I am the daughter of a career army officer raised on military forts and bases around the world. Throughout my childhood - the 1970s and 80s - the military was a bastion of conformity and its officer ranks were overwhelmingly white and male. Everything in military life was designed to express order. From the houses on these army forts – meted out by rank – to the tidiness of their yards, to the roles of the families that lived inside these houses.
Enter me and my brown-berry self. Biracial and adopted into a white family – something that, at that time, provoked open-mouthed stares. I was prone to dreaming, too-much reading, and pontificating my general and generally fantastical theories of life. A born independent thinker. Bossy and driven, a tomboy who liked to dress up the family Irish Setter in my old dance recital outfits, I was born to rile – the mix of me in this rigid environment was not a set up for success.
And I struggled to find a place in that world of my childhood. I was an island. It was not until I was grown when I finally yielded to the power and necessity of community. As humans, we crave connection. We crave to find our natural group and place - our tribe. So, I set about finding mine. Sometimes failing in my choices, sometimes succeeding, I began to consciously and mindfully cultivate the relationships that sustained me personally and professionally. In doing so, I not only tapped more fully into the richness of my life and story, but also into my potential and purpose.
Lawyers work hard and a lot. Law firms can be especially tricky as they are multi-headed, complex organizations with lots of generals and not always a clear template for achievement. For all of the obvious rules – go to a good school, get good grades – there are so many hidden and so many that seem arbitrary. Trying to decipher your path upward to success can be exhausting.
In such a tough environment, finding one’s tribe becomes even more imperative. Finding people with whom you naturally connect and feel enthusiastic around, who may challenge you intellectually, but never culturally, can make a huge difference in your ultimate professional success.
Most people often pick their first legal job without much of a sense of who they are professionally. As lawyers, we have probably excelled at channeling and burdening ourselves with the external expectations of who we should be and what we should be doing in our lucky lives. Over a lifetime of striving and seeking A’s, it can feel a tough and uncomfortable thing to quiet this external pressure, step away from the well-trod path, and listen to your wise, internal self. But finding the space and some time to listen will ultimately create a lot of ease in your life.
With a little professional experience under your belt, you may find yourself seeking something, indefinably different for your next career step. And this is your opportunity. Take the time to do some internal work, figure out your true priorities, think about the personalities around you – both the easy and difficult ones. As you network and meet people, take notes about who truly strikes you and invigorates your sense of possibility. Pay attention, this chemistry and connection is your tribe calling.
When you find your tribe, you feel understood not undermined. You find that you have the time to channel your energy toward your work, instead of jousting with personalities and politics that chafe. This will allow you to focus and truly build the life and career that you seek. The wrong environment will drain you of precious energy; whereas the right one will help you fly.