The Best Career Advice from Ruth Bader Ginsberg

The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the demure firebrand who in her 80s became a legal, cultural and feminist icon, and known for her influential dissenting opinions, could also offer powerful career advice.

Four years ago, Ginsburg wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in which she offered her advice for living:

Another often-asked question when I speak in public: “Do you have some good advice you might share with us?” Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. “In every good marriage,” she counseled, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.

Ginsburg later returns to the same theme when describing her work on the Supreme Court:

Despite our strong disagreements on cardinal issues — think, for example, of controls on political campaign spending, affirmative action, access to abortion — we genuinely respect one another, even enjoy one another’s company.

Collegiality is crucial to the success of our mission. We could not do the job the Constitution assigns to us if we didn’t — to use one of Justice Antonin Scalia’s favorite expressions — “get over it!”

Whether you want tremendous success or more happiness, whether you work from home or in an office, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s timeless and elegantly simple words can be applied, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.”

Anyone who pursues big or audacious goals (like being the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court) is going to hear some thoughtless or unkind words.

Here’s one way to help yourself tune out and implement Ginsburg’s advice. Whenever someone casts some unkind words in your direction, ask yourself, “What are the facts here?” Set aside the other person’s emotions (e.g., anger, resentment, accusations, jealousy, etc.) and listen only for the facts.

The easy option can be to react — fire off a scathing Slack message, email, or lose your cool during the meeting in the heat of the moment. The Supreme Court justice’s words are a gentle reminder that there is always another option: Don’t say anything at all, stick with the facts, remember the shared mission, and get on with your day.