What were you like when you were in some of our readers' shoes, starting out in your career in your twenties?
"Jeez, where to start? Let’s see. I guess the first thing to say is that in my twenties, I was on my first marriage. I got married at 24 (the first time) and divorced at 30, and I married my second husband at 35. My college roommate would have said that I was the most directed human being alive. I’d always known that I wanted to do foreign policy, and I figured out that the way you did that was that you went to law school, and you went to work for a big New York firm, and then you went to work for a partner, and the partner (some of them) would go in and out of government (and of course it was a 'he' because I didn’t know any women who did this sort of thing). That was the pattern of how people got into the State Department, and I followed the plan: I went to Oxford, came back, went to law school. I went to work one summer for Simpson Thacher, where the partner was the Secretary of State in the '70s. All kinds of perfect planning. I was married… and then I discovered I really, really didn’t want to do big New York law-firm work. Which was a real problem (laughs). I knew what I didn’t want to do, but I didn’t know what I did want to do. I ended up re-enrolling in a Ph.D program, but not because I wanted to be an academic. I always thought that because I like to get things done, I wouldn't be someone who would be happy writing books. It’s a little ironic in retrospect."
Did you have a mentor during that in-between time?
"Hugely important. His name was Abram Chayes. His wife Toni Chayes was the first woman Undersecretary of the Air Force, so she was a role model for me. He kind of rescued me, really... I mean, I was drifting, and I wasn’t sure at all what I was going to do. I worked very closely with him, and I kind of lived his life, in the sense of working for him and seeing what he did. He was very tough on me, in very good ways. Very good ways."
You write about how hard it is to find role models. Particularly ones who will be honest about the difficulty of balancing family and career. Were Chayes and his wife the ones who got real with you?
"This is the thing that’s very hard for your generation to understand, and looking back I think 'God, how could I have been so naïve?' but I didn’t even question that I could make it work, because I hadn’t seen any women ahead of me who had had trouble, since most of the women ahead of me had had kids in their twenties and were going on and doing things afterward. Or there weren’t women ahead of me. You know, when I became a law professor (and I started teaching in 1990) I had never had a woman law professor. In three years at Harvard Law School, I had never been taught by a woman. And Martha Minow, who’s now the dean, was an assistant professor then. There was one tenured woman on the faculty. Your generation needs to realize how fast things have changed. Jeez, I had to watch Diane Wood, who’s now a judge on the Seventh Circuit, I watched her teach before I started teaching, and I was terrified, of course. I was totally terrified. I had never seen a woman stand up in front of a law class. It honestly never occurred to me that I was going to have trouble."
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Image: Courtesy of Princeton University.
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