From the Guy’s Side: What is “Success”?

I entered law school with no intent of ever becoming a lawyer. I had been working as an account executive for a large technology company when my wife decided to leave her job as a teacher for law school. I was considering making a change myself, so I decided to tag along. My plan was to treat law school as a different flavor of business school, then go back to the corporate world after graduation.

In school, though, I found that my natural skill set was well suited for the profession, and I soon fell into the typical law school career track: try to get good grades to make law review, keep the grades up to get a clerkship, then on to the high-paying, big-firm associate gig. From there, the path to “success” is well-defined. Bust your hump, bill a ton of hours, do good work, and after 8 or 9 or 10 years, you reach the brass ring that is partnership.

After a couple of years on this track, though, my wife and I had our first child. I struggled with how best to reconcile my personal goal of spending as much quality time as possible with my growing family, with my professional goal of “succeeding” in a big firm. I did some soul searching, and I came out of it with a new, personal definition of “success.”

For me, success = balance.

Professionally, what I want is a job that is fulfilling. And I have that now, in spades. I left my big firm job to work for the state, and I now have my own docket of interesting cases, and I have a ton of autonomy. I’m also getting a lot more hands-on experience than I ever would have gotten in the typical firm structure.

Personally, I want to be able to spend as much time as possible with my family. I want to have dinner with them**, I want to be at their parties (and their friends’), I want to help put them to bed. And because of the autonomy I have at work, I am able to do all this (usually).

It’s not that I don’t get busy at work. I haven’t tracked it, but I’m guessing I work just as many hours as I did when I was at the firm. The difference is, now I’m in control of my schedule in large part, which affords me the flexibility, to the extent possible, to manage my work life around my personal life.

So, what, dear reader, is the point of all this? My advice is to (1) think hard about what brings you joy in life, both personally, and professionally, and (2) if necessary, make changes to reconcile your personal and professional goals to maximize your joy in both of these important parts of your life. Create your own, personal definition of “success.”

LWL - Dustin Photo

**For more on this working dad’s family dinner routine, check out this weeks Friday Fun Post.

Dustin Howell

Dustin Howell is an appellate attorney for the State of Texas in the Office of the Solicitor General, and is currently serving as Chair of the Texas Young Lawyers Association. After receiving his law degree from Texas Tech, Dustin was a law clerk for Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson of the Supreme Court of Texas. A Wichita Falls native, Dustin now lives in Austin with his wife Emily (also an attorney), where they are raising two boys, Joe and Will

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  17. Thank you so much for sharing a dad’s perspective on balance! It sounds so simple, yet can be so tough to put into practice. Glad to know other folks struggle with these choices and manage to find balance.

  18. Wholeheartedly agree on the balance. I left a government agency job last year to start my own practice because I realized the top 2 things I valued in a career were interesting work and a flexible schedule that enabled a good work-life balance. Financial compensation was a distant third. Viewed that was it was clear the job I’d held for almost 8 years was no longer a good fit for me. Since starting my own practice I truly love what I do and even though I work as many hours sometimes as I did before, it feels different doing it on my own terms. It’s easy to stay up late working when the trade-off is that the next morning I can read to my son’s class.

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