As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to start its new term today, one of its stalwarts Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg published an op-ed in The New York Times that was billed as her “advice on living.” In the piece, the 83-year-old firecracker chronicles the rise of women in the legal profession and lists the skills and characteristics that qualified her to play a part in women’s advancement:

1. She learned to fend for herself—Her mother made reading “a delight” and counseled Ginsburg constantly to “be independent.”

2. She got a good education and had inspiring teachers—One law professor was determined to secure a federal court clerkship for Ginsburg despite “what was then viewed as a grave impediment”—Ginsburg’s 4-year-old child. After “heroic efforts,” he succeeded.

3. At times, she’s been “a little deaf”—It’s an approach she’s employed at home and at work. “When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken,” she says, “best tune out.”

4. She aimed for real work-life balance—Her law school days were split between her studies and caring for her daughter, June. “Each part of my life provided respite from the other,” she says.

5. She had a supportive partner—“I betray no secret in reporting that, without [husband Martin D. Ginsburg], I would not have gained a seat on the Supreme Court,” she says.

6. She’s learned to “get over it”—Her profession encourages dissent, but it’s also a job that would be nearly impossible if she and her fellow justices weren’t able to get past their strong disagreements and find respect for one another.

Ginsburg ends her op-ed with a call to eliminate the remaining impairments to women’s success: the disproportionate share of women in poverty, the gender wage gap in the U.S. and abroad, and workplaces’ inadequate accommodation of childbearing and childrearing. And while many women will echo her call for even more progress, it’s also worth admiring and adopting the tactics of women who succeeded without it.


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