Your career, like your life, will not be linear. Instead, it will be a squiggly line of triumphs and defeats, maddening upsets and jubilant successes. Even if you believe you are “on the path” – to partnership, to the next promotion, to whatever – you never know what might be around the corner or how you’ll feel tomorrow.
For these reasons, think of your career as planting a garden. Sprinkle the seeds along your journey on fertile ground where they can be warmed by the sun. Tend to them carefully, nourish them, and adjust the conditions if necessary. Later, at a time unknown and unchosen by you, those seeds will sprout and provide you with the green shoots of new life.
Your career as a lawyer can be nurtured in much the same way. You start off equipped with a legal education and hopes for the future. Along the way, you cultivate knowledge and experience and, even more crucially, relationships. You build relationships with colleagues and clients, you push yourself to attend events, no matter how inconsequential, to network with other lawyers or industry professionals because they could, one day, lead to your dream job.
In your career, the key point of planting seeds is connection – true connection with other people. Genuine connection (rather than the superficial kind) creates an environment for new ideas and opportunities to flourish. If you come to a crossroads in your career, for example, where you find yourself feeling unfulfilled and wanting a change, it is your connections you can turn to for advice, support, encouragement, and help. Each connection represents a whole universe of possibilities.
The best way to develop such connections is by putting yourself and your energy out there and seeing what sticks. For example, if you plan to attend a networking event, set a goal of having a real conversation with three people to permeate the layer of formalities and learn about their goals and who they are trying to be in the world. Be sure you exchange at least names to find each other on LinkedIn or email addresses. Then, be sure to follow up with them: send them a short message and let them know how much you enjoyed the chat (or any message that is authentic to you). Personal messages go a long way; each of us wants to know that we matter.
Another way to maintain connections is by putting the effort in overtime. This could take the form of an occasional email or phone call or engaging with their posts on LinkedIn. An in-person conversation over coffee or lunch would also be beneficial. Look, too, for how you can be supportive or offer help to your connections. Showing kindness and generosity raises our collective energetic vibration, from which we all benefit. The aim is always a two-sided, mutually fruitful relationship.
When I was a young lawyer, I attended a Lawyers’ Business Development Club meeting hosting a GC roundtable. I remember being intrigued, listening to each person speak about their career journey, wondering what in-house life would be like at a publisher, a fashion company, an investment bank, a football club, and so on. Afterwards, I dutifully introduced myself to everyone and exchanged business cards. The next day I emailed each of them, thanking them for sharing their story with us. I never forgot those lawyers. Seven or so years later, the woman I was in awe of, who worked at the publisher, is featured in a diversity and inclusion video alongside me. I sent her a message. She has a new job. She replaced my current boss as General Counsel when he left to join my current company. She tells me that she and my boss caught up recently, and she told him how lucky he was to have hired me. I assured her that I was the lucky one.
These connections – the seeds we plant – usually grow slowly over many years. When they have been tended to and exist in strength, they will always be there when you look to them. One day, you will look back on your career and appreciate that the efforts, big and small, you made along the way all contributed to growing yourself a garden rich with camaraderie and collaboration. And you will have yourself to thank.
Megan Elizabeth Gray is a lawyer, writer, and advocate for women. She is currently Associate Counsel at Condé Nast, after ten years in private practice at a top global law firm. She writes about her reflections on womanhood, sisterhood, motherhood, and humanhood, and about life as a lawyer-mom. She published her first book, Enjoy Your Life: Thoughts for Awakened Daughters from Conscious Mothers, on the last day of her maternity leave. With her daughter, Lily, all proceeds of which she is donating to domestic violence charities (available on Amazon and Kindle).