How We Give 100 Percent
It’s 6:30 p.m. and I’m walking from my office, head buried in my phone as I try to get one last email out. As I pass by an outdoor patio populated by suits, I happen to spy a judge in my division enjoying a chilled chardonnay with a fellow colleague. Waving as I pass by, I stop to chat. Inevitably, the conversation turns to “How is work?” And “I’m so sorry to have missed the event you co-chaired last month. How was the turnout?” And “You know she has two young kids. ... How do you do it?” Checking my phone again, I kick myself for not leaving my desk 10 minutes earlier. I realize I now have 10 minutes to run into Old Navy to pick up outfits my 4- and 7-year-olds possibly will wear to the family photo shoot I have planned for Saturday morning at the lake —ugh, did I ask my parents if we can park in their parking space? Mental note to add to my to-do list—and get home on time to relieve my nanny by 7:30 p.m. Trying to politely speed up the conversation, I shrug, give the standard answer of “I let myself feel OK about not being able to give 100 percent in everything I do” and make my way toward the subway.
But do I really agree with the self-deprecating comment that we female lawyers and moms always seem to make? Do I really think I am giving less than 100 percent? When I really level with myself, the answer is a resounding no. Despite my attempts to convince myself that I am a girl who does not do everything to the “nth” degree (and I am fine with it), nothing could be further from the truth.
I took a dive into the law seven years after graduating from the University of Michigan. Working in public relations at an international agency in Chicago, I wanted something more “heady.”
“You’ll be a perfect lawyer,” my dad had been pounding into my head since I started college. But I resisted, opting instead for media tours, special events and pitching to the local media. I was good, but I was not satisfied. Facing 30, I decided it is either now or never. I would never be the “what-if girl,” and I would never want my (then-fictitious) daughter to think we as women cannot change the direction of our lives, if we feel like it.
I embarked on my legal education, eventually landing a clerking job at my current firm. I was at the right place at the right time when a position as an associate became available in our family law department. It was a perfect fit for my personality and temperament, and after almost 13 years and counting—from law clerk to partner—I have not turned back.
But did life slow down for me? Not at all. During the 13 years with my firm, I have gotten married, had two active and nuanced children with a husband who travels at least once a week for work, and started to build a future that I think looks more secure than I ever thought it would. What has been particularly hard, however, has been what most women and especially female lawyers face: How do we do it all?
Despite calls for balance, I find myself more of a “cup-runneth-over” kind of person and, frankly, I could not be more satisfied. I have filled my career to the hilt with legal and philanthropic events to co-chair; scheduled breakfasts, lunches and coffees for networking; written articles and lectured. I have also motivated myself with mother’s guilt to remain as room parent for the past two years of my son’s schooling and gotten to know other families by arranging playdates and after-school activities for my kids. And I try to remain present when I finally unlock the door of my home, and I hear my little ones’ screeches. While I cannot always “unplug,” I really try my hardest and, I believe my kids know I am deeply invested in their lives.
Truly, the best part of my day is when I get to lie with each of my kids after the light is turned off and ask about their days. And while hearing their stories (if they feel like talking) is amazing, what is even more exciting is when they ask me about my day and what I did from leaving them in the morning until coming home. They are engaged and interested in what I do and, perhaps I am imagining things—proud of their mommy.
So my advice for working women? Enough with the minimizing: “I let myself feel OK about not being able to give 100 percent in everything I do.” We do give 100 percent, and our kids, spouses, bosses, colleagues and friends know it. They just may not have the energy to keep up.
Ask for help and don’t be ashamed to. My nanny has amazing hours—the witching hours—and it has helped us tremendously.
Commit to one philanthropic cause (not multiple), and go hard with one networking group. It’s about quality, not quantity.
Find small ways to stay involved in your kids’ activities. I’m a room parent, and while people think that’s too much, I’m able to multitask what needs to be done and it allows me to feel connected and that I’ve done my part. And my kiddos appreciate it!
Katy Mickelson is a partner at Beermann Pritikin Mirabelli Swerdlove in Chicago, where she serves the legal needs of all types of parties in a myriad of family and matrimonial law matters. Making It Work is a column in partnership with the Working Mother Best Law Firms for Women initiative in which lawyers share how they manage both life’s challenges and work’s demands. For more, visit workingmother.com.
Katy Mickelson is a partner at Beermann Pritikin Mirabelli Swerdlove in Chicago, where she serves the legal needs of all types of parties in a myriad of family and matrimonial law matters.
Making It Work is a column in partnership with the Working Mother Best Law Firms for Women initiative in which lawyers share how they manage both life’s challenges and work’s demands. For more, visit workingmother.com.