By: Cristina Fernandez, Healthcare Attorney
As I sit at my computer, starting and stopping, revising and editing, this letter, I have such a clear image of you as a 27-year-old. You have graduated law school, you have a great job with a pharmaceutical company, you are about to purchase your first home. By all external measures things are going well. But that is not what you feel, is it? Although you mask it well, you feel insecure and scared, worried about the future, certain that you are an impostor about to be found out any minute and everything will be snatched away. It’s not hard to deduce where that comes from. Since you left Cuba at the age of six and arrived in Spain as a refugee, you know how quickly security can be wiped away and how difficult it can be to start out again in a new place, with the wrong clothes, the wrong accent or not even speaking the language when you finally arrive in the US in 1968. And it has been hard to come face to face with you. I have avoided this letter (returning to some of the procrastination habits of my youth that I have disciplined myself to improve over time.) So, let me go ahead and take you out of your misery quickly. Things turn out well for you. Yes, there are bumps in the road, bad bosses, difficult work situations, health crisis, and challenges with kids (yes, you have kids!) But here you are 30 plus years later, still at the same company, now a VP, with a wonderful husband and two very fine young men as sons. So, what have you learned in 30 plus years? First, teach yourself to become a more optimistic person. You are still prone to think the glass is half empty and to over worry, but through a lot of hard work on yourself, you have come to see that those crazy people who have a more optimistic view of the word are on to something.
First, open your mind to the possibility of a future that is not always a consolidation of all your worst fears. A friend once shared with me this great phrase from her grandmother; “Worry is like moving back and forth in a rocking share-a lot of energy expended, but no movement.” Learn to focus your energies not on worries but on doing something about the things that worry you. Start small, break things down, but one step at a time, one action at a time; you can tackle anything. Worried about your technical competence in an area? Become an expert, read all the regulations multiple times, join a Trade association which focuses on the issue, volunteer to speak on the issue (yeah-I, Know.) Worried about a relationship with a co-worker? Approach them with an open mind and a listening heart. Not everything is fixable, but you can make so much progress in any area when you start down the road of actually taking action-not just ruminating on a problem. That is why Nike’s “Just do it” campaign has resonated so well with people. Second, you were fortunate to be raised by parents who instilled in you a strong moral compass, capacity for hard work and resilience and (perhaps most importantly) a sense of endless intellectual curiosity and thirst to continue to improve yourself. Your 91-year-old dad is working on his fourth or fifth book. Your 85-year-old mother is still taking college level literature classes to “improve her English.” There is no magic equation or recipe-hard work and dedication is still important. Your ethics cannot be compromised under any circumstance and telling right from wrong is not difficult-your inner voice will guide you here. Third, you come from a wonderful Hispanic culture that values family and relationships with others.
As I am now at the other end of my legal career, perhaps contemplating retirement in a few years, I cannot underestimate the impact that countless of friends and colleagues who have influenced me and gave me a hand along the way have had on my career. Even the most challenging relationships with very senior stakeholders who were not your greatest fans (and yes, there have been a couple along the way) can teach you something- if you are smart enough to filter out the emotion and venom and find constructive criticism that is fair and actionable. Put people first every time. What I will remember when my career is done is the people and experiences. Lastly, there are times in your early career, when your work-life balance was completely awry. You slept in the office many nights, came home at one or 2 am and woke up to babies and toddlers who cried when you approached them because they no longer recognized you. Hard work matters, but nothing is as important as your family. Luckily (see previous comments about the importance of relationships) there were people who cared enough about you to intervene, called you out and frankly, forced you, to change. And I learned an amazing thing. You do your very best work when your life is balanced, and you are healthy. You become even more effective in the office, your mind is clearer, you build a capacity to work through issues with laser focus and efficiency. Take care of your family, work out, eat healthy, do not neglect those annoying medical appointments, spend time with friends, and cultivate your artistic soul to fuel your creativity.
Looking back now, what I regret the most is the amount of time I spent letting my fears and anxiety rule me. Part of that is who you are. Some people are more prone to worry than others. However, you are the driver of the bus (that represents your life). You can determine its direction, destination and speed. You can decide who you allow on and who you leave behind. You can either invest in regular maintenance or risk a breakdown. You can’t and won’t prevent potholes, breakdowns and other disasters (fate has her own ideas) but you will be more likely to be able to get the thing going again and move on and get to wherever you desire to go. Have faith, love your family, honor your friends, maintain your integrity, and show up at work every day to be the very best you that you can be that day. You are enough.