5 Lessons From a Legal Pioneer: RBG

Understanding the mindset of resilience and RBG.

Posted Sep 21, 2020

Whether you agree with her politics or not — Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, was clearly a powerhouse of a woman and a pioneer in the legal field. She did things that were never done and became in recent years a cultural icon of equality, as well as grit and perseverance. RBG was only five feet one inches tall, but her reach is certainly immeasurable.

And since classrooms around the country (and probably the world) will discuss her this week, I wanted to highlight five lessons learned from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life well-lived:  

1. Purpose-driven life. “I see my advocacy as part of an effort to make the equality principle everything the founders would have wanted it to be if they weren’t held back by the society in which they lived and particularly the shame of slavery,” stated RBG during a WNYC interview. Ginsburg used her talents to serve a higher purpose, and advocate on behalf of those who were not yet receiving equal rights. By creating such a life, she set herself up for greater life satisfaction.

2. Strengths-based choices. “I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other,” she explained. “I have no talents in the arts, but I do write fairly well and analyze problems clearly,” added Ruth Bader Ginsberg. RBG trusted her instincts and recognized her need to choose a career based on her strengths — even when she couldn’t initially get a role as a lawyer upon graduation, she pivoted to become a legal professor.

3. Authenticity. She loved the opera, wearing her opinions — literally — on her collar, and would tell anyone that her husband, Marty, was clearly a far better cook than herself. Her daughter even asked her to retire from cooking, and in a 2016 interview, when Jane Pauley asked if her feelings were hurt, she replied, “not in the least!” RBG was 100% herself, and this was yet another secret to her success.

4. Focus. It’s no secret Ginsburg embraced hard work and had a single-pointed focus when she was working on a brief. There’s a story of her having a big birthday: She was working in her chambers when about 10-15 people entered the room. She never even noticed them. Now, that’s focus. “That focus is very important for being productive and achieving your goals,” stated RBG in an interview with Jeffrey Rosen.

5. Persistence. There’s no question that RBG had a fighting spirit for justice, and equality, but also in her personal life. She had so many bouts with illness and cancer but always pressed on. She even said, “The work is really what saved me” when explaining how her ability to focus on writing a brief helped her push past her aches and pains (NPR interview).

Of course, there is so much more to say — especially regarding RBG’s career from a civil rights attorney to associate justice of the Supreme Court. Her pioneering work with women’s rights is worth time in every history classroom in the country, but what impressed me the most was her fortitude, focus, savvy legal strategies to advance a cause, and willingness to use her time wisely. RBG was and will always be a source of inspiration for many, myself included.


Bote, Joshua (2020). ‘When daughters are beloved as much as sons:’ 11 powerful quotes from Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Found online at: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/19/ruth-bader-ginsburg-quotes-supreme-court-metoo-equality/5837815002/

NPR (2019). Morning Edition. “Justice Ginsburg: I am very much alive” interview, and article found at: https://www.npr.org/2019/07/24/744633713/justice-ginsburg-i-am-very-much-alive

Pauley, Jane (2016). CBS Sunday Morning Interview. Found online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FUlhXbRgBG4

Rosen, Jeffrey (2020). RBG’s Life in Her Own Words. The Atlantic. Found online: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/09/rbgs-life-her-own-words/616414/

Sherman, Mark (2020). Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg Dies at 87. Found online at: https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Supreme-Court-Justice-Ruth-Bader-Ginsburg-dies-at-15579237.php

WYNC Interview (2013). Interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Found online at: https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/takeaway/segments/transcript-interview-justice-ruth-bader-ginsburg