A Reader’s Question Kicks off a Host of Questions

I love to interact with my book and blog readers, e-list subscribers, and Facebook friends. Recently I heard from Lisa Diamond, who fits all of those categories and is the creator of The Happiness Knitting Project, “spreading happiness and reducing stress one ball of yarn at a time!” Lisa asked to hear how I made the transition from attorney to entrepreneur. We all have times of change—some over years, some more abruptly—and this question about transitions was such a huge trigger for me that it will take more than one blog post to tell the story. I introduced the series with my blog post yesterday about including the messiness in telling our life stories.

What I Wanted in Early Adulthood

I went to law school at 30. No longer subject to my parents’ or a man’s decisions or finances, I was doing exactly what I’d long wanted: I was at Georgetown Law, taking my experience seriously to receive every dime’s worth of value. I ended up in a pressure cooker of a top-tier Southern Californa law firm in the 80’s, where associates and partners partied together in hot tubs! The “fabric of the firm” was “work hard, play hard.” Burnout was commonplace with high billable hours, standards of excellence, a partnership track focus, and little leeway for family values.

Soon after joining the firm, in 1983, I married my husband Toby. After my first maternity leave, I went back at 3/4-time. Trying to balance clients’ and partners’ needs with my available child care and sleep requirements didn’t work well. I left that firm during my subsequent pregnancy and began only doing legal work for family interests after our second daughter was born. I accepted the firm’s line that I wouldn’t be rich and famous, but I was determined to do my best to be a good mother!

Mother - Lawyer - Career Life Balance - Struggle

5 Years When All Seemed to Be Going Well for Me

When the girls were in elementary school, I experienced the best part of my practice of law. I accepted a freelance position in which I did research, wrote briefs for commercial litigation matters, and regularly made Law & Motion court appearances. I could still drive carpool four afternoons a week and enjoy my favorite aspects of lawyering—the law itself and persuasive writing. I worked for a brilliant trial attorney who could think fast on his feet and charm a jury, but he couldn’t stomach researching, writing, or editing. We made a perfect team, and he understood that family came first for me. Unfortunately, Toby’s job was not satisfying.

Transitioning From Law to Spirit + Creativity

In 1997, Toby’s career moved us to the Bay Area. Not long afterward, my legal work tapered off, which we thought was perfect timing as our kids entered challenging teen years and Toby undertook extensive international travel. To our younger daughter’s chagrin—I now realize—I stepped up my volunteering and quilting. In retrospect, it seems she wanted me as a 24/7 mom, and I wanted to embrace roles other than “just” the role of mother. Also, in hindsight, in a new town and suddenly outside the role of lawyer that I’d loved, I was hiding some loneliness and the ungrieved loss of my professional identity. Unaware of what I was doing or why, I employed my normal defense mechanism—one I’d used to cope with tension since childhood—busyness with an achievement-orientation, which is something I thrived on (or so I thought)! I now recognize I was merely used to overtaxed adrenals, stuck in an old pattern.

Then, knowing how I valued my faith, my quilting, and the connection between them, my pastor asked me to teach six classes on the Spirituality of Quilting in an Art-as-Meditation series. The preparation I did for that 2001 course fascinated me, and I started organizing my research for inclusion in a book I imagined I’d write about quilting and spirituality!

Family Challenges Intervened When I Imagined Writing a Book

At 16, our older daughter elected to go to boarding school, and we weren’t ready for that. But she was unhappy and unchallenged where she was, and I prayed for God to open the doors and close the doors according to his will. She was not only accepted, but Toby was awarded a surprising raise that covered the tuition: open doors! 911 happened while I was in Exeter, NH, dropping her off for Orientation, and it devastated me to leave her there and head back to California via Amtrak. Moreover, once there, she seemed to have severed her emotional ties with us and entered a new world.

Back home, we thought our second daughter was coming into her own, out from the shadow of her older sister. Sadly, we missed signs we should have seen.

Time for Spiritual Direction School

I’d been active in ministry—in women’s groups and Bible study, leading an ecumenical One Spirit Prayer Group, serving on a pastoral council and in various liturgical ministries. I had decided I wanted to go to Spiritual Direction School, where I’d do my inner work and learn to guide others on their spiritual journeys. A friend had gone earlier, and I admired her transformation. But after being accepted, I had to postpone my enrollment, because in 2004 our younger daughter went through her own hell and then became a teen mom. I’m leaving out most of the details of her messy story because that’s her tale to share, not mine, and she’s a great writer. From my perspective, God, my Christian community, my supportive husband, our beautiful new grandson, and a good back surgeon got me through the ordeal.

I finally carved out time for the program in 2005 and 2006. Upon graduation, I was certified, but I didn’t feel ready to hang out my shingle as a spiritual director. It turns out I had more inner work to do. Besides, the circumstances of our family landed me back in the courtroom, this time advocating for our daughter and grandson. Thank God, my experiences as a lawyer helped produce the needed outcomes!

Being a spiritual director had to wait.

I hope you’ll join me to read more about the next part of my transition in tomorrow’s post!