Name: Elisa D’Amico
Job Title: Partner, K&L Gates, LLP
Florida Bar YLD Pro Bono Award 2015-16 Recipient
City: Miami, Florida
Number of Children/Other Dependents: 2 boys; ages 4 and 7 (stepson)
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated? Why?
I think “having it all” is both realistic and overrated. Why? Because “having it all” means different things to different people. Depending on what it means to you, it might be completely within reach or it might be something that is wholly unattainable.
Since there is no universally accepted definition, to me, it seems like “having it all” is very much overrated. Why not just forget about what everyone else has and does, and instead focus on your own self and strive to do and be only what makes you happy.
What does having “it all” mean to you?
My law school professor and mentor used to say “you only go around once and if you play your cards right, once is enough.” His words have become both my mantra and my recipe for “having it all.”
To me, it is not about having the biggest home, winning the most trials, and wearing the most expensive shoes. Rather than looking to the outside, to me this analysis requires an introspective look at one’s self. I usually ask myself a series of questions as I am falling asleep:
- Do I feel good about myself today?
- Did I do a good job with my children today?
- Is there anything I could have done better to help them? Or could I have acted differently, in a way that would have benefitted them more?
- Was I good to my husband, and am I doing the things that I promised to do for him and for our home?
- Did I do the things I set out to do at work today? If not, do I feel good about what I accomplished instead?
- If I felt like I could have done more, what was it precisely that kept me from achieving?
- Was I good to my friends, my coworkers, and the people around me?
- Did I give back? Did I do something to leave this world a better place than I found it?
- And, did I make time for myself, to do something for myself to make me physically and mentally stronger and better? If not, how can I do a better job tomorrow?
The conversations I have with myself are sometimes different, less intricate, less structured, but I always think about these things and about whether I feel as if I am “playing my cards right.”
For me – and this might not be the case for everyone, male or female – my happiness begins with my family. I love my career and what I do every day when I step outside of my home and into my office. But, there is absolutely nothing I love more than my family. And I know for certain that nothing will ever change that. If I woke up tomorrow and was told that I only could have one “success” in life, I would spurt out the word “family” without blinking, or breathing, or batting an eyelash.
What is the best advice you have ever received on balancing your personal and professional lives?
Nobody can achieve a perfectly balanced life when it comes to work and personal matters, so stop trying. Instead, focus on taking a good look at yourself and whether you are satisfied each day with who you are and what you have done. The idea of “balance” suggests instability. But I think that anyone who has a personal life and a job would prefer to think of the situation as one in which they have achieved stability.
Much like “having it all,” the idea of “work-life balance” has been tossed around and in my opinion, it has been viewed as a benchmark for success. Some people have told me that I can have it all, but I can’t have it all at the same time. I do agree that there are a set number of hours in each day, that I cannot spend all of my time at the office or on work matters without my personal life suffering, and that I cannot spend all my time with my family without my work suffering. But also, I have learned that there is no set place at which my life is all in balance – and likewise there is no set point at which my life is thrown out of balance.
There are times when I am able to handle more of one thing and less of another. There are so many factors, from the amount of sleep I get each night, to what I eat, to how much I exercise. Rather than worrying about the overall balance in my life, I instead focus on how I feel and if something does not feel right, I take a look at myself and try to pinpoint what might have thrown me and how I might be able to readjust.
Perhaps the key to “balance” is using the right scale. I used to make myself sick worrying over what everyone thought of me, both personally and professionally. It wasn’t until I started doing the measuring myself – being my own scale – that I realized what truly matters. Now I focus on me, not them. I continue to move forward and look up, keeping my finger on the pulse of me and my life.
If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it?
In a perfect world – the answer that I would like to give – is to say that I would spend it with my children, with my family, spending time curled up with them and away from all electronic devices.
Although I am a dreamer, I also am a realist. If I did have an extra hour in my day, I can say for certain that I would not spend it sitting down for any extended period of time. Most likely, I would spend it doing chores in some capacity or another. But of course, I can’t even do chores without taking breaks to respond to emails and texts, or to Tweet or read articles or papers on my iPhone. Somehow, despite my husband and I both working full-time as lawyers (he currently works as an in-house lawyer for a publicly traded company), we manage to keep our house running somewhat smoothly.
As a full disclaimer, the only reason my house is still standing is because, in addition to being a brilliant and wonderful father, my husband is incredibly handy.
Even with an extra hour a day to spend with my family, if asked, I still would always want more time, just to be with them – just to be.
Looking back at when you started in the profession, and knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
I do wish that someone would have sat me down earlier in my career and had “the talk.” No, not the sex talk, I’m talking about the talk where someone explains to me that even though I am just starting out as a lawyer, that time will fly. I’m talking about the sit-down where I’m told that I should begin focusing immediately on networking. I wish that someone would have pointed out to me just how important networking is, that it really is the lifeblood of working at a big law firm
Luckily I am not one to burn bridges and I have, over the years, worked on keeping in contact with many, many people who I have met along the way. But I never did so with the foresight that I would potentially be building the structure to my book of business. Had I thought that deeply about networking along the way, I might have approached things differently. The first week that I joined K&L Gates as an associate, I was told that the associates were to attend a networking event with an accounting firm. I did not understand why we would be required to attend such a function, but looking back, that was one of the greatest gifts that my firm gave to me as I started down the road to partnership. It was the first lesson, of many, about the business of practicing law.
Do you deal with guilt in trying to balance your personal and professional lives?
I can say that feel guilty that I don’t have more time to spend with my children. Sometimes when I am dropping my youngest off at pre-school he asks to come to work with me or to stay with me. I tell him that I have to go to work … to pay for school. (Oh the irony!). But rather than lament about feeling any guilt whatsoever, if and when I do feel the spurts of guilt, I simply act to change it.
If I feel like I need to spend more time reading to my son, I do it. If I feel like he really needs me to focus on him for a day, come Saturday, I’ll put my phone away and be his for a considerable stretch of time.
One of my close friends and brilliant female lawyers revealed to me that she doesn’t wear a watch on the weekend – it’s her way of disconnecting a bit. We all have our ways of coping, of acting; when we don’t take any action, that’s what gets us in trouble.
What single change do you believe would have the biggest impact on work life balance or quality of life?
Stop talking about balancing personal and professional life and instead, take some action to determine what might make your life function in a more efficient manner. Get up and do.
What part of “balance” do you struggle with?
I have trouble disconnecting from my electronic devices (all kinds – I don’t discriminate)
What part of “balance” are you improving at?
Disconnecting from my electronic devices.
As a working parent, how do you balance your career and your role as a parent?
I have no family close by. I have no nanny. I have had my son in preschool/daycare across the street from my office since he was 3 months old. It is open from 7AM to 7PM, allowing me to work a full day and to have him close by.
For four years now, I have parked in my office garage in the morning and walked him across the street, and then in the evening I walk across the street and pick him up and we walk back to my car. Four years.
I was fortunate enough to befriend a woman who worked at my son’s school; she has cared for him since his first day of preschool/daycare and she continues to care for him at the school and on the side when we need an extra hand. I honestly can say if I did not have her, I would be completely lost. Somehow, even with nobody to help us, we found a way to make our family work. And she has become part of our family.
How important is civic and/or professional involvement to you and why?
Professional involvement has always been a part of my life. I cannot recall a time when I was not involved some professional activity. And as far back as I can remember I always have been involved in service projects. I think of it as “giving thanks by giving back.”
I have dedicated most of the past few years to fighting for individuals’ cyber civil rights, offering pro bono legal services. It’s safe to say that pro bono and other extracurricular activities are key for me and crucial for success. In part, it is how I let off steam. It is a way for me to take some bit of the immense amount of energy that exists inside me and to direct it toward something productive and helpful.
What’s the advice you would give a young lawyer seeking to strike a “balance” between family, self, and the practice of law or achieve better quality of life?
Work hard. Be passionate. Never act as though you are entitled. Be grateful. Give back. Karma exists. Ignore anyone that tells you that you “can’t have it all” because they don’t even know what that means, to you. And don’t focus so much on achieving a “balance” between your work and personal life. Instead focus on yourself and doing the best you can in every portion of your life.
Any other parting words of advice?
No, but please let me know if you have any other questions – firstname.lastname@example.org