Four Cornerstones for a New Year

I will be the first to say that 2013 was not my best year personally, professionally, or anywhere in between. I did not live up to my own expectations, which left me wallowing in my own disappointment on New Year’s Eve. I went to bed skeptical of 2014.

The first day of 2014 is now drawing to a close, and as I sat in a wonderful, steaming hot shower at the end of the day (because shower epiphanies are the best), I reflected on what I did this first day of the new year. My activities and the categories into which they fell took me back almost 20 years to my high school alma mater’s idea of what the foundation of its students’ (and graduates’) lives should be. And I had to smile.

So what did I do today? I started the day with work. I know that doesn’t sound ideal, considering it was New Year’s Day and my office was closed, but I’m a lawyer and we’re expected to work hard. Not only that, I’m the most junior partner at my law firm, which means I need to be the workhorse (sorry associates, making partner isn’t as glamorous as you may think!). I didn’t meet that expectation in 2013, so I was happy to be at my desk at 7:30 am, engrossed in a research project. I worked until 2 pm on various items, putting in a solid 6-7 hour day. I felt good to be kicking off the year with a solid contribution to my law firm, but I was also happy to be intellectually challenged by what I was working on. I’m shifting my practice focus just slightly this year, which will involve more study on my part, and I felt that today was a good start to that. That is scholarship.

I left the office just before 2 pm to head over to Kor180, which is the new spin/pilates reformer studio I joined. Their motto is “Be committed.” I’m trying. But today I did a 40 minute spin class, followed by 50 minutes of work on the reformer machines. It was incredibly hard work, but I felt great (between bouts of feeling like I might pass out or throw up). When all was said and done, I felt I had accomplished something good for my body. I’m looking forward to being committed to their regime of good fitness, diet, and rest. I joined the studio because I am training to run a half marathon in February, and needed something to balance out my running regime. I am committed to being good to my body in 2014, being strong, and showing my children that fitness is something they should embrace for its own sake. That is athletics.

After I was done killing myself at Kor180, I drove out to our property that we bought back in August. Who knows when we’ll build on it, but for now, it’s a fun place to take the kids to run in the woods, ride bikes in the cul-de-sac, and generally explore nature. So we invited our friends Mike and Jenny, and Shannan and Chris, and their children, out for a picnic dinner, mimosas, and street races on bikes, scooters, tricycles, and plasma cars (for the kids, of course). I have known Mike since elementary school, and we reconnected a few years ago when I discovered he also lived in Austin. Shannan and Chris have been great friends of ours since our daughter was in preschool with their son, Jacob, when they were both 2 years old. While we were there, we saw some of our new future neighbors a few houses down, playing in the front yard with their kids. Not ones to be shy, Kenny and I went up and introduced ourselves and invited them to our little street party. Turns out they have a little girl who is our daughter’s age, and a little boy who is our son’s age, and a 1-year-old boy to boot. Our children became instant friends. I sat there surrounded by friends and my children’s friends, old and new and very new, and just soaked it in. It was almost too much to bear–past, present, and future were all there in one cul-de-sac, laughing and talking. My friends help make up the bedrock of my life. I love them dearly. They reflect my actions and attitudes, strengths and weaknesses, which makes me strive to be a better person. That is character.

The only thing that wasn’t highlighted today, but which I think about every day anyway, are my little “projects” that I engage in. Right now I have three. One is just an indulgence in my own desire to connect people. I’ve created a very, very small networking group with my friends Karen and Noa. Karen is a marketing executive at a very large asset management firm, and Noa owns a successful real estate brokerage firm. We each have our tentacles into different groups of highly successful women in Austin, so I figured what better way to facilitate people meeting and deriving value from networking connections than to start a dinner club! So the three of us have a monthly dinner, and invite a different friend each time, for a total dining party of 6. We eat and drink over the course of 3 hours, and the idea is that everyone makes a deeper connection with the others at the table than they would had they met at a traditional networking event. So far it has been a great success, and I look forward to how it unfolds in the new year.

My second project is focused on law students and helping them navigate the new, post-2008 legal environment. I often wonder if our generation will be as impacted by the 2008 financial crisis as our grandparents were by the Great Depression. Time will tell, but I will say that the legal job market has been forever changed. Gone are the days of large percentages of University of Texas law students being hired by large law firms at ridiculously high starting salaries. The new normal is an expectation that you may need to hang your own shingle as soon as those bar results come in. So I’m currently working on a curriculum, not sure if it’s for law students or immediately recent graduates, but its aim is to help them navigate the real world of getting a job, working as a lawyer, developing business, keeping clients happy, what to do when you screw up, managing administrative issues, and generally understanding how the various law firm business models work. I want to give them all of the little secrets I had to sort of figure out on my own. I want to help them understand the business of law and the practice of law, so that they can better help themselves and our community. I have some lawyer friends from various corners of the practice waiting to help out with this one. I’m excited about it!

Finally, my last project is the women in tech/women in entrepreneurship initiative. I live in Austin, which is a hotbed of tech entrepreneurship. But despite the welcoming reputation of our city, every tech/entrepreneurship event I attend is dominated by men. I am frequently one of the few women in the room, which is frustrating. I suspect this is an issue with multiple facets, one of which is the lack of female mentors. I hope to create a pipeline that connects aspiring and practicing female tech entrepreneurs with women who have soldiered a path in the Austin tech community. I hope to start this initiative in earnest in 2014. I have a plan and people. I just need the time.

Austin has given me much. My clients have given me much. I want to return the favor by making our community a better place. That is courtesy.

Scholarship, athletics, character, and courtesy. Four cornerstones I will admit I have not given focused thought to for 20 years. However, they are most definitely still relevant 20 years later as I try to balance my life in 2014. I often thank Hockaday for where I am in life; for shaping me from an awkward 12-year-old girl who only wanted to be a ballerina, to the wife, mother, lawyer, and citizen I am today. I thank Hockaday for the connections and friendships I have made and maintained. And now I have one more reason to thank Hockaday: without even realizing it (until today), I am trying to balance my life according to the Four Cornerstones. Thank you Ela Hockaday–you have given generations of women the tools with which to succeed in life and, most importantly, to make the world a better place.

My heart swells with this first day of 2014. I spent it engaged in everything I love. I spent it with cherished friends, and I made new friends. I read comic books with my daughter after tucking my son into bed. When I tucked my girl in, she said, “Mommy, I love you more than I did yesterday and less than I will tomorrow.” Wow. And now I’m sitting here on my couch, feet perched in my husband’s lap as we talk (and I type) and share a pastrami and brie sandwich. I have a blessed life, even when its out of balance. But thank you Hockaday, for giving me the road map to rebalance it. I will add that to the list of things I will be eternally grateful for that have come out of that school.

Happy New Year.  May your 2014 be balanced and blessed.