She Believed She Could so She Did: Women in Business, the Journey for us All
Donna B. Stepp: Age- my best kept secret, Attorney for 22 years, Law Firm Entrepreneur for 17 years
I am blessed. Truly blessed. I remind myself of this simple phrase every day, because it is true. I am a Christian first, a wife and mother second, and a lawyer third. I believe in God, in family, and in hard work, in that order. I try very hard to keep this balance, admit that sometimes, I struggle, but that is okay. Life can be difficult. I learned that long ago. Life can also be rewarding and full of blessings, and I am reminded of this every day.
I did not grow up wanting to be a lawyer. In fact, I always knew exactly what I wanted to do: I was going to be a famous artist. I was going to art school in New York. I grew up studying and creating art. It was my passion for many years. In high school, my interests changed, and I realized that I would have to work harder or settle for being less than the best, so my passion for art turned into recreation.
I went to law school for two reasons: first, because my Uncle, my Godfather, was a lawyer and is to this day one of the smartest, charming, and amazing men I know. He was not only book smart, he was engaging, a people person. He can talk to anyone. I grew up admiring him, wishing I could be like him. He was a tremendous example for me, and I wanted to have a life like his. Second, because I quite simply did not know what else to do. I was in college, had changed my major multiple times, knew I could not go to medical school because I am horrible in math and science, so law school it was!
Looking back, my decision to adventure into the unknown world of law was one of my best. Leaving home for law school forced me to be independent of my family. I had never lived away from home until that time. I chose a small southern law school 8 hours from my hometown, and this forced me to make new friends and forge new relationships. To this day, I am close to many of my law school friends, and I cherish my law school memories.
Upon graduation, I stayed in North Carolina, my new home. After a brief stay in the North Carolina Mountains, I took a position as an Assistant District Attorney in an area covering 5 counties. Again living on my own, knowing almost no one, I made new friends and forged new relationships, both personally and professionally. After almost 5 years of prosecuting, I decided it was time for the next phase of my professional career. I took a leap of faith and opened my first law practice in Union County in 1998. Although there were days in the beginning that I wondered if I had what it took to be successful, I remember fondly every experience, both good and bad, along the way, and today, in 2015, I continue to own a successful law practice here in Monroe. I am blessed with the professional success that I have enjoyed for 22 years.
Along the way of my developing professional career, I married, had two amazing daughters, divorced, and married again (to the love of my life). I mention the divorce not because it defines me, but because, like all of my other personal journeys, my divorce helped make me the woman that I am today. I am blessed every day to be a wife and mother. I am blessed to have 3 people who need me everyday and who support me everyday in return.
As I said earlier, I am a Christian. I was taught to put God first, and that when you do, everything else falls into place. I believe this to be true, although admit sometimes it is a struggle. My journey in faith is one I continue to walk every day. I mention my faith not to impress it upon others, but to share that for me, being a Christian has played a great part in my success as an attorney. I believe in giving back to others when you are blessed, and I work very hard to ensure that I give with my time, with my talents, and with my financial support in areas outside of my profession. I am blessed to be fortunate enough to have these opportunities to give back to others.
So many times in my life, I simply took a leap of faith. I believed in myself and had faith that guided me along the way. Being a Christian first, a wife and mother second, and a lawyer third has led me to great personal happiness and professional success. I know who I am, and I embrace it, and I encourage others to do the same!
Jordan M. Griffin: Age- 25, First Year Associate Attorney, Hopeful Entrepreneur
As a youngish woman entering into the business world, reading the words of wisdom of a veteran woman in business who has built an extremely successful law firm, raised a beautiful family, supported her community, and created a legacy that will follow her for years can be intimidating. We wonder, how did she get there? Will I make it that far in my career? What do I have to do to get there?
Although I am just breaking into my career field as an attorney, I have grown up around extremely successful women; I've soaked in their wisdom; watched the way they work; watched the way the cultivate relationships; and most importantly, I have paid attention to how they balance their personal lives with their works lives. My mom always preached that reputation is key, and I have learned over time that she couldn't be more right. You don't make it to the top like a Donna Stepp without having a stellar reputation, and that all begins when you take your first step into the business world, sometimes even before that. This means making every relationship count. Don't write off someone just because they don't have anything to offer you; instead, offer them what you have. You will be surprised to see that the person who may have just been a casual acquaintance becomes the person who helps you get your dream job. Everyone refers to this as networking...I have never been a fan of that word; it makes me think of forced relationships that you are cultivating because you want something from the other person. I've quickly learned that the relationships I genuinely put my time into, the ones that I really care about and cherish, are the ones that have taken me the furthest. Most of those relationships are with the strongest women in my life. They haven't taken me far because they want something back out of it, and I haven't given back to them because of what I know they can do for me. It is deeper than that. Because we care for each other, we want to put everything into making each other successful. This isn't to say that every person you meet will turn into these deeper relationships, but it means that each time you meet someone, you put your best foot forward; you give what you can give to help that person be successful, and even if you never see a return from that person, you have built on your reputation, and that reputation will turn into referrals and other relationships that will help you grow personally and professionally.
The second most important thing I've learned as a new woman in business is that my job right now is to learn. It's easy to walk into the business world thinking you know it all. The truth is, you may know the basics, but you will learn the most from those who have been there through the ebbs and flows of the business. Being humble to your ignorance in the beginning will make you rich in your success later on. For example, in the legal world, you may know the laws, but those who have been practicing for years know the law, the judges, the other attorneys, the probability of success for particular cases, and what I like to refer to as the "street rules." You can know the law backwards and forwards, but knowing how the opposing attorney works can be the difference between successfully settling your case early on, and going through a lengthy trial. These are things that you learn over time, but they are also things you can learn quickly by simply soaking in the knowledge of the veterans in your field. Learning means putting in a lot of extra time during the beginning of your career so that you can reap the rewards later. This means nerding out on a Sunday over your boss' old work, or the governing books of your career field, or reading blogs by others in your field. As you get older, your Sundays will be filled with so many other obligations, so put in the time now to learn all that you can learn. In law school the professors "front load" the syllabus for the semester. The first part of the semester is heavy on reading and work, and the second part of the semester is spent perfecting what you've studied. Similarly, you can front load your work-life balance by putting in extra time at the beginning to learn everything that you can learn so that when life brings you all of the other important obligations, you are at a place where your business success comes naturally while you focus on all of the other important areas of your life. Use your free time now to learn the rules of the game, so that later, you can play it better than everyone else.
The long and short of it all is to work as hard as you can work, know when life is more important than work, cherish the relationships you have, be a strong woman, when you are at the top, pull another woman up to sit at the top with you, and most importantly: believe you can, then do it.