I went to law school and I worked under a few female attorneys. They had babies and their nannies would literally bring the babies to the office around dinnertime to say goodnight, while the female attorneys stayed at the office until 8, 9, 10 o'clock at night or even later. I thought to myself, "Why did you even have a child if you never even see her?" It bothered me so much. Here's another harsh reality I observed early on - some attorneys I worked with did drugs. I hate to break it to you, but this stuff goes on at high levels. I'll tell you a little story that happened during my first or second year as an attorney. My office was next to the "visiting attorney's" office - you know, if a lawyer from another office came to work with us for the day, he or she would use this office. There was a partner from our NYC office that would frequently come and use this office. He was always sniffing and snorting - kind of like he had a bad, bad case of allergies. Well, one such day, one of my co-workers was in my office with me and we heard the partner making all these noises. I said, "Geez, that guy seriously needs to go to an allergist or something." And my co-worker said, "Stacy. Are you serious? That guy doesn't have allergies. He does cocaine." That was the first time I really had to acknowledge what kind of profession I was working in. Just a year or two before that, I was in a position where I observed attorneys snorting cocaine at a party. It's a big problem in the legal profession, in addition to alcohol abuse. The number of times I was pressured into drinking at a work event is too many to count. This is reality, guys. I've seen it and experienced it. Let me share another harsh reality - some women sleep their way to the top. It happens. More than it should. I can think of two women in particular at the law firms I've worked at who achieved partner level this way. So, needless to say, you can see how I was always questioning the "leaders" and "role models" I was supposed to aspire to be in the legal profession.

My point here is to illustrate for you something you really need to consider - are your role models and the "leaders" in your life actually exhibiting the characteristics of a great leader and a great person? It's okay to answer with a big fat "NO" even if everyone around you seems to admire them. There are a lot of good apples out there, but there are a lot of bad apples out there too. The fact of the matter is, we become what we aspire to, and if you aren't consciously choosing great role models, you might end up like the people you are blindly surrounding yourself with.

Similarly, have YOU decided what you want for your own life, both in and out of the office? Or are you blindly following the path your career sets before you, without giving it any thought? I think this gets a lot of people into a lot of trouble. You work and work and work, get to the role you've been desiring (such as partner at a law firm) and find yourself miserable. It happened to me. At the age of 34, I got what I felt was my "dream job" and I was miserable. Why? Because I spent much of my time working towards a job title, and neglected other areas of my life as a result. At the time, I defined "success" very narrowly to basically include my job title, salary, and concrete work achievements. When I got to the "top" I felt empty. This is also probably because I ignored the signs (i.e. the things I described above) along the way. As early as my first year out of law school, I questioned whether I wanted the life that my superiors had, yet I ignored that. It's my own fault that I got so deep into a profession I should've left a lot sooner. Hindsight is 20/20 I guess! Today, I define "success" to include my health and wellness, my peace of mind, my relationships, how much time I'm able to spend doing things I enjoy, etc. It's a very different ballgame. 

So, I caution you today to choose your role models wisely and consciously. Don't blindly follow. Have the courage to be honest with yourself - to admit to yourself that maybe you don't want the type of life your superiors have created. Awareness is half the battle! Once you are aware, you can choose differently. Surround yourself with people who are doing what you want to do, who are living the way you want to live, who seem genuinely happy and at peace, who are healthy and radiating good vibes, who got to where they are today because they deserved it and worked for it. Today, it's easier than ever to find like-minded people -- with social media, there are so many people available to you to learn from. Sure, it's not as good as having a real life role model in your office, but it's the next best thing! 




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