Interview with Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, founder of Mindful Return

When Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD returned to her successful legal career after the birth of her second child she realised how few quality resources existed to help new parents navigate the identity transition from “professional” to “working parent”.

Find out how she decided to solve the problem herself by creating Mindful Return, a supportive community of working parents returning to work after parental leave who want to feel present – both with their babies and in their careers. 

What’s your career background?

I’m a policy nerd at heart, and I went to law school to become a regulatory attorney.

I’m now a Partner in the health care practice of a global law firm, where I practice Medicare reimbursement law on a 50% schedule. I run my company, Mindful Return, in the other 50% of my professional work week.

How did your career change after having children?

It was the birth of my children that opened my eyes to the fact that I had not just a risk-averse lawyer personality, but also a latent entrepreneur’s passion.

The birth of my second child led me to realize just how few quality resources existed to help new parents navigate the identity transition from “professional” to “working parent”, and after I started to solve for this problem by creating Mindful Return, I started to scale back on my legal work.

Where did the idea for your business come from?

It truly came from sheer desperation!  When I went back to work after maternity leave, I discovered I could find courses on everything baby-related – from how to puree baby food to how to massage my baby.

But I couldn’t find a course I could take to tell me how to navigate the transition back to work after maternity leave in a way that left me feeling empowered (and not useless) as an employee.

In creating Mindful Return, I created what I wished had been available to me as a new working mom.

How did you move from idea to actual business? 

Baby steps. I had two small children at home (one and three years old at the time) when I founded Mindful Return, so my time margins for myself were minimal.

For four months, I blocked about 20 minutes a day to start writing my online course. Simultaneously, I hired a graphic designer to start working on a logo and I got my husband to teach me WordPress so I could start a blog.

What’s your USP? 

The Mindful Return courses for new moms and dads are the only online courses on the market that are proven to help employers retain their new parent talent.

According to data from Ovia Health, only 66% of women in the US return to work after having a baby. Of the 1,000+ new parents who took the Mindful Return program over the past five years, 85% are still at the same employer as when they took the course, and 93% are still employed somewhere. 

Who’s your target audience?

My #1 target audience is employers. There are currently 66 employers that offer the Mindful Return program as a parental leave benefit or learning and development offering.

My target audience is also, of course, new parents themselves. It’s possible to register for the Mindful Return courses individually, even if an employer is not providing them to you.

How do you spread the word about what you do? 

I have a weekly newsletter and a blog that is enthusiastically received by the parents who subscribe. I publish a weekly blog post and am also active on all the usual social media channels. I speak at relevant industry conferences, appear on podcasts and TV, and get quoted in the media.

My book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave is great for getting the word out. And the moms and dads who take my course are great brand ambassadors who spread the word among friends, colleagues, and managers.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy? 

The simple act of adding a “contact me for a demo” form on the page of my website specifically for employers was a game-changer!  This was obvious in retrospect, but I should have introduced that concept sooner. Direct outreach to personal contacts within companies has also been incredibly effective.

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome? 

Time management is a big one. Raising two kids, having a “day job” in the legal field, and starting a company have all pushed me to prioritize in ways I never previously had to. Learning not to doubt my own ability to make a difference is another.

And your proudest moment so far? 

With my business, I’ve been most proud of seeing the retention data. I had a good sense that the program I designed was really helping new working parents, but it was so gratifying to see the actual numbers. Hitting the 1,000 course participant milesone was pretty exciting, too!

Why is work so important to you? 

Work in and of itself is important to me as a creative outlet and a chance to use my passion for advocacy and analysis.

But the specific work I do is so important to me, because I truly believe it helps move our world toward one of greater equality. One in which women are valued for their talents and contributions, and in which caregiving by men is valued and commonplace.

Who inspires you? 

My sons inspire me daily with new ideas for my company. Family members inspire me with their enthusiasm for what I’m creating.

The moms in my Mindful Return community inspire me to keep going by letting me know how much my programs have helped them. And writers like Brene Brown, Sara Avant Stover, and Laura Vanderkam always make me think differently.

How do you balance your work with your family?

I’m not a fan of the term “balance”. “Integrate,” I think, is perhaps a better fit for what really happens.

My own integration happens through strong time boundaries. When I’m working, I’m fully engaged in work, and I have a boundary drawn tightly around that activity.

When I’m with my family, I’m present with my family, and I’m not checking in on work. If clients need to reach me, they know when I’ll be back online to attend to their needs. My husband and I are also equal partners in this parenting adventure.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

  1. Don’t try to swallow the ocean. Pick one thing at a time, run with it, and make an impact in that one area. Put other ideas in a temporary “parking lot” while you run with the most important or pressing one.
  2. Remember Teddy Roosevelt’s quote: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  Run your own race, and move your venture along at the pace that’s right for you and your family.
  3. Be yourself. If you create something while sharing the person you really are, your people will find you. You are enough, just as you are.

Find out more about Mindful Return.