The Career or the Family?

I can’t have a family and practice law.

This type of thinking is common for many women seeking their place in the legal industry. We are often surrounded by women who seemingly sacrifice everything to find success. They either choose not to have children or family for the sake of climbing the ladder or they have the kids and family but they trade their health and well-being–they never sleep and perpetually seem to be running a race against themselves.

Work and family: despite everything we see suggesting that these things are mutually exclusive, there is a significant fault with this thinking.

It is rare in this life that things will be truly mutually exclusive. We live in a world where dichotomies seemingly flourish, if we only look hard enough to see them. But when we subscribe to ‘either or’ thinking, we foreclose any solution to the dichotomy that might be truly our own. With ‘either or’ thinking, the only thing we will see are more reasons why it won’t work.

Our brains must be given some direction. Without adequate supervision and instruction, our brains are like children running down the stairs with knives — no one will come out of this unscathed. What this means is that, in every moment, of every day, we are giving our brain direction and instruction with our thoughts. From there, our brains will whir to action ferreting out evidence to support the thoughts and beliefs we offer it (hello, confirmation bias). So when we offer our brain thoughts of mutual exclusivity, our brain will not seek any evidence to the contrary.

Our brains are not designed to argue with our beliefs. That is a skill we must develop on our own. The first step is recognizing the beliefs that you are choosing are just thoughts–they are not facts but we are treating them as if they were.

When we subscribe to “either or” thinking, as if it were the holy grail of truths, we foreclose any innate ability we may have to merge the dichotomous elements. We overlook any creative solutions to the exclusivity and we don’t invest any energy developing creative alternatives.

If we truly believed that we could have a full professional life and a home life and if we actively invested in that belief, we would be much more willing to explore ways to make it work. We would be much more invested in drawing boundaries that would give us both. Instead, when we subscribe to dichotomous thinking, we set ourselves up to fail; we buy into the notion that one of those commitments will have to suffer for the other. What’s more, that thinking allows us to ACCEPT those sacrifices as part of the invariable truth. That truth being: you can’t have both.

Says who?

Investment in that type of thinking is only hurting us. When we allow ourselves to believe that we can only have one or the other, we stunt the development of the legal profession. Imagine where women would be today if our predecessors stopped challenging dichotomous beliefs!

One of the reasons this type of thinking often wins out is because it’s easy. It’s a very clear rule establishing choices that must be made. It confirms that anyone who tries to have both is only setting themselves up for failure because they are violating the rule. This ignores the underlying truth that sometimes getting the life that you want requires you to do the hard thing. Sometimes, challenging established beliefs requires more from you than simply accepting the limiting rules. So when we start to challenge those norms and feel that struggle, we give up and we release our will to the power of the belief.

But what if that struggle was the whole point?

What if just beyond that struggle and a whole host of difficult conversations and boundaries, you could find a way to live a life that flies in the face of the old rules?

We don’t have to believe that you must make a choice between family and a career. It can be done but it will certainly require more from you and it will most certainly require you to do more than simply buy into a belief. In order to deconstruct outdated thinking, we are going to have to invest in some difficult conversations and boundaries. We are going to have to re-examine how we envision our lives and our practices. We are going to step out of the black and white (victim, villain) thinking and start crafting solutions that actually work for us.

Besides, what’s the alternative?

Challenging systematic beliefs we hold about ourselves and our careers is at the core of what I do with my clients. When we believe we don’t have any other options, we stop growing and we stop challenging the status quo. We become the victim to a faceless machine. That is the death knell for our success in the legal profession. Start paving a different path, marked by an honest investment in your true wants and needs. Let’s re-chart your course — what do you have to lose?


Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle on Unsplash