MEET LORI MIHALICH-LEVIN, FOUNDER OF MINDFUL RETURN
Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, believes in empowering new working parents. She is the founder and CEO of Mindful Return, author of the book Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, co-host of the Parents at Work Podcast, and creator of the Mindful Return Maternity Leave E-Course.
She is mama to two beautiful red-headed boys (ages 7 and 9) and is a partner in the health care practice at Dentons US LLP. Her thought leadership has been featured in publications including Forbes, The Washington Post, New York Times Parenting, Thrive Global and The Huffington Post. I am naturally thrilled that she has chosen to share her journey with us. Over to you Lori…
SO, LORI, WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
The short story: I empower working parents to believe that parenthood is the perfect training ground for leadership…not a career-ender.
The longer story: Though I currently wear two professional hats – as the CEO of Mindful Return and Partner at a global law firm – it wasn’t always this way. Before having kids, I was a hard-driving law firm associate who wasn’t very good at implementing boundaries. Fast forward to meeting my wonderful husband (he’s from New Jersey, I’m from Pennsylvania and we met on September 11, 2001, in France…go figure!) and having two wonderful redheaded boys, and I was a mess.
Navigating the personal identity transition from “working woman” to “working parent” was a huge life event for me. After my second son was born, I found myself in tears on the kitchen floor more times than I’d like to admit. But except for articles that told me not to share photos of my kids at work or that I might leak on my dress clothes if I was breastfeeding, I couldn’t find many helpful resources to guide me through that transition to working motherhood. When I lamented this dearth of resources to my husband, who is himself an entrepreneur and career coach, he challenged me with the question: “what are you going to do about it?” Being an “activator” according to the CliftonStrengths Assessment, I couldn’t help but dig in. I opened my laptop one night on my bed, wrote my first blog post, and as they say, the rest is history – or perhaps more appropriately, herstory!
A LAWYER, A MAMA, AND AN ENTREPRENEUR YOU’VE CERTAINLY GOT YOUR HANDS FULL! HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN BALANCE ESPECIALLY AS EACH ROLE IS INCREDIBLY DIVERSE? ANY TIPS FOR THE WORKING MAMAS READING THIS?
The fact that my roles are so different from one another fuels me. In my legal work, I get to use my analytical and logical reasoning skills. For my company, I get to use my creativity and management skills. And with my kids, I get to let go of what doesn’t matter and marvel at the mysteries of watching kids grow and discover the wonders of life. (This morning, for example, we sat and watched a colossal slug we found on the pavement and jumped up and down for quesadillas!)
Each role rejuvenates me in different ways and complements the others. What keeps me sane is getting enough sleep every night (for me, 7 hours), being sure to schedule some time alone and time with friends each week, and committing to a daily yoga practice. Insight Timer is my go-to meditation app, and their stats tell me I’ve got a 320 consecutive-day streak going, so I’m on a roll!
For any mamas reading this, repeat after me: “I am enough.” You are worth taking time for. You are worth investing in. No matter what you do or don’t get done today (or how your children behave!), you are enough.
YOUR 4-WEEK MINDFUL RETURN E-COURSE FOR NEW MAMAS HAS AN INCREDIBLE 85% RETENTION RATE FOR NEW PARENTS RETURNING TO WORK! THAT’S QUITE AN ACHIEVEMENT! HOW DID THAT MAKE YOU FEEL AND HOW DID YOU CELEBRATE?
Thank you! I had a sense that my course was making a real difference, but seeing those concrete numbers truly made me feel as though all the effort I’ve been putting into this company has been worth it. In the US, the national average retention rate for new moms is just 66%, so seeing that my course was moving the needle by 19% felt HUGE.
I celebrated by sharing this win with my community and the employers who offer my course. As the principle of “capitalisation” in positive psychology says, the more you share news about the good things that happen to you, the more everyone benefits from those wins!
HOW DO YOU HANDLE CRITICISM?
Ah, no one likes criticism – myself included! – but it can be so helpful to our growth and evolution.
When I first hear the criticism, I always try to pause. I know that my automatic fight-flight-freeze reaction is to get defensive, so I try to be aware of the amygdala hijack before doing anything. Then, if I’ve made it that far, I try to ask clarifying questions of the person who offered the criticism, to learn more about what they were upset about.
Finally, once I have the full information, I decide whether that person’s criticism is worth taking into consideration or not. Reminding myself that others’ expectations of me are infinite and that I can’t (and don’t want to!) please everyone helps me make this assessment. If their point is valid and I respect their opinion, I’ll see what tweaks or changes I can make.
IN YOUR EXPERIENCE WHAT IS THE BIGGEST ISSUE OR FEAR FACED BY NEW PARENTS WHEN RETURNING TO THE WORKPLACE?
Just one?! It turns out there are many challenges and fears parents experience in heading back to work after having a baby, but I’ll talk about two here.
First, many new parents question their value to their colleagues. Their musings go something like this: “If I was just gone for the past few months and the work carried on, maybe my colleagues don’t need me after all. Do I matter here?” I try to remind the new parents that they were hired for a reason, their skills haven’t gone out the window with their baby, and people will likely be extremely excited to have them back.
Second, moms, in particular justifiably fear the “motherhood penalty” in the workplace. Research shows that “employed mothers are seen as more selfish and less dedicated to their children than at-home moms, especially if they are thought to be working because they want to, rather than being forced to make ends meet.” (From Brigid Schulte’s excellent book, Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time). At the same time, there’s a “fatherhood bonus” for new dads, because employers assume they’ve become extra motivated at work to be able to support their families. These biases are real, and they hurt the confidence of new moms in the workplace.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT A CAREER HIGHLIGHT?
A highlight for me has been negotiating a reduced-hour (60%) Partner-level position at the world’s largest law firm so that I could devote the other part of my professional work week to my growing company. There’s this outdated idea in the legal world that if you don’t commit yourself 1000% to a legal practice, you’re not worthy of partnership at a firm and can’t have a thriving legal practice. I was happy to discover that there are firms out there that don’t take this approach and was proud of myself for negotiating for what I wanted and then growing a book of legal business on that reduced schedule, while also growing Mindful Return.
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR CHILDREN TO DESCRIBE YOU?
Ooh – I don’t know if anyone has ever asked me that before! I would be most honoured if they said that I was always there for them, no matter what happened in their lives. That my love for them was unwavering. And that I inspired them to believe in a more equal and just world.
WHAT’S THE FIRST THING YOU CHECK IN YOUR BUSINESS ON A DAILY BASIS?
Website traffic because it’s fun, and I like to see the web traffic grow! E-mail is always next.
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND DIFFICULT ON YOUR JOURNEY AND WHAT WOULD YOU AVOID IF YOU WERE ABLE TO DO IT ALL AGAIN?
On my entrepreneurial journey, I’ve found it challenging to know what partnerships and affiliations will be a good fit or match for me and which ones won’t. There is so much joy in co-creating exceptional programs and content with others (for example, the dad with whom I collaborated on the Mindful Return Working Dad Course). And at the same time, there are some partnerships I find draining. Discerning which way the collaboration will go early on in the relationship is so essential and also challenging.
If I were to do it all over again, I would have avoided spending a lot of time focusing on social media growth at the expense of newsletter growth early on in the life of my company. I’ve discovered the real power of being able to be in someone’s e-mail inbox – versus having Facebook or another platform determine what they get to see.
WHAT’S YOUR TOP TIP FOR OUR AWESOME FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS READING THIS ARTICLE?
Repeat this Teddy Roosevelt quote daily: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
You do you, lady. Not what the woman next to you is doing, or the guy down the street. What’s right for you and your business and your family is what’s right. Period.
AS AN AUTHOR YOURSELF, WHO DO YOU ADMIRE AND IF YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR WERE TO WRITE A BOOK ABOUT YOU AND YOUR JOURNEY, WHAT WOULD YOU ENTITLE IT?
I mentioned her book above, but I really do love Brigid Schulte’s work and her commitment to reimagining how work and the rest of life can be more healthy for us across the globe. I’m also a massive fan of pretty much everything Brené Brown has written.
As for the book about me, perhaps it would be “Rise, Mama.”
WHAT’S THE NUMBER ONE PLAYED SONG ON YOUR IPOD?
Does anyone still have an iPod? Just kidding! It’s probably Jack Johnson’s “Hope.” I love the lyrics, “you don’t always have to hold your head higher than your heart.”
WHAT DO YOU KNOW FOR SURE?
The Corona Virus global pandemic has taught me that there really is nothing I know for sure.
An equally true but perhaps less-depressing answer is that love is my top priority.
DO YOU HAVE A BOOK OR FAVOURITE PODCAST RECOMMENDATION FOR OUR FEMALE CEO MEMBERS?
I really love the Psychologists Off the Clock podcast, and I just finished and really love the book The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters, by Sarah Susanka.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR MINDFUL RETURN?
A manager training course! My employer clients have told me how much managers struggle to know what to do to support the new parents on their teams who are going out on parental leave, and I aim to help fill that gap. Our online, on-demand manager training program will be live by the end of 2020.
WHAT MAKES YOU TRULY HAPPY AND HOW DO YOU HANDLE DOWNTIME?
Snuggling with my boys and watching The Marvellous Mrs Maisel with my husband. Sitting alone on the beach, dancing with my adopted mom, travel and anything that contains both chocolate and peanut butter.
As for downtime, I love to curl up with a good book, meditate, write in my journal, or weed the vinca in front of our house. I should note that “downtime” doesn’t just happen, though. I have to schedule it in and commit to it, or I’d never have any!
If you want to know more about Lori or Mindful Return you can visit the website or catch up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn. You can also tune in to the Parents At Work Podcast or check out her fabulous book; Back To Work After Baby