The Choice of Success

Ten years ago I was pregnant and working as an attorney for the Public Defender’s office. I was in a trial the morning of my son’s due date, not knowing then that that was my last day there. The plan was to take maternity leave & return to work afterward, but everything changed the moment I held my baby in my arms. 

I never went back. 

One morning I received a call from a friend of mine while I was at my son’s school. 

“Where are you?” my friend asked. 

“At an Easter egg hunt,” I replied. 

She sighed, “I want to be like you when I grow up.” 

My friend was working long hours and hated being away from her kids. She thought I was lucky that I got to stay home. We do that a lot. We see someone else’s life and think they are “lucky” because they have something we wish we had. What we don’t do is analyze the choices they made to be where they are. 

In my case, for example, my friend didn’t realize that we took a major financial hit at the same time as I decided not to go back to work. The 2008 market crashed; My husband was a young associate in a law firm and wasn’t generating substantial income; We accrued credit card debt just to cover our bills; We’d bought our townhouse the month we married, intending to only live there for a couple of years—but my at-home status meant we’d squeeze our family of five into that starter home long after we outgrew it. Meanwhile, our dual-income friends purchased bigger and nicer houses, but their mortgages prohibited them from losing an income earner in the household.  

 The choice to stay home came with sacrifice—and creativity. 

When my son was 6 months old, I was ready to make money, but I wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. I didn’t want a nine-to-five arrangement. I picked up bookkeeping work which allowed me to work from home and at nights. 

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“Bookkeeping?” People would question, “Aren’t you a lawyer? Why would you study all those years and pay all those student loans not to practice law?” 

My response was always the same. “I became a lawyer to have choices. This is the choice I’m making right now so I could be home with my child.” 

Eventually, my husband started his own criminal defense law firm and crushed it; We got out of debt; I resumed practicing law on my own terms; I became a businesswoman; And now I’ve started all over again building a professional speaking & writing career. 

We centered every decision we made on one main thing—flexibility.

As a result, I’ve been able to spend countless precious moments with my kids, my spouse, my family and my friends. And I got to be with my dad until he died. 

Have I been lucky? Yes. But I’ve actively taken part in creating my luck—I never left it to chance. We put all of our focus on creating the life that worked for our family—struggles and all. 

They say it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. But what is success? Is it money, fame, a big house, or a fancy car?  Is it staying home with your kids or reaching the peak of your career? Is it traveling the world or camping in your backyard? Is it creating businesses or enjoying hobbies? 

The answer is—that depends on you. Only you know what your definition is of success and it could differ from everyone else’s. The problem we have is that we often measure our own success against someone else’s yardstick. When we make professional, financial, and emotional choices that are not congruent with our definition of success, it can confuse us and make us think others are luckier than we are. 

This week we celebrated my son’s 10th birthday. My husband had to be in Court in Orange County on Wednesday morning, so we made it a mini-vacation and took the boys to Universal Studios to visit the Harry Potter world. As we wandered the park on a Wednesday, enjoying time with our family, I couldn’t help but look back at where we started 10 years ago, and reflect on how far we’ve come. 

I stepped onto the Hulk Roller Coaster with Orly who had just reached the height requirement for the ride.We sat side by side in the first row, and I held Orly’s hand tight while he giggled with excitement. As the ride launched toward the sky, I closed my eyes and smiled… Yes! This is my definition of success. 

A Moment of Clarity

Life is about choices.

You have the power to make the choices that will make YOU feel successful 10 years from today. 

Choose carefully. 

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