Today is the second day of hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson who will almost certainly be confirmed as the first black woman to sit on the US Supreme Court. Also today, the Taliban decided to “postpone” reopening high schools for girls in Afghanistan. What a contrast.
I cannot watch the evening news excerpting Justice Jackson’s testimony without tearing up, and I do not think this is only because she will be living proof of the strides our nation has made to recognize and live by the principle of individual rights based in a shared universal humanity. I think it is also (more mundanely) because she is of my generation, only one year younger than me; she has two kids, admits she struggled to balance career and family, and will soon reach the pinnacle of her career goals. With her unbelievable smile and obvious intellect, I believe she is poised to be our next RBG, inspiring women around the world.
When I read about Afghan high school-aged girls crying as they were turned away from pursing an education and then think about Justice Jackson’s trajectory, I also cannot help but reflect on my own experience and decisions. Growing up, I had all the opportunity that could possibly be afforded to a woman in any society, realistically more than most given my American citizenship and my family’s fortunate financial situation. On top of that, I excelled on the path by which we traditionally leverage opportunity as we grow up – education. On days like today, I inevitably ask myself: have I done enough with my gifts of opportunity and intellect?
I think the answer to that question completely depends on how I choose to orient my perspective as I contemplate it. I am not and never will be a public figure, and my actions won’t change laws or stock prices. I will never merit a national newspaper profile or a magazine cover, and only a minority of people in this world will ever know my name. But while I could be swayed by the way our society’s media mechanisms result in constant celebration of public accomplishment, I am refusing to use that lens as my measure – I believe it is a limiting construct that leads too many of us to undervalue ourselves and what it really takes to find purpose and fulfillment in life. In the end, most of us will need to measure our worth by the impact we have on our family and the small set of other people, groups, or institutions to which we devote our talents. A life of positive impact – where our actions aim to better our world in some (any) way and at some (any) scope – is what matters. It is the measure by which we should decide if we’ve taken full advantage of the circumstantial and innate opportunities we’ve had.
I just started maintaining a written list of what I do and who I impact. I keep this document close by for when I question if I am doing enough with my gifts. I acknowledge the extensive support I give to my husband, kids, parents, and sister. I acknowledge my loyalty and time devoted to good friends. I cite the work I am doing with lower-resourced or first-generation college-bound students to support their educational and life success. I even list my focus on self-care – reading, blogging, staying active and eating healthily – because those activities make me feel good and maintain my ability to do everything else. My list also has a section of areas where I ought to push myself to have greater impact – whether that be in service of my own well-being or for others.
I think that, at one time, watching Judge Jackson might have sent me down a spiral of thinking that I could have, and should have, more to show for the gifts I was fortunate enough to receive. And I will admit that this thought has crossed my mind in the past few days. But it’s not sticking as well as it might have even a few months ago. What Judge Jackson has accomplished is incredible, and I celebrate her today and for what she is likely to do once she joins the high court, but I refuse to measure myself in the context of her or anyone else anymore. Impact can’t be better; it can only be different, and anyone who is living a life of purpose and impact is leveraging her gifts to live her best life.