For over two decades I assured my inner child that she was safe despite being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape. I learned to live mindfully and feel gravity. The rage mellowed through the years, and I found joy in raising my two powerful daughters and surrounding myself with soulful people. I had become a divorce lawyer and rejoiced in big courthouse “wins” against the few jerks that everyone knew were predatory. More recently, I entered the startup world, building a modern breakup service that offers users an online alternative to the traditional retained attorney divorce model: a guided “tour” through the divorce process with fixed-fee legal help along the way and an emphasis on wellness. I surprised myself how much I initially gravitated to this entrepreneurial world—working long hours, managing the tech and creative components of the site, building a network of powerful people, and operating a fast-paced, ever-changing online platform.

As a divorce attorney, I found each day triggering, and I liked that. Being around (or in) crisis was familiar to me. So was stress and hard work. I was obsessed with the human story and understood how utterly lonely and desperate it felt to be in crisis—to pray that you’ll survive and someday feel less lonely when surrounded by a room full of people. I thrived at helping clients understand how they could fall out of a relationship with someone but still hold heartful integrity.

It just never felt like enough. I thought the reason behind my drive was to achieve more, help more, and spread a “new” kind of law, one that focuses on what people want and not just what they need. And, maybe in part, it was all of those things. But really, this journey into a startup venture is much more than that. It has triggered me, but in a far more meaningful way—in heart, body, and mind.

Sure, I knew the startup would be risky. It’s an outside-the-box way of approaching divorce, and critics and competitors would likely pounce. But I actually feel comfortable as the underdog. I feel strong and determined when the odds are stacked against me.

What got to me was the discovery that to truly be relevant, to sell yourself and your brand, you need to dive far deeper internally than you ever have before. Nobody tells you when you build a startup that what you know about yourself is not enough. Every insecurity and fear surfaced when building my company. To stay relevant, being clear, grounded, and present became essential. To be successful (in the way many of us want to be), I had to become visible. To become visible, I had to be authentic. To be authentic, I had to dig deeper into who I am than I ever have before.

I always defined myself by my fierceness and my ability to relate to others in a crisis. I thought I was good at connecting with people, when in reality I’d only interact as long as I had to. I’d share my story with others and as soon as they wanted to engage deeper, I would push them away. I was afraid of disappointing people—afraid they’d discover I wasn’t the tough, in-control person I had always shown them.

I had to find a way to calm my fierce inner child, the one who can conquer everything and do anything, to let in the sweetness, the femininity—the real me. I had to summon up the voice I had inside me. “You are not damaged. You do not need to step back and let everyone else shine. You do not need to always live in ‘crisis’ mode, fighting fires every step of the way. You are deserving of love.” In fact, that way of being doesn’t work in startup land. If you aren’t authentic, consumers reject you.

Self-love: A journey

As a legal entrepreneur, the day-to-day of practicing law became less important than the success of the company. What was more crucial was convincing the consumer that what I offered is a viable alternative to the traditional attorney. I had to become visible. I had to believe in myself in a way I never had before, because no one would trust me or my product if I did not trust myself.

I had to face my fears and understand my true self. For the first time, the focus was no longer (only) on my clients or my team. I needed to put my story front and center, and I couldn’t convey it without believing in and loving myself. To emanate powerful energy all the time (not just when I felt threatened), I’d have to find out why I believed everyone else’s voice was far more powerful, insightful, and meaningful than mine.

I had to slow my roll—not an easy task for a mother of two toddlers with a husband who’s also an entrepreneur. I had to be brutally honest with myself before I could tell others of my story. Through a pause, I paid much more attention to my first thought and first experience with every interaction I had. I realized that I always protected, not engaged. That’s when I learned that the energy I resisted was love—self-love and love from others. My instinct had always been to put up a virtual boundary. It made me feel in control over situations and people, and it allowed me the freedom to leave a relationship if things got real. If I didn’t allow love in, then I wouldn’t lose anything if I walked away.

Through that brutal self-reflection, I started to accept myself. I realized that I could be who I am, that who I am actually mattered, and that people would actually care. I could make progress not in spite of who I am, but because of who I am.

I now look forward to building lasting, loving, mutual relationships. I am constantly drawn to exploring what love and an innate state of well-being look like inside and out.

I can never go back to the way things were. Self-love and receiving love have become a necessity. And they belong in every aspect of my life, including business.

I still have moments of doubt. I still want to be liked and respected. I still have monthly meetings with Anna Scott, my energy warrior, friend, confidant, and wisdom business coach.

My experience of being abused, harassed, raped, and attacked me is not who I am. It’s just as I tell my clients, “You are not your divorce.”

Sometimes our story ends up different than we imagined . . . but it’s better that way.

Erin Levine

Erin Levine is a Certified Family Law Specialist and the owner of Levine Family Law Group. She is the CEO of Hello Divorce, a platform that helps users skip the expensive attorney on retainer and divorce on their terms, offering an online and on demand alternative to the “traditional” divorce. Erin also co-founded Love & Real Life, a service that empowers women to plan for some of the “what ifs” that come with marriage through carefully crafted Prenuptial Agreements.

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