Starting a company is exhausting, and (at times) utterly terrifying. I started CGL, a fully-distributed transactional law firm, after having my first son. I was working long hours at a big law firm when he was born, sacrificing family time for billable hour targets. After missing too many of his milestones, I realized there must be a way to practice law outside of the traditional legal model.
And there is! At my firm, our attorneys choose their own hours and work from wherever they are in the world. I moved to Costa Rica with my family for a time but, with two young kids running around, I am now back in Utah closer to relatives. CGL has experienced significant growth, which keeps me busy, but starting this firm is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done—alongside raising my kids, of course.
Along the way, I’ve learned that the similarities don’t end there, and I’m always looking to apply the lessons learned at home to my distributed law firm. Here’s what I’ve discovered:
1. How to manage my own reactions when emotions are running high.
I wasn’t prepared for how intense it would be the first time my son had a temper tantrum. While I expected he’d have a tantrum one day, I didn’t expect how intensely I would feel it. His outburst of tears and screaming caused a physical reaction in me. Evolution requires this type of physical reaction, of course, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for it. My heart rate went up, my palms started sweating, and I was overcome by the primal desire to help him stop crying.
Quickly, I realized that I needed to be calm to help him. I was responsible to guide him through his emotional storm. If my thinking was clouded by my own intense emotional reaction, I couldn’t be the source of support he so desperately needed at that time. I had to separate my emotions in real time and solve the issue in front of me.
This superpower—disconnecting from my gut emotional reaction—is incredibly useful when speaking with distressed clients. One major part of being an attorney is that clients reach out to you when something has gone wrong. Clients tend to call when emotions are running high. To properly advocate for them, we have to provide calm, objective guidance.
Motherhood has taught me to disentangle my feelings when emotions are running high, which frees me up to focus on problem-solving and leading the way.
2. Neither businesses nor babies come with instructions—and that’s okay.
The school of thought about respectful parenting really resonates with me. The approach centers around raising your children in a way that makes them feel heard, valued and respected. I read about it, and I understood the principles, but there is no handbook for applying the school of thought to how you raise your children. And it certainly didn’t mean I knew what to do when my son was having his first public meltdown.
When it came time to start our distributed law firm, CGL, there were no real instructions. We Googled ‘how to start a law firm’, plus there were countless self-help books and plenty of people willing to give advice. But there isn’t one ‘correct’ way of doing things.
Managing toddler tantrums has provided opportunities to put principles into practice—without specific instructions. This skill has been invaluable in the running of my company. We manage our business using the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). EOS is a set of tools and processes designed to help businesses focus on the things that make the most impact (and the most sense). Fortunately, implementing principles into practice was something I learned from raising my sons and I’ve applied it to rolling out concepts into functional parts of our business.
3. You can never be fully prepared—for anything.
Kids don’t consider the situation when they act. Convenience isn’t a factor for them. They aren’t mindful of your processes. Having my sons taught me that you will never be ‘ready’ or fully prepared for whatever comes next.
For this, I am eternally grateful.
I’m grateful for the times my son’s diaper exploded and I’d forgotten a spare. And for the times he didn’t give a second thought about my plans for the day. I’m even grateful for the tantrums.
Because navigating the uncertainty and unexpected with them gave me the courage to take the leap and start CGL. I learned to think on my toes and adapt to changes; both skills are invaluable in the business world.
4. Don’t take things personally.
Being a mother has helped me grow an incredibly thick skin. My kids say things they don’t mean when they’re distressed… and some of the things they say are unkind. But internalizing their words doesn’t serve anyone. Again, I’m focused on helping lead the way.
Opposing counsel don’t tend to lash out in the same way but you need a thick skin when advocating for your client. As a mother, I’ve learned to focus on the root cause of the problem, instead of hanging onto angry words or frustrations.
5. It really does take a village.
I’ve spent my fair share of time marveling at founders and professionals, wondering how they have everything so together. Usually, as soon as you dig a little deeper, you realize that people are just figuring everything out.
That’s why you need to surround yourself with people whose opinions and expertise you trust. Your team should understand your goals, your values, and your vision.
But you need to be an expert in your own realm.
As the parent, you need to know your kids. As a business owner, you need to know your business. In both, you need to recognize that you don’t know everything. And that your village is there to help you make better decisions and act with more certainty.
Fortunately, motherhood has me feel comfortable about not knowing a thing.