Attorney at Law Magazine writer Susan Cushing recently spoke with Tara Antonipillai who traded in her career in tax law in Washington, D.C. to found her own wellness company. Today, she helps professionals reduce their stress and increase overall well-being through mindfulness and other positive interventions.
AALM: What prompted your transition from practicing law to creating your own wellness training enterprise?
TA: I have four children, and while I continued to work part time after I had the first couple, and my firm was really lovely and quite flexible, I ultimately stopped working. I was very happy to be home with my children, they were certainly my priority at the time. As they grew, I knew I wanted to do something outside the home, but I had a sense that I would not be going back to practicing law. I was very interested in exploring the wellness field so, with what little time I did have I began slowly, little bites you might say, out of different training.
Eventually I started teaching yoga which requires 200 hours of training, but I still didn’t have a strong sense of where it was going. I guess I thought I might open a studio or something like that. Slowly, I became more interested in the overall wellness aspects and my old firm asked me to come back and speak at some events and teach yoga on a weekly basis. This led to speaking to other lawyers about stress reducing techniques and doing more formal training teaching meditation and mindfulness techniques. It was incremental and a long process, but each year it seemed to become more lawyer focused.
Recently, I’ve begun taking classes toward a master’s degree in psychology. I’ve developed and built my business slowly over time and continue to expand. I’ve just become very interested in what allows people to incorporate wellness and well-being into their lives because one of the things I noticed is that there were many people who said they were interested, but very few who would actually show up. So, I wanted to further explore what small bites I can offer that gives them the evidentiary basis for success with a wellness regime. Lawyers bill time incrementally, so I wanted to find a way to loop into a similar cycle. So, I’ve developed a variety of different programs that can be implemented in 15-minute segments.
AALM: What kind of results can your clients expect?
TA: Like anything else, I tell people to expect what they put into it. Meditation, mindfulness and stress-reducing techniques are skills and skills need to be practiced. It’s not magic, you’re not going to try this, and everything suddenly changes. What I really try to focus on, especially for attorneys because they are highly skeptical, are the evidence-based practices. What can make a difference in a small amount of time? For example, breathing techniques where there is very good research that shows that the way your breath connects with the nervous system can have a big impact.
If you just practice those simple techniques while you’re waiting for a plane or on your way to a deposition, and that’s all you can do for now, that’s OK because there will still be results.
Maybe you don’t have time to go to a meditation class or to take the workshop that I offer, but you might have time to learn a few very simple breathing techniques. If you just practice those simple techniques while you’re waiting for a plane or on your way to a deposition, and that’s all you can do for now, that’s OK because there will still be results. It won’t be as dramatic as if you incorporated all the various techniques, but even baby steps are better than nothing at all. It’s a start. I try to meet people where they are in life.
Actually, I’ve had many lawyers tell me that one of the things that stresses them out the most is people telling them that they need to get more sleep, eat better, drink less or get more exercise. I try to focus less on all the things you should be doing and more on what can you do in the time you have. I think it balances expectations but also allows people to just take small steps.
AALM: What do you enjoy most about your work?
TA: I really enjoy helping people. I never disliked practicing law, in fact I quite liked it. I had many wonderful clients and worked with wonderful people. But what I’m doing now is more of an expression of who I am in a different way. It’s not just a job, I truly believe in it.
AALM: What do you find most challenging about your new profession?
TA: Well, I’m not a salesperson by nature so I don’t really like that aspect. I had to find a way to do what’s comfortable while still approaching it like a business. I would say I’m still kind of working through that aspect of it. Also, working only for myself as opposed to having a big organization backing you up. I do reach out to former colleagues and friends for feedback and that sense of collaborative efforts.
AALM: What would you advise a new attorney to help him/her avoid getting overwhelmed?
TA: The thing I would say that makes the most difference, especially for those just starting out, is to build a community of people by getting involved in things that you enjoy. For example, the firm I was with had a large pro bono program and I think that was a great way to build a community of like-minded people. You need those human connections that are affirming and positive. It can be a group of people who you run with every day, attend yoga with or even a professional organization, but the connection to other people is so important. They can often determine the difference between being happy and having a sense of well-being or being frustrated, and there are a number of studies that bear this out.
AALM: What accomplishment are you most proud of achieving?
TA: Honestly, my proudest accomplishment is that I have raised four children who I think are nice people and I feel like I’m noticing that and feeling more and more thankful every day as we’re all trapped inside.
From a professional perspective, I’m probably most proud that I took a risk and did something different, put myself out there. Launching my own company was totally out of my comfort zone, but it’s been an amazing learning experience and I feel that I’ve grown so much.