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Bar News - March 18, 2015

That Elusive WLB


Editorís Note: The following is an edited excerpt from Lucy Hodderís remarks given at the annual Gender Equality Breakfast on Feb. 27.

In the back or front of our minds when we discuss the lack of women in senior leadership positions in law firms, and when we discuss equal pay, is the question of work-life balance, which we affectionately refer to as the W-L-B.

All of us have struggled with the WLB, but thatís not unique to gender Ė just accentuated by the demands of motherhood, stereotypes of what we should be and do, and the history of progress and competition we bring with us.

I want to talk today about my new-found perspective on our endless pursuit of the Holy Grail that we call work-life balance. It starts with an admission. I have failed. I just canít find the WLB!

There have been blissful moments every blue moon when I think Iíve found it Ė I arrive at an event I really wanted to get to on time; I manage to do the errand and make the school play, or fit in the yoga class savoring even an hour of peacefulness afterwards. But usually I quickly realize itís all a mirage. Iíve simply skipped a meeting or better yet, totally misread, forgotten, ďspacedĒ on my schedule, which is more my present norm.

And for the past two years, the depth of my failure has been epic. Iím leaving the most fun, challenging, inspiring job Iíve ever had, but one that has maximized the use of my fullest mind, body, time, energy and soul. The political world does not operate like motion practice. Politics works in the flash of the moment, the need for immediate and very public response, followed by a constant vigilance. Life had almost an impossible time creeping in. I had never seen or visited the college our son chose to attend (after a visit, revisit and final visit) despite it being two hours away. If asked, I would sadly admit there seemed to be little discernable WLB to be found. Yet I loved it? Whatís going on here?

Maybe Iíve been missing the forest for the trees. Maybe the Holy Grail is within reach. I think about how lucky I am to have had what seem like the best legal jobs on the planet, and I think about the women who I look to as my mentors. They seem somehow to have found a semblance of the WLB. What is the secret? Where the heck is it? What is the recipe? Where is that WLB?

Why Do You Work?

Not long ago I was at a party with some good friends. One of my friends, late into the evening, was asking me about work. She was lamenting the time and effort she had spent with little gratitude raising four children. She grabbed my hand and said, ďWhy do you work? Does Rob make you?Ē This was asked with the most honest of intentions.

I was so taken aback, I think I dropped my drink! I wanted to explain that the economics of our family have grown to depend on my income, a reality that became only too clear over the past few years as my return to government service coincided with our first child heading off to college. It matters.

Driving the economic security for yourself, and your family is critically important to a sustainable future, to allowing for change, for progress, for prosperity. Isnít that what we are fighting for? Access to economic security. So I wanted to say, I work for my own independence and for the independence of others!

But what about the other answer? The one creeping guiltily up out of nowhere. ďNo, Rob doesnít make me work! I work because itís what I do; itís my passion; itís who I am! For godís sake, whatís wrong with that?Ē

Maybe we have been focusing too much of the ďlifeĒ side of things. Maybe we should accept that as New Hampshire lawyers, we are honest, compassionate and dedicated as a general rule, and we will behave that way in our lives. We will, by the very force of nature and good will, be there for our families when they really need us, make time for our friends and neighbors, maybe not as much as we should, but in ebbs and flows with a focus and enthusiasm that lives up to the ďlifeĒ side of the ledger.

I have learned from my great mentors that we need to bring that same focus of intention to our work, and not feel guilty about it. Why are we doing it? What is our purpose?

We women lawyers in New Hampshire are always judging ourselves against the male successes we see. We are competing to be faster, better, stronger at what they do. But now we have done that. We can move on. We can approach the work side of the equation with the same passion and care and intent with which we approach the family/life side of the equation, and perhaps the rest will fall into place.

I look forward to witnessing a new generation of women lawyers and hope that they will find the Holy Grail of the WLB by bringing to their work the intentional passion it takes to make it all worthwhile.

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