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August 30, 2022 Article

A Pandemic Lesson in Pausing and Reevaluating Our Priorities

How the COVID-19 pandemic forced me to slow down and intentionally change my life.

By Daniela de la Piedra

For 13 years, I worked as an attorney representing low-income seniors in Washington, D.C. When I started practicing law, I was single, had no kids, and was ready to dive into this new legal adventure. I was so excited to work with my clients, investigate their cases, and come up with creative legal solutions. My career was the center of my universe. The work I was doing was so inspiring and rewarding. This is exactly what I had gone to law school to do!

However, over time, I and my life were changing, but I didn’t have the time to really pay attention. I got married and had two kids. I started juggling a lot of responsibilities between work, day care, medical appointments, commuting, trying to make time to exercise, and maybe having a proper meal with my husband once in a while. Life was hectic and exhausting. I was constantly rushing from one place to the next. I was full of frenetic energy and felt like my hair was always on fire. I didn’t realize this about myself until the pandemic hit and forced me to stop and examine what was going on. What for many people was a chaotic and awful time, for me turned out to be the pause that I didn’t know I desperately needed. The pandemic changed my life because it gave me the time and space to slow down and reevaluate who I was and who I wanted to be.

With my family at home, hidden away from the world, I started to spend a lot of time with my kids. My daughter, who was four years old at the time, was starting to blossom into someone I didn’t recognize simply because I barely saw her during the week pre-pandemic. It made me so sad to realize that due to my job and commute, I barely saw my kids. I realized what I had been missing out on! I cherished our newfound time together and getting to know my kids, listening to their conversations, and seeing what made them light up. I also started to spend more quality time with my husband, whether it was sharing lunch during the week or having time to relax after the kids went to bed. I was no longer rushing, in my thoughts or in my actions. Time slowed down and everything I had been missing out on came up to the surface.

The pandemic showed me that I was living to work, and not working to live. I was literally drowning and didn’t realize it. I started to ask myself if there was a way I could find a new balance. I dove into personal development and reached out to a law school friend who is now a career coach. I was extremely invested in figuring out a way to honor my role as a mom and wife in a way that would allow me to continue making a living in a meaningful and joyful way. I had now seen what it was like to be fully present for myself and my family, and I just couldn’t unsee it. I could not go back to life as we knew it before. I was determined to find the solution; after all, isn’t this what lawyers are great at? I solved problems for others every day for over a decade, and now it was time to do it for myself.

Through my deep personal work, I learned and accepted that our choices aren’t life sentences. We are allowed to change our minds and choose again. I went to law school because I felt a deep purpose to help others and to be an instrument of change. Working with my career coach taught me that my life’s purpose hadn’t changed, but the way I wanted to use it had. Our values and priorities change over time, and we have to do the work to realign how we show up in order to honor them. Our gifts, talents, and capabilities may stay the same, but how we use and apply them can change as we go through different stages of life. I concluded that my legal career had come to an end, and it was time to pivot, grow, and find joy again through something else. My last day at work was July 22, 2021, and the very next day I started a year-long professional coaching program. I am once again reinvigorated by the work I do through my coaching practice in which I help busy professional women find balance and joy in their lives, set and reach important goals, and feel more fulfilled with their days.

It’s never too late to reevaluate what you want your life to look like and what really matters to you. We always have a choice to get off the hamster wheel and examine whether our current way of living and making a living is serving us. We live in a fast-changing world, and that includes us as well. The more in tune we can be with ourselves, the more we can show up fully for others and ourselves. This is what allows us to live life with true joy and fulfillment.

My advice for anyone thinking about change or feeling like something is off is this: Get clear on the vision for your life one year from today. What does your ideal life look like? Where are you, how do you make a living, how do you start your days, how much fun are you having? Once you have a crystal-clear vision, you can start to reverse-engineer and make a plan to create that vision for yourself in real life. I developed a year-long plan and broke it down into smaller steps, as small as creating a daily morning routine to help me start my days with intention and feeling centered. This is what I teach my coaching clients to do now.

As lawyers, we are constantly in service of, and in problem-solving mode for, others. I invite you to take a pause and ask yourself what is important to you in this season of life. Once you’ve identified that, decide how you will shift to honor those priorities. Remember that it’s never too late, and you always have a choice to refocus on what is important to you and what truly brings you joy.

Daniela de la Piedra is an attorney, certified professional coach, and founder of Everyday Daniela Life Coaching LLC in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

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