How to Be Satisfied: Career Advice from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Updated: Oct 4

I devote time each Sunday to writing this blog. By Friday night, after each long work week, I begin to ponder what I can share with you that offers a different insight or perspective in contrast to what you'll read elsewhere. This Friday night was no different, except in one way: I read that the greatest United States Supreme Court Justice of my lifetime had died. I knew today's post would need to be about Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg because I respect her, admire her, and I thank her for doing everything in her power to ensure that women have equal rights in America. This right is fundamental to any and everything else we could possibly do.


In a world where it's all too easy to find talented yet competitive and sometimes egotistical professionals, I admire those who are, let's say, real. The ones where there's no pretense, no flamboyance, just commitment to excellence and authenticity. The ones who truly and humbly connect and believe in the greater good. By everyone's account, this was Justice Ginsburg. I want to share with you, in her own words, some important career advice.


You Don't Have to Follow A Traditional Path to Be Successful

RBG was one of only nine women entering Harvard Law School in 1956, and at the time, her daughter was only fourteen months old. She was ranked 1st in her class at Harvard but was turned down by 14 law firms, so she became a professor instead. Having experienced discrimination herself, RBG co-founded the ACLU's Women's Rights Project to take on cases of gender discrimination, where she served as volunteer attorney and then the project's General Counsel (among a long list of service-oriented roles). In that role, she argued landmark cases that revolutionized how women would be recognized in American society. RBG was often the only woman, the frontline soldier blazing the trail. Denied opportunity, she forced to carve a different path, for the traditional path was only available to men. But RBG didn't keep her head down and ignore the inequities that needed to change, she fought to change them. And she won teaching us that you can stand for something - even if it's unpopular - and still find success, satisfaction and personal fulfillment.


RBG's Path to Finding Fulfillment in Career and Life

As I sifted through articles and posts about her work and life, a short video clip caught my attention. Justice Ginsburg, while visiting Northwestern University, recalled being a research assistant for a professor who reinforced for her the idea that because she was a lawyer, she had a skill that would allow her to help make life better for others. She said:


"That idea that you have a license to practice law, you can make a living, but you're not going to really be satisfied if ... you do a day's work and you get a day's pay, but you have a skill that enables you to make life a little better for someone else, for your community. And my tremendous satisfaction is that I was able to use my skill as a lawyer to make things a little better for other people."

Listen to Justice Ginsburg's comments at Northwestern University here.



Two Questions to Ask When You're Unsatisfied With Your Career


So, when you're unsatisfied with life or your career, give some thought to these two questions:

  1. Do you have a skill that can be used in a way that will "make things a little better" for others?

  2. How can you turn a "day's work for a day's pay" into something that has more meaning to you?

I want to note - while RBG fought for others, she also fought for herself. She wasn't just a dynamic legal eagle. Sure, her work brought her satisfaction because she knew it was infused with purpose, improving the lives of others, but she also loved her own life. She was a devoted wife (to a very supportive husband), a mom and a bookworm. She enjoyed opera, working out with her trainer and spending time with her family. RBG didn't just work, and work wasn't the only thing that mattered. She took time to be a whole person, to enjoy other things, and in the process, "make life a little better" for herself too.


According to a Washington Post article, Justice Ginsburg loved to tell the story of how she received repeated calls from school administrators about discipline problems with her son. One day, she told the school, “This child has two parents. I suggest you alternate calls, and it’s his father’s turn.” This was Justice Ginsburg. Read the full Washington Post article here.


May Justice Ginsburg's life and legacy continue to be a light for us, always. Read more about her inspiring life here on Wikipedia and click here to hear RBG in her own words.




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© 2020 by Shai Littlejohn

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