Name: Katherine Hurst Miller
Job Title: Partner at the law firm of Cobb Cole
President-Elect of The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division
City: Daytona Beach, FL
Number of Children/Other Dependents: 1 crazy, awesome little girl
Do you think having “it all” is realistic or overrated? Why?
Bahahahaha… Can you hear me laughing out loud over here? Having it all in the superhero sense, being everywhere at all times and doing an awesome job with everything is so unrealistic as to be laughable. I love how the tv writer and producer and mom Shonda Rhimes phrased it in a 2014 commencement address, “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life.” That being said, having it all in the sense of having a fulfilling work life and a fulfilling personal life, now that is definitely possible. You just might have to hire someone to help clean your house. I came to that last conclusion about a year ago, and happiness and cleanliness increased about 200% at my house. Or whatever that outsourced thing is that makes it possible for you to do what you enjoy.
What does having “it all” mean to you?
For me, the phrase “having it all” it means my life is overflowing with blessings and choices to make. A career that is important to me, a family that is important to me, activities that I do outside work and home that are important to me. What an amazing life that is! I could have been born 150 years earlier and live in a little house on the prairie with very few choices or control over my life. I could have been born in some other part of the world today and have very few choices or control over my life. Instead, I live in an era and a country where I can choose what job to have, what person to marry, what town to live in, where to worship, how to educate my daughter, where to spend my time and talent and money, etc. And if I step back and look at the big messy Monet painting that is my life, I am thankful for my blessings and happy with my choices.
What is the best advice you have ever received on balancing your personal and professional lives?
Plan ahead so you can spend your time doing what is most important to you. And take at least one full day off from work each week, which for me most weeks is Sunday. Of course, there are times in your life, like studying for the bar exam or trying that big case, that you can’t do the things you want to and you can’t take a day off. But most days or weeks or years, you sure can.
If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it?
I’d want to spend it reading or exercising, but knowing me, I’m more likely to waste it online. Maybe I’d take that good advice above about planning ahead and spend it working so I could save up a bunch of those hours and take a two-week cruise with my family. We could use a vacation that doesn’t include a lawyers’ conference.
Looking back at when you started in the profession, and knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
My younger self didn’t have a husband or child, so I’d tell myself to spend the time learning a few more things, volunteering a few more hours, and saving a few more dollars because my time commitments and financial obligations have only increased the older I have gotten. I’m pretty sure my mom told me that, and I didn’t listen. But readers, please listen! It’s great advice!!
I’d also have a whole lot of advice about maternity leave because I think I did pretty much everything wrong! I’m a believer in bringing work home, but I should not have attempted it, even the little bit I got accomplished, on maternity leave. And maybe not volunteered to write a moot court problem and organize a legal conference. I should have drawn more definite lines between home and work and been in the moment at home with my child and come back into the office to be the moment with my work and waited for work to get caught up before I dove back into other professional obligations. I was fortunate to have paid maternity leave. And I had unbelievable, incredible support from family, friends, co-workers, clients, and even opposing counsel. And still mentally, I couldn’t find the right balance. But if I had done it differently, maybe I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Do you deal with guilt in trying to balance your personal and professional lives?
Yes, including guilt for the sacrifices that my family makes. And jealousy of people who make it look easy. But letting those emotions eat at you is not the most productive use of time, and you’ll probably eat other things as a consequence. Instead of spending time harboring guilt or eating ice cream, we should spend that time being grateful and possibly writing long thank you letters to our moms and the other wise women who have shaped us. I know I can never say thank you to my mom enough, who made and continues to make a TON of professional sacrifices for me, all while having a very successful career.
What single change do you believe would have the biggest impact on work life balance or quality of life?
If I were the king of the world, school hours for children and work hours for adults would be more closely aligned. If you want to have some MAJOR work-life balance guilt, I recommend leaving work early to pick up your child who had to stay late at school waiting for you. That’s a #fail.
What part of “balance” do you struggle with?
Many parts of it. Communicating ahead of time when I need someone to help me. Making time for my husband and my friends. Finding time to exercise. Knocking out work when I sit in front of a computer. Being in the moment. And whether I’m in balance or out of balance when I do things like answer emails from the beach with my family.
What part of “balance” are you improving at?
Well, the cool thing is that, as you become a partner of a law firm or the president of an organization, you have some control over balance for yourself and for others. As long as the work gets done, you can add a doctor’s appointment or a haircut or a coffee break with an old friend into your daytime schedule, and you can encourage others to do the same. You can make sure some of the afterhours activities your organization does are kid- and spouse-friendly or health conscious. And I’m getting way less judge-y of how other people find their balance without worrying that I should be doing it that way. As comedian Amy Poehler says, “Good for her! Not for me.”
As a working parent, how do you balance your career and your role as a parent?
With insane amounts of help from other people and a belief that seeing me work will inspire my daughter to have a career that is important to her one day. Also, thank you for asking about “working parents,” because the words “working mom” are like nails on a chalkboard to me. Why do we say “working mom” but not “working dad?” No one ever calls my husband a working dad, they just assume he’s a dad and he works. And, in his case, that’s a correct assumption – he’s an awesome dad and an awesome lawyer. But I’d love us to get to a place where we don’t make assumptions about whether parents should or should not work or whether young professionals should or should not have kids.
How important is civic and/or professional involvement to you and why?
Very important. I’m a huge believer in getting involved. First, if you want to be self-interested about it, getting involved in community or professional organizations feels good, allows you to make friends, develops new skills, and gives you a potential avenue for future business development. But secondly and more importantly, giving back is just the right thing to do. There are immense needs out there, and lawyers have valuable skills to donate to charitable causes, civic causes, and professional organizations.
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?
The big-picture advice is to make sure your self-worth isn’t tied up in your work. The practical advice is to find the right place to work and find the right person to marry. I don’t believe your job has to be some all-consuming, life-fulfilling passion, but it has to be worthy of your time and you have to be able to handle it when you lose cases or hit a rough patch with clients or times are tough. And your spouse has to be someone you want to come home to at the end of the day and who will take care of you when you get sick and who will help you change diapers if you decide to have kids.
Any other parting words of advice?
Read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. And then read Bossypants by Tina Fey. Two wonderful books on women’s leadership. You’ll learn, and you’ll laugh.