It was around 2008 that I began looking for experiences that made me feel self-actualized. Though, at the time, I didn’t know that that was what I was doing. I don’t usually discuss my life directly in my blog posts, but this time I will because it will give my readers a good idea about who I am.
First let me say that this woman, 1 and 1/2 years shy of 40 years old has started to acquire that—being self-actualized. I would never say that I’ve gotten there, as I expect that I will grow and change a little more as time goes on. But, let me say this, I kept coming back to wanting to do more, and more, and challenge myself, more and more when I was about four years into my government career.
I set off to dabble in some courses and seminars that were held by the DC Bar. I don’t know what led me to take family law courses except that I’ve always been fascinated by interpersonal relationships and how people make decisions that affect others. So, that’s where my independent education and exposure to law, post-bar exam, began. It was outside of, and in addition to, what I was doing in my government career as a policy analyst. I’ll say instead, policy and legal analyst because that’s what I was doing. I had reached the Senior Analyst title, but that was not enough for me.
While taking a training course through the DC Bar I met someone who introduced me to the DC Volunteer Lawyer’s Project—an organization that, at the time, was just starting up and serving indigent women who needed pro bono legal services in domestic violence, custody, and immigration. I was happy to have met a key leader in the organization who told me what the organization was doing, and I was happy to get involved. From there, things took off. I took on pro bono cases. I felt confident that I could go in front of a judge and provide status reports and conduct trials. I read, and researched, and wrote about child custody cases. I was learning, changing, and growing as a result, in ways that were not apparent to me yet.
One day, I had stretched myself so much and experienced so much, working independently as an attorney in my free time, while I held a cushy job in the government, that I felt in my gut that this was what I wanted to do full time. I wanted to have my own law practice and be my own boss. I wanted to invest in myself, to reach a greater potential than I was currently. I read books, watched webinars, and spoke to people about how to open up a law practice and what I needed to have in place. I took Maryland and DC courses about how to open up a law practice. I prepared myself. Then one day I left my cushy government job and set off on my own into full time practice as an attorney.
How thrilling and exhilarating! I had done it! I was prepared and knowledgeable. I was courageous in the face of not knowing what I didn’t know. But I learned along the way. I observed, and soaked everything in that I experienced. There was no way that this was not going to happen: this new life as a full time attorney and owner of my own law practice.
Oh, boy did I hit some bumps along the way in what started out as purely a family law practice. I had challenges like these: What happens if you get a client who isn’t paying? What do you do when your client is lying to you? What about when you’re not sure you can continue like you are because some of your clients are stressing you out wanting a miracle to happen? Why won’t clients listen to the fact that the outcome does not materialize overnight; it’s about a 12-month process? What do you do when your clients not paying is making you broke?
Well, you learn what not to do, you pick yourself up and dust yourself off. You have faith that this is in some way what you were meant to do, but maybe not that exact practice area, ha, ha, ha! Maybe there are tweaks to be made. And that’s what any good business owner does. They learn from their mistakes, tweak, shift, and then keep going.
So, over the years, I’ve learned to trust my gut when I feel out someone’s character. I’ve learned to shift gears and listen to that little voice inside that says, don’t do that anymore, do this. I’ve learned that I need great people around me who will be on my team, who will be my allies. And I keep my eyes open for new things to learn. I’m a nerd at heart, I love to learn.
Now my law practice has evolved into something I’m proud of. I’ve created a niche, and brought two disparate ideas together: divorce and business law. Though they really are not disparate. It’s all in how you think about it. (More on that in my video blog). I trust myself when an idea is in my gut, and hey, things are working. They are working so well!
I think this creator within me who is able to take my new ideas, form them like a pile of clay into a beautiful piece of artwork, comes from my mother. She takes weeds and makes beautiful landscapes. She takes paint and makes beautiful shapes and designs on canvas. She takes simple, modest houses and creates beautiful, grand homes to live in. And she is tenacious and a strong woman.
I think this nerdy, always thinking side of me, always seeking self-actualization is from my father. He started as a young Black boy in the blatantly racist South in the 1920s. Yet, he turned into a handsome, powerful man who, in the early 1940s, became the President of AM&N College of Pine Bluff, which is now called University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He was the youngest president of all universities in the country.
After serving as President for 30 years he became the first Chancellor of the university. In the midst of the Civil Rights movement he met Martin Luther King, Jr and had him give a speech at one of the university’s commencements. Later, after serving there, he became President of Laney College in California. Can you not say that he was a great man?
So, how can I not want to continue great legacy? I think it’s threaded into my DNA. I come from two Black PhDs who grew up in small Southern towns and made it to liberal California (thank goodness!) where they raised an educated family. They overcame so much because they were wise, intelligent, strong in character, and achievers.
I know that in 2017 and beyond, every now and then life will throw me curve balls: For example, I might continue to face discrimination and have a primarily, racially homogeneous law practice, while wanting diverse clients of ALL backgrounds. This is what I want because that’s who I am and how I grew up.
But the good that will persist, now that’s worth talking about:
- I will continue to do my best for my clients.
- I will continue to believe that I can do anything that I really want to do.
- I will continue to believe that I am wise and know what is good for me.
- I will continue to surround myself with those who believe in me.
- And I will continue to carry a fire in my belly, courage, faith, and strength.
Because, as I continue to become self-actualized—a goal that should always be an aspiration and never actually has an end-point—I will continue to become a better me and help others become better as I serve their interests and represent them well. I will always strive to do work that I am proud of and that makes people want to put their lives and their businesses in my hands.