So I didn’t know much about this phenomenal woman till two days ago when the news about her flooded my social media channels with posts from my American friends. A convenient excuse I would make is I am an Asian moving from Singapore to America three years ago and beyond my family with young kids and busy work, I only pay attention when the news is of significance and relates to my life, career and cause. Anyway, being uneducated about the heroine turned out to be a good thing as I dived into the life of Ginsburg as if I started with a blank canvas unfiltered by the colors of diverse opinions and perspectives. And once breathing in her stories as a career happiness strategist for women, I found at many levels that I could relate to this woman as strong emotions of admiration, love, and grief filled every cell in my being.
Ginsburg loved the opera. But she was not an opera singer. She was a lawyer. Why?
I wondered as I read.
I am all for women advancement like her and I share her natural talents. But I am not a lawyer. I am a coach. Why?
I teased myself as I reflected.
I then started my journey of decoding Ginsburg’s Happiness Infinity (HI) Zone — the core of my work with clients — where her life purpose, unique natural talents, passion and values meet. In this HI Zone, one would more easily become a top expert in her field while experiencing fulfilment and happiness as what she does is “her” thing and feels natural to her and she has a “whole life” happiness support system that enables her to do so. This then allows an upward spiral inching towards the greatest possible height of success. And when she faces with challenges, she will deal with them with less efforts and mental pressure while coming up with creative solutions.
Ginsburg was born into a Jewish family where the pursuit of justice was in their DNA. Her mom then worked in garment factory to help pay for her brother’s college education. So as a child, she was heavily influenced and taught by her mom the values of independence and a good education. But also as a child, I suppose she may have questioned why men, not women, deserve schooling more.
Her life purpose was formed. This must have subconsciously informed her choice of a degree.
Later in life, Ginsburg also ever shared that when she graduated at the top of her Columbia University law school class, no law firm was willing to hire her because she had “three strikes against her” — for being Jewish, female and a mother.
Her life purpose was strengthened as she experienced the taste of injustice herself. This must have informed her and inspired her to find another way and be a tireless advocate and champion for equality and women rights.
It’s this her very own purpose that propelled her forward against hardship and challenges. It was undoubtedly the biggest force that helped her navigate her two decades of fighting with cancer: She must fight cancer so she can continue the fight for equality that is far away from being done.
With that purpose and the values of independence and education she had carried as a girl, she could have thought of becoming a number of people: an advocate, a writer, a politician, a motivational speaker, a career coach who empowers women (like me, if it were a career option at that time), a dean or principal of a school that provide equal opportunities for both girls and boys, a leader of a non-profit, a police officer, a technologist creating products that serve a women-related cause …
And well, she loved the opera, so another obvious option could be an opera director who produces shows on feminist topics or an opera singer playing the feminist protagonist role. Of course, being a lawyer protecting women rights is among the options too.
However, why did she choose laws?
Ginsburg was among the few who was able to recognize, articulate and embrace her natural strengths in order to strategically drive her career. “I thought I could do a lawyer’s job better than any other,” and “I have no talent in the arts, but I do write fairly well and analyze problems clearly, Ginsburg wrote.
One would argue that under this light, Ginsburg could have still been an advocate / a writer / a researcher as these careers can also utilize her talents and serve her purpose.
So what is another layer?
Of course, the early values of independence and a good education helped her make the decisions that she had to go to a great school and she had to work. And the one that steered her towards laws must be “practicality” and “impact.” While other options could be helpful for her to live her purpose and talents, these values must have informed her that it was laws that would enable her to make practical and direct impact.
Other values she must have carried are family, equality, and health. She is not a woman who selflessly dedicated to her cause while ignoring herself and her family. To her, equality started from and modelled at home, and men were important in the process to bring about more justice. To her, mutual support was crucial to advancing women. To her, without good health and an intact family, one couldn’t perform at her peak at work. To her, women didn’t have to choose to be a mother and a wife or a professional. To her, these values were part of her happiness formula and the enabling structure for her to fully embrace her purpose, passion and talents.
Living in the HI Zone
Ginsburg lived at the center of her HI Zone by being a lawyer and justice, unleashing her talents, serving her purpose and passion while honoring her values with a supporting husband and a beloved family. That’s why she achieved greatness.
As I typed that word “greatness” and looking out to the Hudson river glittering with autumnal sunlight from my apartment, I wondered, “I share so many things in the Zone with Ginsburg but why don’t I become a lawyer like her?”
My life purpose is also empowering women. When I was a young girl, back in Vietnam, my grandmother couldn’t go to school and kept wishing if only she could. My mother, my sister and I were abandoned by my dad who went to Germany and started another family there, because he said my mom couldn’t give birth to a boy. I grew up seeing my paternal uncle told my mom, my sister and me to find shelter in the train station and my paternal grandfather tore my mother’s sleeves while throwing harsh bitter words at her. My purpose was formed.
It lived in me and steered how I spent my time. Beyond my work, I always involved in a cause supporting women of all sorts, from being part of the Women In Network Committee at my company to being a grassroot leader within a Women Committee in my community. I was not clearly aware of my purpose though.
It also helped me persevere and win a hard fight. A few years ago, when I was the Head of Employee Happiness at the biggest e-commerce in South East Asia, I set up mothers’ room — an alien concept to a company where almost all C-level people were white men in their late 20s or early 30s and a start-up that had limited space and cared all about profits. I created a number of programs to empower women from Lean In Groups to talent development initiatives to maternity policy review. My peers said, “This company is not ready for it.” I, however, made it work. Other leaders told me they had never seen any one more resilient. It was my purpose that quietly propelled me to fight.
And like Ginsburg, my purpose was later strengthened when I had four strikes — being an Asian, a woman, a mother, and a mother of a new born, as the department had its 4th leader in my one roller coaster year at the company.
Also, I share with Ginsburg the natural strengths of communication and analytical thinking. However, I had been in Human Resources or Communication throughout my career till I made my career pivot three years ago. By that time, I was pretty much clear of my Zone. So why didn’t I become a women rights lawyer like Ginsburg?
Here’s the deal breaker: Apart from the values of respect, impact, family, and health, my other values are balance and harmony. Apart from the strengths similar to Ginsburg, I have an exceptional natural ability to empathetically ignite and connect with the multidimensions of people’s stories, see their potential and gifts, and from there excavate their Zone and inspire and empower them towards their best possible story. That’s why throughout my career, I also subconsciously found opportunities in the talent development area. In addition, Strength Finders test tells me I am best when I do it one on one. Also, another natural talent I own is seeing through possibilities and creatively strategizing which means devising the most effective game plan to reach results even with limited resources, while for Ginsburg, it could be absolute precision. The belief underlying and supporting such gift is everyone can achieve happiness and greatness by owning their destiny, despite of external circumstances, by articulating, owning and strategically tapping into their inner strengths.
This explains while Ginsburg empowered women by creating a level playing field for them, I get my mission done by igniting in them their inner superpowers. And this was borne from our unique Zones.
And since I decided to step into the center of my own HI Zone three years ago when my family relocated to America, I felt my life and career happiness was significantly uplevelled. From being invited to be an official member of the Forbes Coaches Council to being nominated and selected into Business Insider’s premier list of innovative career coaches, it’s living in this Zone that fueled my own unique impact and achievements. Having a new career, starting life again in a new country, and learning about a new culture actually felt empowering instead of challenging, as I was clear of who I am and what I want.
So Ginsburg, by embracing her life and career compass, her HI Zone, lived the best possible life, unleashed her full greatness, and left behind a powerful legacy, inspiring her own children and grandchildren and millions of women around the world. She could have been wildly successful with the opera as well but I believe she felt happier and more fulfilled and creating the biggest impact in her chosen career.
Let’s follow Ginsburg’s life and career decision making. Let’s carry on her work to empower women. Let’s honor her spirit to advance human beings.
P. S. I now think I know Ginsburg quite well, and her HI Zone may be finetuned further when I finish reading In My Words which I have just ordered today and dig into her career and life data further.