Pay it forward and prioritize
“There is nothing you can’t do!” As the only child of immigrant parents from Guyana, I’ve heard this mantra repeated for as long as I can remember. Growing up in suburban Massachusetts in the ’70s, I recall seeing many successful professionals; however, I didn’t see any who looked like me. Somehow, that didn’t matter so much and only strengthened my resolve. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a lawyer, and with my parents’ encouragement and positive affirmations, I believed that this was my destiny.
I have since achieved my professional goal of serving as a general counsel and have also been blessed with the opportunity to be a wife and a mother to two amazing daughters. As I reflect upon how I make this all work, I must confess that I don’t have the secret solution; but I have, over time, learned to operate in accordance with the following principles:
1. Carve out time for yourself without guilt. When my children were young and I was early in my career, I dedicated everything I had to my kids and my work. I felt tremendous guilt for wanting to take time for myself. What I have since realized is that I am my best self, both personally and professionally, when I balance responsibilities with time for my own interests. Admittedly, there will be varying amounts of time available to focus on oneself during life’s many stages. However, my advice to all women is find something that interests you—beyond work—and do as much of it as you can. Now that my husband and I are empty nesters, I have more time for exactly that—and for golf—and no guilt.
2. Make time for the important people in your life. At different points in my career I have (shamefully but not intentionally) prioritized my career over my friends and family. While I’m busier than ever with my career, my personal relationships and the time I set aside for family and friends is a top priority. For instance, my annual girls’ trip with school friends is a must. Despite how challenging it can be to break away, this activity really grounds me and helps me reset. Again, find something that interests you, and do as much of it as you can.
3. Have the courage to say no. With so much happening in our busy lives, the only thing we can really control is our own choices, including where we spend our time and energy. I can’t do everything, so I have to be selective in determining what I can accomplish and what I don’t have the bandwidth, energy or interest to commit to. This behavior takes practice to master, but the reward is worth the effort.
4. Be a role model for others. I live my life by the old adage that to whom much is given, much is required. I have had numerous mentors and sponsors throughout my career, and I feel a tremendous responsibility to pay that forward. I strive to serve as a role model for other aspiring women, the young people in my extended family and my own daughters—part of my purpose is to serve in this way.
5. Regularly affirm and reaffirm yourself. I think it’s natural to have periods in your life where you focus on what you’re not doing well. I try to counter those feelings through self-reflection by starting each day with giving thanks and taking some quiet time for meditation. I also keep a small list of wins and accomplishments, which I reflect on when things haven’t necessarily gone as planned. This list boosts my confidence, serves as a reminder of my strengths and positive attributes, and helps combat self-doubt. It’s in these moments that my parents’ mantra rings true: “There is nothing you can’t do!”
Wanji Walcott joined PayPal in 2015 after 20 years in the financial technology and payments industry. She leads PayPal’s global legal team and oversees the company’s daily legal activities. Walcott helped found the global pro-bono program, serves as the executive sponsor of PayPal’s women’s affinity group, and is an advocate for diversity in the workplace.
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. Visit workingmother.com for more.