Accomplishment is the fourth of the core values espoused by Sarah Brokaw in Fortytude. In her research, Sarah found the core values to be the “values most served to sustain and enhance women’s lives as they entered their fifth decades.” I have previously addressed grace/equanimity (Fortytude), connectedness (Girlfriends), and adventure (How Did That Happen).
Sarah warns that “while possessing a sense of mastery can prove critical to a healthy self-concept as we grow older, our relentless pursuit of achievement also can turn into a trap.” I was definitely in that trap. I focused solely on my career; the goals that I set and reached kept me continuously going forward, without a thought of what I was really accomplishing. It took a confluence of events to make me realize that those achievements were no longer making me happy.
My health was suffering, my temperament was short and my outside life was pretty much non-existent. Yes, I had achieved accomplishments as a woman lawyer and I felt a certain amount of pride in them. However, I also recognized them for what they are worth.
To me, my marketing department deserves at least as much credit as I do for the “super lawyer” and “best lawyer” connotations. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of incredible attorneys on those lists; but there are also many outstanding attorneys that are not on the list.
“[It is important to] consider what it means to be an accomplished woman. Not necessarily a woman who has ‘the perfect’ husband, house, car, and children. Not necessarily a woman who has founded her own multimillion-dollar high-tech company or climbed the ranks of the largest law firm in town. But a woman who knows and appreciates what she is capable of, and sees the strengths in other women as well.” Sarah Brokaw, in Fortytude.
I wanted to discover what I was capable of; I sought accomplishments outside of my legal career.
Along with my dear friend, I co-founded our law firm’s pro bono project. As part of that program, a group of us traveled to a nearby elementary school to read to the third graders for a two-year period. The school is a Title I school, which means that it has a large low-income student population. At this particular school, about ninety-eight percent of the children are African-American.
The children broke my heart. They were seeking attention and love – even from a stranger in a suit who magically appeared at their door once a week to spend an hour with them. Before I left every week, they all wanted hugs and promises that I would be back.
I had the pleasure of going to the school the day after President Barack Obama was elected. (Please set aside your political views in reading this – this story is not about politics.) That day, I asked the teacher if I could talk to the kids instead of reading to them. With her permission, I talked about the election and asked them if they knew what had happened. Many of them did know, and knew our new president’s name.
I asked them if they knew what this election meant. They looked puzzled. I told them that it meant that you (and pointed at one) and you (and pointed at another) could each become president. The silence was deafening. Their eyes became very big. They started to get so excited that they wiggled and squirmed in their seats. “And me?” “Me too?” they all asked. Yes, I told them. All you have to do is listen to your elders – your teachers, your parents, your grandparents; go to school and work hard, and you, too, could have that chance.
I must admit that I felt like a rock star leaving that classroom (and also a little guilty as I had whipped them into a complete frenzy). I may have – just possibly – given one child a little hope that he or she didn’t otherwise have in life. It is hard to imagine that teachers have these moments every day.
I sought out other challenges, many of them athletic. I pushed outside of my comfort zones and participated in races and triathlons. It is finishing those, and often placing in my age group, that gave me a new feeling of accomplishment.
Throughout much of my life, I struggled with back issues, particularly in the lower back. There were many days that I had to spend in bed on a heating pad due to back spasms. Thanks to my yoga practice, I can now hold the below pose daily, without pain, and it gives me tremendous pleasure (plus, I have no more back problems).
If any of you are also on this journey of self-enlightenment and self-awareness, I urge you to push outside of your comfort zones and seek accomplishments in different areas. It will help you to realize how much more you are capable of, and also help to identify what brings you true satisfaction.
I love Sarah’s advice above in which she urges us to see the strengths in other women as well. There are so many of us going through these struggles at the same time; I have found talking about them and learning from each other to be life-changing.
As I continue on my journey, there are times that I feel as if there are no boundaries to what any of us can accomplish.