This Women's History Month, we're sharing reflections, career insight and expertise from Rutgers Law alumnae leaders. Elizabeth (Betsy) Smith RLAW'83, Partner at Baker & Hostetler LLP, reflects on redefining work-life balance.
Women’s Lib. The American Feminist Movement. Gloria Steinem. I grew up on the heels of the women’s liberation movement. I learned from Ms. Magazine and these brave, bold women that we can have it all. I could have it all. We can make it in a man’s world – we can have successful and fulfilling careers and be wives, mothers, volunteers and so much more. I thought that this credo was gospel and I fell for it. After law school, getting an LL.M in Tax and clerking, I started at a NYC law firm in a Brooks Brothers grey pin-striped skirt suit complete with a tie around my neck. I was ready – the world was my oyster and I was going to eat dozens.
Not long after I started as a young associate, I got married and, within a couple of years, I was pregnant. My goals had not shifted but my priorities did. I wanted to spend as much time as I could with my new baby. I wanted to see him roll over, take his first steps and say his first words. I loved every moment with him and even those night feedings were special. Unfortunately, there was no manual on how to be up through the night, get up the next day, get yourself to work and be on top of your game ---as if you had slept a good seven hours. No one then talked about work-life balance and my colleagues never said a word about my new circumstances. Nothing changed at work but everything had changed. I was first and foremost a Mother. My son changed my life for the better and three years later my daughter was born and my life was even more enriched. And, then I was up for partner and more expectations were upon me.
I made partner and became the class Mom.
To be sure, I have had a wonderful family and I have had a fulfilling and sometimes even exciting career. What I would like to share with you though is that you can have many things and roles in your life (just as I was told), but you just may not be able to have all of the things you want all at the same time. It is a juggle and sometimes you drop the ball. And, sometimes you feel like you are not doing anything right. Thankfully, most of the time you are okay and you figure out what you can leave for tomorrow. Work-life balance? Maybe work-life seesaw is a better description! I keep eating oysters and, someday, I hope to find a pearl.