I have never considered myself to be a risk taker. I don’t even like roller coasters. So how did I decide to take a life-altering risk, and quit my comfortable, part-time federal government job to start my own law practice? One word: motherhood.
Like most women in my generation, I was raised to believe that there was nothing contradictory about being a successful professional and having a family. After my first daughter was born, I went back to work full-time after a four-month maternity leave, even though I desperately wanted to be home with her. I thought that returning to work is just what you were “supposed to do,” and was terrified that even a short résumé gap would ruin my career. After having my second child, I switched to part-time employment, and found a sweet spot with being able to act like a professional on some days, and a stay-at-home mom on other days.
After the birth of my third child, I started to feel like my work-life balance was shifting towards home and away from work. Even on the days I was supposed to be working, I constantly needed to take time off to care for a sick child or attend a school event. My job was very supportive, especially because I did whatever I needed to do to get my work done, including working on my days “off” and at night. But being up several times a night with my kids, and then having to wake up the next morning, rush to get everyone to school, and then just to sit at my desk and be too exhausted to function just wasn’t working for me anymore.
But I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a full-time stay-at-home mom either. I loved being at home with my children, but as any parent knows, taking care of young children can be very overwhelming and exhausting. Also, the thought of not earning an income went against my values of being a self-sufficient, independent woman, and I didn’t feel like I’d be able to justify spending money on non-necessities if I wasn’t earning my own money. I worked hard in college and law school, and wanted to use my degree, but needed it to be on my own terms.
So, I decided to start my own law practice. I justified the risk by telling myself that even if I didn’t get a single client, I would still be able to put my law practice on my résumé, avoiding a résumé gap. I could practice law, hand out business cards, and share my website, while at the same time, plan my schedule around my kids’ events and doctor appointments. I also desperately wanted to be able to maintain a level of basic self-care for myself, including eating three meals a day, and getting enough sleep and exercise – all of which I was previously neglecting.
To start generating business for my law practice, I decided to try advertising on several local parenting listservs that I joined in past years to find a nanny and sell baby gear. I wasn’t completely prepared for the overwhelming response I received, and suddenly found myself with a booming practice overnight.
A year-and-a-half into my business ownership adventure, my law practice is more successful than I ever imagined. I receive inquiries almost every day, and recently hired a paralegal to help with my workload. I decided to increase my childcare to have the flexibility to meet with clients whenever I wanted, but I also have the flexibility to plan client meetings around my kids’ schedules. I was able to take off the month of August last year to go on vacation with my family and get organized for the school year. I checked my work email during this time, and worked a little in the evenings to keep my client work flowing, but I wouldn’t have felt comfortable asking any employer for a month off.
I won’t say that owning my own law practice isn’t stressful at times, but it is definitely the most exhilarating professional experience I’ve ever had. And also the most lucrative. I think that work-life balance is always evolving and that the key is to constantly examine where you are and where you need to be in order to achieve optimal balance.
As I am writing this article, I am home with my daughter who is home sick from school. Even at my supportive government job, I’m pretty sure I’d be fired by now for missing so many days of work this winter with each kid taking turns being sick for the past two months. Even if my job didn’t fire me, I would have felt guilty for being a bad employee, and would have been stressed about finding back-up childcare.
I wish I could go back in time to tell myself how things would turn out when agonizing over the decision to quit my job. But I honestly don’t think I would have had the courage to take this risk without motherhood pushing me in that direction.
Sarah Feldman Horowitz is a mother, lawyer, and “momtrepreneur” in Chevy Chase, Maryland. After completing a judicial clerkship and working at the FDA for six years, she decided to start her own mobile estate planning law practice, with the goal of making it easy for parents to cross estate planning off their to-do lists. Before spending the majority of her time on child rearing and lawyering, she used to enjoy activities like hiking, yoga, and biking.