Success Redefined

Are you better off than you think? Featuring: Why it's good to screw up every once in a while, how to measure real success for women, and how to make the best of a bad situation.

Are You Climbing the Right Ladder to Success?

When you do what you love, there is no turning back.

From the top of the ladder to success, I looked down in dismay. I was a successful lawyer and law firm marketing consultant, but I suspected I’d climbed the wrong ladder. I didn’t want my epitaph to read, “She wrote the best law firm brochures in America.”

In high school I strove for good grades and joined every intramural team to round out my resume.  Two women who’d been editors of our school paper had gotten into Radcliffe (before Harvard, Yale and Princeton accepted women undergrads), so that was a must. I became editor-in-chief.

I attended a seven-sister school with gracious stone buildings and sweeping lawns. But from the minute I arrived, it felt like a mistake. (No boys, not to mention a narrow offering of courses.) To get me through, I spent my junior year abroad in Madrid and London. That first trip to Europe, opened me up to a lifelong love of travel and foreign cultures. I noted my temporary joy, then got back on the ladder.

I had a Fulbright to Mexico, another excellent credential on my way to who-knows-where, followed by three years at a great Midwestern law school. My favorite college professor had said it was the place to go, so “lefty radical.” But by my second year, my dreams of changing the world were slipping. I was taking Securities Law and Corporate Tax, and watching stressed-out classmates throw up in the hallways.

Still, I fought for civil rights for minorities and women, free legal services for the poor. “You don’t cure malaria by getting in bed with the patient,” Florynce Kennedy warned us at a conference, just as you don’t cure poverty by catching it. I was only earning $9,000, but that year in the seventies, I shared a sumptuous mansion with law school classmates, overlooking San Francisco Bay. If this wasn’t success, what was?

I tried to love the law — litigating in a community law office, clerking for a judge, teaching law, working as a trial consultant at a corporate firm. I shifted careers and worked for fifteen years as a law firm marketing communications consultant. It was a better fit, but then it finally hit me. Life is short.

So I began writing about the things I cared about on an emotional level. Personal essays about family and friends, memoir, travel. I don’t yet earn what I did as a corporate law communications consultant, but I love what I do. Which is success? (I chose Door Number Two.)

My book will be released in 2014; I freelance for magazines and newspapers, teach writing and work as a writing coach. Last year, my mother, who was nearly 90, who had urged me to go to law school and “succeed,” said, “I’m really proud of you. You’ve found something you love and made it work.”

High praise, but that’s not why I did it. Once you do what you love, there is no turning back.

Copyright © 2013 by Laura Deutsch


Success Redefined