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Professional Lessons From a Legend

5 quotes from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that will do women — and men — some good in our own quest

This week, I had actually prepared a completely different article since I try to stay away from politics, but in light of the passing of a game-changing icon, I thought it would be more appropriate to mourn the loss with five of her famous sayings to inspire us as we search for our own footing in this world.

I admit I have not been a follower of Ruth Bader Ginsburg besides her everlasting battles with pancreatic cancer. Nonetheless, I have since watched a few YouTube videos of her speaking at institutions and learned about the obstacles that she had to conquer in her life in order to establish equality for all. In truth, much of what she believed in resonates with the job search process and workplace conduct.

So here are my top five quotes from the Notorious RBG.

“If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.”

Photo by Valdemars Magone on Unsplash

Embodying the independent spirit of her mother, Ginsburg fought for women’s equality at a time when men made all the decisions. For her to change the livelihoods of all American women, she had to “be with the people who [held] the levers.”

If we want to persuade hiring managers to hire us, then we have to be with them. Network with them. Learn about their work. Be part of the team.

Be the people in their heads when they choose us.

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

We do not have to fight as big a fight as Ginsburg.

But we are bound to dislike something because we care.

And when we dislike something, there will be those who are on our side and those who are not.

Remember, changes do not affect only one person. They affect entire communities.

If we lead with inclusion and understand how the change we want to make would interrupt the lives of others from their perspective — particularly those against us — then others will join to initiate the change.

“If you are going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill...But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself… something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you.”

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I think this is a similar message to one I have been echoing all along.

Too often, we want to diminish our hardships and worries by fulfilling our personal needs internally.

That is, of course, extremely important. We are of no use to anyone if we are in bad shape.

What most do not realize is the healing power of helping others, for by helping others, we are actually helping ourselves.

I have lived everyday for at least the past two years asking this question: What can I do today to help someone so that he or she can help someone else?

When Ginsburg said, “people less fortunate than you,” she did not only meant people in a lower social status than us. She meant people who may know less than us in our areas of expertise. For instance, if a millionaire have trouble handling his money and we are knowledgeable financial advisors, wouldn’t we help him?

So if we are more expert than someone else at something, help him/her. That is a true professional.

“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.”

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

When Ginsburg graduated from Columbia Law School, not one law firm in New York wanted to hire her because she was a woman, a jew, and a mother of a four-year-old.

However, she would later recalled those days in her more fortunate years. She figured that if she had “gotten a job as a permanent associate. Probably [she] would have climbed up the ladder and today [she] would be a retired partner.”

Little did her young self knew at the time, the temporary setback led her to become one of the greatest American legal and pop culture icon of the 20th century. Had a New York law firm hired her back in the day, perhaps none of this would have happened.

“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune.”

Right now, especially with the pandemic, we have been forced into an ill-fated situation, but we do not have to view it as a devastating blow that has forever ruined our lives.

If the impediment is seen as just a…hiccup and we continue to see the world with optimism, sooner rather than later, something even better will come along.

I believe it.

“It helps sometimes to be a little deaf.”

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

When Ginsburg married her most supportive life ally, Martin Ginsburg, her mother-in-law gave her some wise advice, one that RBG had repeated time and again.

“In every good marriage, it helps sometimes to be a little deaf. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

This is my favorite quote from her...and her mother-in-law.

As we persist in our mission to land our next great opportunity, we will definitely receive one-too-many naysayers in our journey. Those naysayers are often imaginary inside our heads.

But as we all know, accepting those harsh words is not productive; they will only drown us.

This does not mean we need to block them out of our minds. Once heard, the words are difficult to forget. So don’t try.

Don’t hang on and hold angry grudges either.

Let them go and change those words to ones that ignite the fire in us. Figure out — in our individual ways — how to overcome them.

In addition to that, her message emphasizes the need to listen, learn, and pick our battles when those words are NOT thoughtless or unkind. No one may agree in the beginning, but before long, most would converge to a consensus. This is how Ginsburg developed cordial relationships with all Supreme Court Justices and other opponents throughout her life.

This is a lesson we can all learn to do better.




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Cindy S. Cheung

Cindy S. Cheung

Data Analyst. Screenwriter. Project Manager. Now, Resume Coach. A student of life and West Coast Swing. A promoter of self from within.

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