The recent report “Women and Men of Harvard Law School,” detailing gender roles in the legal profession touched a raw nerve. As I read the report last week I was flooded with emotion. I cried — partly out of frustration and sadness that, after decades of polite and impolite conversations about gender equality — women are still fighting against stereotypes. But then I realized that my tears were more personal. Reading the report unearthed the feelings of anxiety, fear, and loss that preceded the major decisions I made after law school graduation.
"[A]fter decades of polite and impolite conversations about gender equality — women are still fighting against stereotypes."
My right to make choices is one I hold sacred. My parents raised me to believe that choice — the freedom to think for myself and decide how I want to live—is an inalienable right. Theirs was a lesson bestowed upon me by a single of act of courage and love when, in the spring of 1962, they made a choice that at eight years old, I would join what became one of 14,000 children who left Cuba alone rather than have no choice under a Communist regime. On that day I learned that every choice — no matter how necessary — comes at a price. It was only as an adult that I learned that every choice — no matter how freely made — also comes at a price.
So after I put aside the now slightly moist “The Women and Men of Harvard Law School” report, I took pen to paper to explore my choices. The decision to share them in a public way was not an easy one. I had some trepidation about seeming indulgent. But, if in sharing my story, I can help one person find solace and reassurance in his or her choices, it’s worth the risk.
Decision One — Quit the practice of law.
At six years old, I decided I would become a lawyer. My maternal grandfather was a lawyer. He was smart, funny and generous. He worked at a beautiful wood desk that anchored a room lined with leather bound books. On his desk were a large inkwell and a collection of elaborate fountain pens. He was my hero and his office a magical place. A lawyer I would be.
So from the age of six through my early 20’s my north star was to become a lawyer. I loved the pursuit. I competed in public speaking events (impromptu was my thing). I was in student government and elected study body president of my high school. I got a BA Rhetoric and a JD — both from UC Berkeley. So far so good!
I joined a law firm where I liked my colleagues. The department chair was a mentor. The hours were long, but I was used to long hours. The pay was generous. But there was a problem that became a personal crisis. I hated the work. It held no intrinsic personal value for me. Similarly, the brass ring of partnership held no allure. A lawyer I had become. But it held no magic, no heart. I lost my north star. It took a few excruciatingly painful years to decide to quit.
Decision Two—Start a company and postpone starting a family.
As the saying goes, “find a need and fill it.” So I looked and found it. I was 35 years old. The need to fill it became a passion. Launching a company from a crazy idea on a napkin with $2,500 and no experience is insanity. I stumbled and fumbled. But I found my north star. Each time I fell I got up. Each time I fumbled, I tried another way. It was all-consuming. I knew I wanted to have children. But I chose to build my company first. My brother had two boys that I could not imagine loving more (still feel the same) if they were my own. So I could adopt.
“I knew I wanted to have children.
But I chose to build my company first.”
In seven years, I built my business up from a poorly funded start-up to an enterprise that a number of large companies wanted to buy. I sold the business at 42 years old. I got my brass ring. And the frosting on the cake was that the business was in the legal profession and I got to be a lawyer, too (sometimes).
My son is 17 years old now. He is my greatest source of pride. I’ve made it a priority to teach him that choice — the freedom to think for himself and decide how he wants to live — is an inalienable right. I hope I’ve done a good job. I’ve also tried to impart to him by example that each of his choices —no matter how necessary and freely made — will come at a price. Choose wisely my one and only child.
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