Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

When I worked in big law I allowed stress to take over my life.  I was stressed about deadlines, stressed about pleasing the client, stressed about meeting the firm's expectations, stressed about defending depositions and giving presentations and finding the perfect case and making sure everything was always just right.  I felt like there was always someone counting on me, always some kind of performance to orchestrate, and a million opportunities to let everyone down. There was little rest from this pressure, particularly because so much of it was self inflicted.

Leaving my job was driven by my desire to be with my children, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't relieved to leave some of that responsibility behind.  It's not that all responsibility went away - obviously kids come with a whole new set of obligations, commitments, and burdens.  But my duties to them didn't intimidate me - I knew I could do it, that I WOULD do it.  I had a faith in myself as a parent that I never had in my myself as a lawyer.  

A trade off to being a stay at home mom, I always thought, was that any sort of professional satisfaction I had would cease to exist.  And despite the stress and the pressure of being a firm lawyer, I certainly did experience notions of achievement - particularly after I overcame an obstacle or a fear: getting through an oral argument, negotiating a settlement, making my colleagues proud, or just finishing a project that had hung over my head.  I figured those senses of accomplishment would be replaced by something even more profound - the joy of being with my children, every day.  

It is joyful and rewarding and gratifying and worthwhile.  But generally, being a stay at home mom is predictable and routine.  It certainly is stressful at times, but it's a different kind of stress than the stress I felt as a lawyer.  As a parent, I rarely have to get out of my comfort zone like I did as a full time professional attorney.  

I think it was a matter of weeks into my role as a stay at home mom that I realized maybe I did need something more.  After all, isn't that what this blog was about?  About "professional" satisfaction? About feeling like I'm still adding something real, something thoughtful, outside the confines of my own home?  About putting myself out there?  About stepping out of my comfort zone?   

A few weeks ago I really put myself out there.  

First, the DC branch of "Mommy Esquire" had its first meeting.    I had organized the event, Montage Legal Group agreed to sponsor it, and I had received a fair number of rsvps. But still, on my drive into downtown that night, I was nervous.  What if no one shows up?  What if people don't have fun?  What if the whole event bombs?  Why do I put myself out there like this? Wouldn't it be easier to order pizza, stay home, and finish Season 4 of The Wire?  But nooooooooo, I decided to add some stress and obligation and blah blah blah.... Well, guess what. The event was awesome.  There was a great turnout, and all of the women were friendly, open, and engaging.  Notwithstanding the fact that some of us were stay at home moms, while others worked full time, there was a sense of camaraderie that was palpable - just how it should be. Everyone agreed we should meet again.  I drove home that night hopeful, relieved, and, overall, satisfied - I was glad I took a risk, glad I stepped out of my comfort zone, and glad I did something different.  I vowed to make a habit of it.  

Four days later, opportunity came knocking.   I was having a normal night, getting ready for bed, when I saw that I had an email from a producer at Huff Post Live.  It was an invitation to participate in a live segment the next day, on "Quitting the Law."  I emailed the producer back, thinking nothing would probably come of it, and sure enough, the next morning she called and gave me the instructions for doing the live chat on my computer, and told me to log on at 5pm that day.  How should I prepare?  I asked her. Oh, no need to prepare, she said, It's just a conversation.  So I didn't, and apart from arranging for a babysitter to come so my kids wouldn't bust in on the interview, I went about my day as normal.  Until 4:45pm when I began getting ridiculously nervous and asking myself those familiar questions:  What if I don't know what to say?  What if I stumble on my words?  Who do I think I am doing this interview anyway?  Why do I put myself out there like this?  Wouldn't it be easier to order pizza, put on Yo Gabba Gabba, and have a normal night?  Well, guess what.  The interview was awesome (see it here).  And fun.  And enlightening.  And while I keep going back thinking of things I should have said differently or better, I have to give myself credit for doing it.  I felt proud, accomplished, and overall, satisfied - a familiar feeling from four days prior.  

I didn't have much time to ride the high, because the very next day, I started another professional endeavor that had me wracked with angst.  Back in March, I wrote about how I interviewed for a part-time position at a local university.  I didn't get it.  But a few days after the initial rejection, they offered me the opportunity to teach an online course.  It doesn't pay particularly well, but it would give me some valuable teaching experience and get me an "in" with the university.  I was very grateful for the opportunity, and jumped at it.  Over the next few weeks, I did some training sessions, reviewed the syllabus, and read the textbook.  It all seemed abstract until last week, when the class actually started.  And with that came the realization that I was TERRIFIED.  Wait, didn't I realize how scary this would be?  I don't know how to teach!  What if I suck?  What if the students hate me?  What if I just can't do this?  And of course... Wouldn't it be easier to just focus on my kids?  Why do I put myself out there like this?   The jury is still out as to whether I am professor material, but I can say, after being a week in to the course, I am glad I am doing it.  I am challenging myself, I am taking a risk, and I am doing the best I can.  And for that, I feel strong, able, and overall, satisfied.  

It was a crazy, exhausting week (after which I rewarded myself with a fabulous vacation).  But it was one of the best weeks I've had in a while.  

Despite my fear of stress and my voices of self doubt and my feelings of trepidation, I like putting myself out there.  I like stepping out of my comfort zone.  It's who I am, and who I always have been.  I was wrong when I thought I would have to give up that part of myself by being a stay at home mom.  On the contrary, being home has allowed me the freedom to better manage my stress, to explore my interests and to take opportunities that I never would have had if I had still been working at a law firm.  

It certainly didn't happen all at once, and it has taken time, but slowly but surely, I am finding myself again.  Ironically, the longer I am out of the full time workforce, the more professional satisfaction I am garnering.  And it has nothing - absolutely nothing - to do with a paycheck.  

My professional endeavors these days are on my own terms.  I've never felt more empowered.  


  1. Congrats on the teaching job! That's wonderful!

  2. Wow, congrats on everything! The whole intro to this blog I felt like you were reading my mind! The stress, the worry, the feeling of maybe you are letting someone down. When I went on maternity leave I was so grateful to leave all that behind. Then after a while I kind of felt anxious to jump back in. Good luck with the online class. You are a rockstar!


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