I recently had the opportunity to ask Nazli Atalay a few questions. Atalay is a former attorney from Istanbul, Turkey. She worked with some of the most high-profile legal firms in Turkey where she worked on cases in human rights advocacy which ultimately led her to pursue another degree in social work and therapy helping the undeserved in New York. She has worked with the Legal Aid Society in New York city. Currently Ms. Atalay is working in human rights advocacy and social work utilizing both her law degree, master’s in social work, and license in therapy to continue to assist those in undeserved in New York.
As a woman, what advice can you give other girls about the impact they can make in their communities?
My great-grandmother was another amazing person in my life. Unfortunately I lost her before I turned 10, and her last few years were lost to dementia. However, I have very clear memories about her and the short time I’ve spent with her. I remember that she had this deep look in her eyes, and a strong posture, you would know if you crossed a boundary and get yourself together immediately by her one straight look. She was also the kind of person, who would go and visit different people in our neighborhood, inquire if anybody need any help and bring their issues to the family table to figure out any possible solution for our neighbors’ problems. I truly believe we need more people like her.
To be like her, you need to be self aware, own your accomplishments, your strengths; analyze your weak spots but do not hung up on the things you think you made a mistake. Have self-compassion to yourself, especially to prevent to lose your temper in sensitive situations. Do not let anyone or any label define you. Life is full of obstacles and pitfalls, being a woman is just one sort of challenge but that is not the most difficult challenge that one can face. Find out sometimes need to ask help from somebody else. Community problems cannot be solved efficiently without the feedback and support of the community members. So be observant, talk to your community leaders and members; if you notice an issue bring it to others attention; speak up! And lastly, watch out your community members back, remember that the power to be heard and be believed is crucial, so use it.
What impact have your clients made on you and how have you used it to shape your career?
Every single client that I ever worked for helmed me to grow professionally and personally. In the corporate world, I learned how to be more assertive and strong. Corporate clients often require excessive work to be completed perfectly in a short period, and you have to be reachable 24/7, literally. Under such pressure, I learned how to manage my time better. I was always a detail-oriented person, but while working with my clients I also learned to see the big picture.
On the other hand, the problems that my clients I have worked for during my volunteer job and internships were completely different than my corporate clients. Like anybody else, they all have something to tell, which can be emotionally difficult at time. Sometimes, one’s story is darker than the other. Sometimes, they are stuck in the same cycle, and need to break it. Through the services they received, they have (re)discovered their strengths. I am inspired by their resilience, and motivated to do my job even better. I also believe that my clients helped me to grow compassion, and being more objective towards others. As a lawyer, I had sharper corners; I would take a side and defend that side no matter what.
Now, I know that there are more grey areas in life than black& whites. Sometimes, people – especially minors – do something wrong because they don’t know what is right or wrong, or that is a cry for help, they need services in place to help them out rather than punishment. When I worked with my clients who experienced anger management issues, I needed to understand better the root of anger, so I read many articles on the subject. While I helped my patients, they have also helped me to be more mindful about my own reactions when I got frustrated. I hope that I really make a positive change in their lives, and because they sure have a positive impact in my life.
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