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Lessons from Ruth Bader-Ginsburg

October 5, 2020

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg’s passing has been mourned across the world, with her passion and ambition throughout her life and career inspiring many. Here are some lessons we can all learn from The Notorious RBG.

Do something good

In our society, high productivity levels and constant success at work is seen as the be-all and end-all for feeling good about ourselves. However, Ginsburg desired more, telling MSNBC in 2015 that she wanted to be remembered as “someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability and to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has. To do something...outside myself. Because I’ve gotten much more satisfaction for the things that I’ve done for which I was not paid.”[1]

It’s proven that doing good for others increases happiness for ourselves[2], which, according to the University of Oxford, increases productivity by 13%[3]. Taking Ginsburg’s words into our own lives, helping others can not only increase our own happiness and productivity, but also create a better, safer and kinder environment for all—whether it be at work or outside of it.

“I tell law students…if you are going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, you have a skill—very much like a plumber. But if you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself… something that makes life a little better for people less fortunate than you.” — Stanford Memorial Church, 2012[4].

Be resilient, patient and believe in yourself

Ginsburg was a pioneer for gender equality in law, and as we sat and watched ‘On the Basis of Sex’ with our popcorn in the cinema (remember when we could do that?), many of us were struck with her great resilience, patience and courage. If you aren’t aware of the challenges Ginsburg faced, here are a few examples of how she took charge and changed the world.

Read more about her challenges and achievements here and here.

“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.” — interview with CNN[5].

These days, believing in gender equality and having equal rights under the law is a mainstream idea. For Ginsburg, her views were one of few, with most legal scholars believing the law should treat women differently in order to protect them. In the 1970s, Ginsburg argued passionately against sex-role stereotyping in the law, and won five landmark Supreme Court cases during this time. Following Ginsburg’s example, we can learn that being resilient, thinking for yourself, and believing you can create positive change through hard work can truly make a differenceno matter how hard it may seem.


Observing her calm demeanour and her strength in court, it’s hard to imagine The Notorious RBG ever felt nervous. But of course, everyone gets nervous. Ginsburg’s strength was in turning her nerves into self-empowerment.

Before her first time arguing before the Supreme Court, Ginsburg recalled, ‘“Here are the most important judges in the country, maybe the world, and they have to listen to me. I have a captive audience.’ And suddenly, instead of getting nervous, I had a sense of empowerment. I knew a lot more about gender discrimination than the nine of them did.”’[6].

She believed in the importance of her views, knowledge and abilities, and didn’t let the outside world’s resentment and rejection stop her. With her determination, she achieved great things. With belief in our own abilities, we too can achieve great things. Maybe not as world-changing as reforming American gender equality laws, but still great.

Stay active

One of the most inspiring things about Ginsburg was her determination to stay fit, both mentally and physically. Biweekly, Ginsburg would workout at the Supreme Court gym, despite battling cancer for twenty years. Even top athletes were inspired by her, with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team having an RBG jersey made for her. Mental fitness was also important for her, with Ginsburg working, learning and staying curious throughout her life. We all know the importance of keeping active for living healthy and happy lives, and Ginsburg proved this by being ‘too fit to retire’, even in her 80s[7].

“I found each time that when I’m active, I’m much better than if I’m just lying about and feeling sorry for myself” — Moment Magazine[8].

Ginsburg’s life and achievements are inspiring for many reasons. For business, productivity, and living a full life, she set an example that all of us can learn from. In the words of Ginsburg herself, “real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time”.


  1. Exclusive Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg interview: Full transcript
  2. Why Science Says Helping Others Makes Us Happier
  3. Happy workers are 13% more productive
  4. Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg talks Congress, death penalty and “a meaningful life” at Stanford
  5. Justice Ginsburg ready to welcome Sotomayor
  6. https://youtu.be/Qbk8Z110M1o
  7. Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she has ‘at least 5 more years’ on the Supreme Court. Her fans rejoice.
  8. Feminist Icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Was Legend in the Courtroom — and the Gym

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