Current events make timely an inquiry into the role of lawyers in fostering democratic values,…
I am a wife. I am a law student. I am a mentor. I have chartered local organizations, I lead in state organizations, and I am a national director for the largest student-run organization in the United States. Many people have asked what inspires me to be so involved. The reason is not for resume-fillers or job offers. I am committed to being involved because there’s always a “why” to my work.
As women, one of the hardest things for us to say in a working environment is, “No.” We don’t want others to think that we’re incapable of handling a bigger workload. We never want to gamble with the possibility of not being promoted. We want to make our family and friends proud of the great women we are. However, we can overwork ourselves to the point of tears. We lose track of how many memorable gatherings we’ve missed. We inadvertently wire our brains to think in the form of billable hours. We stop having dreams about being great women, and we start having nightmares about missing important deadlines. Before we know it, we begin to feel robotic because we lose focus of our “why.” I’ve been there. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step back and analyze the “why” behind your work.
When we work with a “why” in mind, we can say, “no” without apologies. We can hear negative comments, but we can stop listening to them. We understand the value of completing one project over having multiple projects that are not completed.. When we work with a “why” in mind, we stop saying what we have to work on, and instead, we say what we get to work on.
During my summer internship, there was a homeless man who slept near the building. I would converse with him daily before walking to the parking lot. I would bring him food and listen to him tell me all about the new books he was reading. On one particular day, I happened to leave my internship later than usual to help with a new project. The first thing I noticed when I exited the building was the same man rummaging through the trash bin in what appeared to be a smile on his face. He pulled out a large, aluminum pan that was uncovered and filled with pasta and meat from a luncheon that was held in one of the offices earlier that day. I asked him repeatedly to let me buy him dinner, and he respectfully declined, as he meddled between the soggy napkins, papers, and cigarettes that had been thrown on top of the food throughout the day. He told me that he could not let all of that good food go to waste, and if I got him more food, he and his friends would not be able to eat it all.
Similarly, as women, we throw away our own greatness when there is someone who needs what we have. We can spend countless hours formulating a great proposal for work, yet all it takes is one negative person to make us throw it all away. We can have great goals in life, but we hear one sarcastic comment about how far-fetched our imagination is… So we throw it all away. We used to smile at how great we looked in the mirror before meeting that one guy who made us feel unattractive… So we throw all of our self-esteem away.
There comes a time in every woman’s life that you will get passed up, treated like trash, and left alone in the dark. But there is always someone who is willing to acknowledge your greatness, help pull you out of despair, and dust you off. They don’t do it for recognition. They do it because they see your potential. This is the “why” behind my work. I see potential in everything around me, and I recognize that there is a need for many people and for many things that are too often overlooked.
I work as a youth mentor because I remember what it was like to be a 200-pound bully in middle school who no one knew would go home and cry. I work hard to remain in the top percentage of the class as an academic merit scholar because I remember the barriers I faced in pursuit of law school. I lead in an array of organizations because I realize that positive change doesn’t come from merely talking from the outside. It comes from working on the inside. I allow my life to serve as an example to females of all ages. My life shows that love still exists, that success is still attainable, and that your future does not have to look like your past.
We are not great women because of everything that we do. We are great women because of everything that we are. Everyone can work, but no one can work quite like you. Your “why” is what makes you special.
I’ll leave you with one of my copyrighted poems that I wrote many years ago when I was in undergrad, as I’m sure that someone else can also relate to these words.
As I Am
I used to pray for popularity, for beauty, and for fame
For the most fabulous lifestyle and for a well-known name
I used to wish upon a star to be accepted for a day
Regardless of what I had to do, become, or even say
I wanted the most perfect frame—to have the most gorgeous face
A room full of awards and trophies—the girl who wins first place
I remembered everything I dreamed of, until I then no longer could be
That girl on the outside that I used to remember… The girl I used to call, “Me”
I blended with my surroundings, yet my spirit was still poor
Because in me being like the crowd, I was forgotten even more
My life became a burden… Dead living. No purpose or drive
No longer was I the girl who knew what it meant to survive
I failed behind closed doors, while others thought that I succeeded
I had everything I prayed for, yet I had nothing that I needed
For it wasn’t until I forgot about fame, about others, about acceptance, and wealth
That I learned to pray for the true beauty that was always within myself
Copyright © 2008 by Belashia Wallace