Strong Women: Cindy Olson Bourland

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the strong women in my life. The women who lead by example, who mentor me (whether knowingly or not), whose lives and choices provide me with a daily reminder that opportunities should be grasped, setbacks make you wiser, and limitations are in the eye of the beholder. As my life takes shape, and my professional and personal interests lead me down increasingly broad paths and into the lives of a variety of fun and interesting people, these women have been on my mind. Those of us who forge our own paths often do so head down, forehead-first, like a charging bull (or a linebacker), forgetting that there are those who walk ahead of us, clearing the path. Sometimes it’s instructive to take a moment and watch. And appreciate these women who are setting an example, showing us the way. And driving fantastic cars. 🙂

I thought I would celebrate some of those women here.

First up: my boss/mentor/friend, Cindy Olson Bourland.

You may remember me writing about Cindy here. She’s the one with the beautiful Porsche, the Porsche people tend to assume belongs to her boyfriend or husband, not to her.

I’ve worked with Cindy for over five years, and I can assure you that she earned and bought that Porsche herself, and the fact that it’s parked in her garage is a testament to both her hard work and her excellent taste in sheet metal.

I think of Cindy as a Strong Woman because she makes her own way in the world and pursues the life she wants for herself, outside of boxes and beyond glass ceilings. She’s an advocate and a fighter, but she doesn’t have a chip on her shoulder or an axe to grind. She is rightly confident in herself and her abilities, and that comes through as much in what she says and does as in what she doesn’t say and do.

She has forged a successful and respected career in business litigation, a still overwhelmingly male area of practice, and she has done so with fantastic fashion and not a hair out of place. I would say this is much harder than it looks, but I’ve never even had my hair completely in place, so I really can’t comment.

Cindy has been through more than her fair share of loss and adversity and, while the scar tissue runs deep (like it does for all of us), you would never know. Given the opportunity to curl up in despair, she instead moved forward with life. That takes courage. More than people realize. And she’s got a boatload of it.

She knows that laughter is vital and that friends and family enrich life more than money or accolades (but a good car never hurt anything). She loves animals as much as I do, and treats her two dogs to the Good Life. Admittedly, they have it much better than The Circus.

Cindy took a chance on me when I was a baby lawyer. I didn’t have the credentials most attorneys of her caliber can demand, but she gave me an opportunity anyway. For the last five years, she has been a mentor and guide, both to the high-stakes, combat-rife world of  litigation and to life for a young female professional trying to make her way in the world. From the board rooms of Philadelphia to the courtrooms and ballrooms of Austin, I have followed in her wake, learning and growing just a little bit more from each experience.

I have gone from wanting to hide in my office behind a computer screen to feeling (relatively) comfortable by myself in a courtroom in front of a judge and antagonistic opposing counsel. Cindy has shown me how to be confident in my growing skills and how to use each experience as a learning opportunity. She is quick to praise and slow to criticize (even though I am much more deserving of the latter than the former!). She has always made me feel important and valued, which is the life blood for any young professional scrambling to get a foothold.

Cindy has forgiven me for mistakes large and small and believed in me when it would be easier not to. She has given me the space to get back up when I fall, but with the understanding that I better get with it, and pronto. Hard work is required, but well-rewarded.

Cindy loves cars and enjoys this blog. She has owned a Jeep, two Mercedes and two Porsches since I have known her. We have had fun with those cars. And I may or may not have expressed hesitation about letting her drive the Red MINI. 🙂 Which is completely unfair, by the way, because she’s an excellent stick-shift driver.

I look at who and where I was five years ago and who and where I am today, and I see Cindy’s influence and example in every facet of my life. I am stronger, more confident, more focused, less intimidated. I feel more like a real attorney than a student imposter. I can walk into a social setting without desperately searching for a wall to hold up (usually). I found a voice and started this blog. With Cindy’s indulgence, I have taken a few days off work here and there and traveled by myself to places like Detroit and California to seek out car adventures. I’ve made new friends and brought back stories. I would not have done any of that five years ago.

There are several women who have taught and inspired me, but Cindy puts up with me on a daily basis and still keeps me around, so it is only right to recognize her first and to send a little holiday thanks her way.

It’s the least I can do.