Guest Post: Carolyn Jahnke is the founding attorney of Athena Legal Solutions LLC, a virtual law firm that she established to support the dreams and passions of entrepreneurs, who too often go without good legal advice. Between balancing her business and being a wife, she is also mom to four crazy, amazing kids – 13, 10, 9, and 6. After a decade in the corporate world, she decided to follow her passion of supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners by offering legal advice tailored to their unique goals and dreams. Athena Legal Solutions exists to inspire, advise, and empower entrepreneurs to change the world by providing custom legal and compliance services designed to protect and grow their business value.

“What do I want my life to look like?” This was the question I asked myself as I considered entering the world of entrepreneurship.

Taking the Leap

As a corporate lawyer and self-confessed workaholic, I was working 70-80 hour weeks as standard and it was taking a toll on my health, my family, and my happiness even though to the rest of the world I was a verified success story. I was supposed to be living the dream, but instead, I was feeling unfulfilled and disconnected. As time in the corporate world passed, I became more and more worried that I’d wake up one day and my children would be grown, and I would have missed it all. My oldest son only had 5 years left at home and I wanted to be as present as possible while I still could. That drove me to take those first few steps into entrepreneurship. So, I took a leap of faith and started Athena Legal Solutions.

As working moms, it’s difficult to know exactly how to do right by our children. On the one hand, we want to set an example of working hard, following our dreams, and showing them that they have the power to be successful. But the other side to the coin is that, as women, we are often juggling multiple roles. Consequently, we often feel immense guilt and disconnection. You know what I mean, right?!?

Making the change

So, if you’re reading this and you’re feeling the pang of dread in your stomach that comes with looking closely at how you are doing as a wife, mother, and professional, I want you to know that I totally get it. It is often easier to avoid that introspection than face the pain and helplessness it can cause. For me, I couldn’t see a way to manage it all, still put food on the table, and not be seen as a failure. However, I can genuinely say that making the change to being an entrepreneur is the best decision I’ve ever made, as both a working professional, a wife, and a mother. 

Here’s why.

Words like “hustle” and “grind” are commonly used in the small business world, which makes owning your own business seem like a never-ending hamster wheel. I was full of fear that the workaholic in me wouldn’t be able to switch off and that I’d continue to feel disconnected as a wife and mother, following the same patterns in my business as I did in the corporate world. After all, we are all programmed to believe that how successful you are directly equates to how many hours you put in and how you show up for those above you. 

Changing the definition of success

But this journey has changed my definition of “success” — because what I learned along the way is that I can set the rules for my business and still be successful.

Finding the balance will always be difficult because you’re actively making decisions about what to prioritize in your everyday life instead of settling into a prefabricated corporate mold and answering to high ups whose happiness determines your ascent in the corporate hierarchy and pay. But success for me is no longer about pleasing others hoping to find favor or working until I can no longer keep my eyes open. I now set the markers for success. Success for me now is:

  • Setting and achieving goals for my business that are aligned to my definition of success, not aiming for goals that were created by others who don’t have to do the work.
  • Having the flexibility to take my kids to the pool during the summer instead of working at a “regular” time and doing my work later in the evening.
  • Doing laundry at the same time as working from home and actually having the weekends free to spend with my family instead of doing chores.
  • Pleasing myself by working with clients who are changing the world and finding joy in the support I provide them day-to-day. Instead of being a corporate lawyer who is seen as an obstacle or a pain to the business, I’ve created a business where I can partner with businesses and nonprofits who are aligned with my vision for legal support.

All of this contributes to me being both a better mother, a better wife, and a better lawyer because my kids see that I’m happier and working from a place of fulfillment, and I’m now working with businesses that are aligned with my personal purpose of empowering, inspiring, and advising people to change the world.

Tips and tricks

Redefining success and moving into entrepreneurship isn’t an easy journey, and I didn’t get to where I am without a few key tips and tricks to aid in the transition. 

  • It’s easy for our roles to get mixed up when our homes are also our workspaces, so having an open conversation with your family and setting boundaries for the coming week can help you avoid conflict and allow you the space you need to complete your non-negotiables for the day. 
  • Time blocking has been huge for me in running my business. I knew that I started to feel burnt out after 3 pm, so my calendar is organized and color-coded…and completely free after 3 pm. Although my use of this tool has evolved over time, it’s a skill I return to again and again whenever I need to hit the reset button on managing the balance of my professional and personal life. 
  • Most importantly, a network of people you can lean on when you need some extra support and encouragement can have a huge impact on your growth and mental wellbeing. This can come in the form of fellow entrepreneurs, coaches, or an ecosystem of other working moms. You don’t have to hustle alone. Seeing others succeed and asking for support when you need it will help you feel less alone and encourage you to follow through with your original vision, keeping you aligned with why you started in the first place.

Helping you thrive

So, my message is this: if you’re pondering the guilt of balancing all the hats you wear and struggling with how to achieve success, don’t give up! It is possible! The guilt will never fully go away, but when you take control of your time, have the right supports, and have defined success on your terms, not someone else’s, you can create a life that gives you fulfillment. It takes some time and constant readjustment, but it might be easier than you think. All you have to do is step back and ask yourself whether you’re just surviving or if there’s an option out there that would help you, and your family, to thrive. 

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