I’ve been thinking a lot about the oddities of career paths. We like to think that they are linear, but they aren’t. Life is weird and strange, and employers can be even weirder and stranger. And that brings me to Sandra Day O’Connor.
She graduated from law school at a time when hardly any women did. Although law is far more hospitable to women now than it was then, it’s not exactly a field with enlightened view on work-life balance. And so, O’Connor had to figure a career plan for herself, balancing her husband’s career and three kids with her own desires to practice law. Her husband went the big-firm route, while she had a much smaller private practice, joined the Junior League, became involved in state politics, and, well, the rest is history.
It’s interesting, of course, that two of the women who followed her on the Supreme Court, Elena Kagen and Sonia Sotomayor, never married nor had children. Obviously, people have to do what is best for them, but I would hope that this is not because women can no longer have families and reach the Supreme Court! You can do it all, but not all at once, and it would be great if American society did a better job of recognizing how much people can do over a very long career.
Long careers are not linear, as much as we would like to think they should be.
Sandra Day O’Connor managed to balance her work and her life in a discriminatory environment and came out at the top of her field. That’s incredible. It should give some reassurance to all of us taking non-traditional approaches to work.