How Author Lori Vella Tackles The Extreme Work Life Balance Of Being A Woman Business Leader During COVID-19
Family Time is back. It feels really cool to teach old card games to my son. We order a pizza and laugh together at the kitchen table. It almost feels like the old days, being surrounded by family members playing cards.
Our Reality is now Virtual. Our work life/home life balance may see great advancements without the excessive work travel and traditional business hours. Parents will be home for dinner. Families will do weekend activities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lori Vella, an estate planning attorney and author of The Live-On Project, runs her own law firm serving both Florida and New York residents (www.LoriVella.com). After establishing her business with her toddler by her side, she anticipated law firm growth as her son entered kindergarten. But, only seven months into his school journey, he was sent back home due to the pandemic. Lori had to quickly re-calibrate to be successful over the long haul as both a full-time mother and full-time business owner during an ongoing pandemic.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
One month before I turned 40, I was blessed with my little boy. After my maternity leave, I knew I had to withdraw from my law firm partnership with an insurance defense firm. I did not enjoy the work and I wanted to be home with my son during the day. I decided to retire as an attorney and I did not initially find it much of a loss.
But, as a new mother, I suddenly had all of these fears about the future. If something were to happen to me, what would happen to my son? From my discussions with other mothers, I knew that they did not have any direction and did not know how to accomplish what they needed legally. I could help them.
My fears as a new mother drove me back to the law. At 42, I came out of my “lawyer retirement” and decided to hang my own shingle with two goals in mind: 1) to provide outstanding legal work to assist families in my community; and 2) to modernize the typical law firm experience to create a less formal and more enjoyable process.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
I created a pro bono program called #GetMyGuardian to help Florida families to create emergency plans and to nominate guardians for their children. To promote the importance of the event, NewsRadio WFLA, specifically PM Tampa Bay with Ryan Gorman, asked me to appear for a radio interview. I was anxious to appear because I had a big concern. As I’ve aged, I tend to lose my voice when I become anxious. What a terrible thing for an attorney! How would that work for a radio show? What if I lost my voice during the broadcast and had to keep clearing my throat on air? I told a few friends about my concerns and each gave me a great tip:
- Tea and lemon to soothe my throat
- Singing octaves to warm up my voice
- Stress Meditation
- Face Reflexology
- Deep breaths
- Drinking honey to coat my throat
- Guided imagery
In an abundance of caution, I decided to try not one, but all of the tips! There I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of the news studio, sipping tea and lemon while slamming honey from the bottle. I played the guided meditation from my car speakers while massaging my face and taking deep breaths. I sang octaves in intervals and visualized myself being successful in the moment. Ultimately, the interview went very well but now I wonder if I need to repeat every practice before future interviews, as I have no idea which tip worked!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, we have some great things happening. I love educating the public and raising awareness of Wills, Trusts and planning for the future. To put an emphasis on learning, we created an Online Course Portal called Florida Lawyer Online. The portal contains free virtual courses on estate planning for children, teaching about the differences between Wills and Trusts, my interviews with others, resources and more.
I am also creating a Virtual Will Camp. The Camp, which contains written materials and video tutorials, will allow those seeking simple Wills to learn new concepts and create plans for their families. After completion of the free course, the participants may choose to upload their intake forms. In return, we will create their specific legal documents at a virtual rate. It will be a wonderful way for many people to obtain legal documents drafted by an attorney at an affordable cost.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The foundation of any successful business rests on its key players. My office manager Veronica serves as my magic behind-the-scenes. While her title is “office manager,” she actually wears many hats, stretching her job role to fit the needs of our firm. Not only does Veronica help move the files along, but she also created our outstanding website. She handles the social media creation and gets our content posted to our channels. She assists with client needs and drafts various documents. Most importantly, she motivates me to give my best and keep producing valuable content. Her opinion usually results in the determination of whether or not we move forward with a particular project. Her organizational skills take my endless new ideas and restructure them in a way that produces value. Her strengths complement my weaknesses.
Veronica has been there from the start and continues to be an integral part in how the practice continues to change, grow and prosper. Together, we have built this business in a way we felt benefited the public. The best thing is that Veronica truly believes in our work. She feels passionate for our cause right along with me.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
Childcare responsibilities typically fall upon the mom. But when you own your own business, you face a unique misconception that, because you are working from home, you have the ability to do it all. The hardest part is wanting to work but not being able to, due to the attention my son needs.
As a single mom during this pandemic, I strangely found myself both isolated, yet never alone! On one hand, I have my now 6-year-old with me nearly 24/7. On the other hand, I cannot seek childcare help without worrying about our COVID-19 exposure. Pre-pandemic, I tried to avoid his use of the iPad and YouTube. Mid-pandemic, it seems almost impossible. Even if I set up a craft or activity, the minute I get on a call or find myself immersed in drafting a Last Will, he gravitates towards the TV or his devices. If the devices are not out, I am then usually peppered with questions.
The real problem is “mom guilt.” We want to spend time with our children but also need our livelihoods. My son is growing up and soon he won’t have this keen interest in his mom. I know these days are precious. I feel the constant pull on my time and attention.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The pandemic raised awareness of the struggles women-business owners face while raising young children. People all over the world found themselves working at home with kids and, hopefully, have come to understand the challenges. The main thing I had to do was accept that I cannot do it all. As an over-doer, I had to let go of the internal pressure to have it together. In March, I quickly understood that we faced a long-term issue and I adjusted to the grief of the pandemic. I had no choice but to relax my parenting rules and rework my typical day.
We slowed down. We spent time in the pool or on our new swing set (mid-pandemic purchase). I eased up on the electronic restrictions and allowed my son to spend more time on his devices, but I encouraged him to use them in better ways. I created a star chart that allowed him to use a device only after he practiced reading and math, played the piano and completed his Spanish work.
I had to also continue to get my son on board with what my work meant. I explained the work that I did and how I helped other people so he knew I was working not only for us, but also the community. The result is that he sometimes gives me time to be on my computer without interruption.
I continue to guide myself to feel content knowing I am doing the very best that I can in this pandemic. It is a constant struggle and I often feel that I am failing. But, I have a happy child that feels loved. It is not easy being a business-owning mom but I do hope that my achievements will make him proud someday. That is the saving grace.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
When the pandemic hit, business nearly came to a halt. Many thought that with the health concerns of the pandemic, estate planning would be top priority. However, with job losses and the fear of the unknown, people understandably felt wary of putting money towards their plans.
Networking is key but we lost the ability to socialize and attend events. I also internalized the sadness of the community as people died or became ill and others felt depression from the lack of contact. It contributed to lack of motivation and worry.
With the mandatory closures and social distancing concerns, we had to cancel our in-person signings to formalize the documents. I felt anxiety knowing that we were in a pandemic that may negatively impact health yet we were delaying the signing of crucial end-of-life papers.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We took advantage of our new downtime in extraordinary ways. To help the public and stay productive, we offered free healthcare directives to essential workers and teachers. We also created new completely virtual plans so that people could still receive needed documents, but from a distance.
To manage the lessening of our work hours, we delegated tasks. We took on a new person for social media creation and posting, as well as others to edit YouTube videos. To counter our challenges with getting the documents signed in person, we got very creative. We created “tailgate signings” so that our clients could formalize documents within the comforts of their cars while being observed by witnesses. To make up for the lack of in-person networking, we created virtual networking sessions. To take it a step further, I joined an amazing women’s networking group called Babe Crafted. Through them, I took several classes that inspired me to do new things with my law firm.
As the pandemic evolved, the phone began ringing more than ever. With the time spent creating better ways of doing business, we were prepared to take on new clients and help them with their needs.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
We all need to give ourselves some grace when remembering e-learning in the Spring. We need to trust that future learning will look different now that the schools and teachers are prepared. Those that choose to homeschool may decide to trade-off time with another mother or join a homeschool co-op for activities and social skills. My best advice is to put your family first, work dedicated hours, and understand that we are all going through these challenges together.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Staying serene is not exactly my forte. I’ve worked hard over the years, through guided meditation, to ease anxiety and combat insomnia. When the pandemic hit, my careful practices discontinued as I found myself researching COVID-19 at 4 a.m. from bed. The best advice I received was to accept the fact that not everything would get done. I chose three things upon which to focus: 1) my mental and physical health; 2) my son; and 3) my work.
For my mindset, I took virtual courses for empowerment and to help me stay positive. I listened to audio books to keep my mind on track. I turned my garage into a home gym and made it a challenge to come out of the pandemic with more muscle and energy.
For childcare, I use online tutors more than ever. I bought my son virtual memberships to learn new skills. He takes online piano lessons with our local School of Rock. We got outdoors. With playgrounds and parks closed, I bought a playset for our backyard so that we could enjoy our surroundings more. We use the pool and bought new diving toys. We visit VISTA organic gardens to enjoy the natural surroundings and plant/harvest from our organic garden plot.
When I give concentrated time to my son, I am able to then give focused hours to my work. I cannot juggle it all simultaneously, but I can do one thing at a time very well (most days!).
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Once I turned off the news, I found 5 reasons to be hopeful during the corona crisis:
- Family Time is back. It feels really cool to teach old card games to my son. We order a pizza and laugh together at the kitchen table. It almost feels like the old days, being surrounded by family members playing cards.
- FOMO has vanished! The “fear of missing out” drove us to over-plan and pack our weekends with too many activities. We can say goodbye to the pressure of keeping up with the neighbors. With so many closings, we don’t feel the loss of missing out on some irresistible activity.
- Our Reality is now Virtual. Our work life/home life balance may see great advancements without the excessive work travel and traditional business hours. Parents will be home for dinner. Families will do weekend activities.
- Freedom. Before the pandemic, I struggled with the thought of my child entering the school system just as I had set up flexibility with my work life. With e-learning, I see more freedom to travel as a family.
- Life is Beautiful. This is our time to take stock of what matters. We can now choose to focus our time and energy on only those matters.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
This pandemic is very stressful especially with no end in sight. I think the best thing we can do is respect others. Many do not feel comfortable socializing indoors and without masks. Others feel pressure to continue with social norms such as hugging or shaking hands. If our family and loved ones feel obligated to socialize as usual, it will further keep them isolated and indoors.
Schedule time in parks or go for walks. Set up a table outdoors and invite friends/family to sit outside. Instead of refusing to accept, or downplaying, the new restrictions, get creative to continue your socialization while putting your loved ones at ease.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Women lawyers in particular suffer from “imposter syndrome.” We doubt our talents or accomplishments. We need to recognize that every obstacle serves as a challenge to not only get better, but to accept ourselves and acknowledge our amazing talents. Strangely enough, the Pat Benatar song “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” became my motto. During my first law firm exam, I instantly became sick with anxiety. Suddenly, those song lyrics flooded my mind. They became a theme throughout law school and beyond. No matter what, I am ready. We are all ready. Of course, I had other “life lesson quotes” along the way, but none nearly as fun as an 80s song.
How can our readers follow you online?
We would love if you stopped by our Online Course Portal and blog (LoriVella.com). You can also follow us along our social media channels on IG (AttorneyLori), Facebook (Law Office Lori Vella), YouTube (Lori Vella) and Twitter (Lori_Vella). Feel free to also connect with me personally on LinkedIn.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
About The Interviewer: Karina Michel Feld is the Owner and Executive Producer of Tallulah Films. Karina has 20+ years of experience in TV, film, and print and is a respected member of The Producers Guild of America. The mission of Tallulah Films is to bring together directors, entrepreneurs, film investors, and screenwriters to produce award-winning TV and film projects. Tallulah Films continues to be drawn towards films that are meaningful, influential, and uplifting. Karina is also Co-Owner and CFO of Fresh Patch LLC (as seen on ABC’s “Shark Tank”).