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On (not) balancing career, side hustles, and motherhood, with Erin England

Name: Erin England

City and State: Dallas, TX

Occupation: Attorney and Founder of PlaySource Dallas

As a self described underdog, tell us a bit about how you went from growing up in East Texas to being a partner at one the best law firms in the country.

I was born and raised in Longview, Texas, a small-ish town in East Texas. To some degree I always wanted to be a lawyer, but what I do now is nothing like what I imagined being a lawyer would be like. I pictured attorneys arguing all day long, which I’m thankful to say is not what my job is like! I’m the first in my family to go to college, and if not for a scholarship from a private foundation (The Terry Foundation), I honestly don’t know what college would have looked like for me. I attended Texas A&M University, where I studied business and received a degree in Marketing.

After graduation I worked in sales for Wells Fargo for about two years, and then set my sights on law school. I received my law degree from Southern Methodist University, and accepted an Associate position at Haynes and Boone in Dallas, where I went on to make Partner. I am so grateful for the nearly twelve years I practiced at Haynes and Boone and for the incredible mentors who taught me everything I know about how to be a lawyer. I recently joined the Dallas office of Katten, a Chicago-based law firm that recently entered the Texas market.

How has the experience of being an underdog given you the fight to go after what you want?

When I think of an underdog, I think of someone who is disadvantaged and therefor isn’t expected to win. I think most people looking from the outside in would agree that there were some disadvantages in how I grew up. Living below the poverty line, being raised by a single mom, witnessing alcoholism and domestic violence from a young age, those things are certainly disadvantages.

However, from a young age I understood that education is THE advantage of all advantages. Granted, I certainly didn’t have the clarity to say it so succinctly when I was young, but I understood that getting good grades in school opened up doors to new opportunities. And excelling at those opportunities opened up new doors to even more opportunities, and so on.

I think when you overcome any sort of hardship in life it gives you the confidence to take on new challenges. Because I’ve experienced such lows in my childhood and in my adult life (which we talk about later), and despite those lows I was still able to achieve certain successes, that gives me the confidence and the courage to go after new goals.

Alongside the rise in your legal success, you had a baby. As you have described it, you experienced terrible postpartum depression. What was your experience like? And what advice would you give to a woman who is experiencing it?

In a word, it was awful! I was in what felt like a cloudy haze for several months after my daughter was born. There were some really low points, but I was fortunate to receive the care and support I needed to eventually emerge from the haze. I actually returned to work from maternity leave early (which, by the way, I do NOT recommend!) because I wanted a piece of my “old life” back so badly.

My advice to expecting moms (and partners – because I promise you they experience all the pain with you) is to embrace the possibility that it may happen to you, and to plan accordingly. Part of the planning means surrounding yourself with people that support you without judgment. Be as vocal as possible with your loved ones about your anxieties, fears, and self-doubts. And know that you are not alone!

Postpartum depression and anxiety is not a reflection on your competence as a mother or your love for your child. It is a disease that can be treated. I look forward to the day when we can talk about postpartum depression publicly and in the casual nature with which we discuss our migraines and our cholesterol levels. Also know that everyone’s coping mechanisms and treatments will be different. For me, recovery required a mix of the right medication, the right therapist, a supportive work environment, and many, many 3 AM texts with fellow moms.

Many women in high power careers, like you, tend to focus much of their energy on work. How have you stepped out of that to become more than your W-2?

Your self-worth is not tied to your occupation. Read that again. If you assign so much of your worth to your job title, then what happens if you no longer like your job, or you’re no longer able to do it?

I think identifying too much with your career can lead to burnout. It’s a tough message though, right? We tell women to Lean In and be ambitious in their careers, but sometimes I feel like I’ve leaned in so far that I’m about to fall over.

And don’t get me started on work/life balance. Balance means an even distribution, where the two parts are equal, and it will NEVER be a 50/50 work/life split. For me it’s about being multi-faceted, not balanced. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, and I’ve never worn so many hats. Yes, you can be a lawyer and still be a great wife, mom, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, mentor, volunteer, board member, and so on. I think we assign too much value to the title on our business card, maybe because it’s the only one of those things brings in a paycheck. But your value as a person continues far beyond when the paycheck stops.

How does the energy and excitement of running PlaySource Dallas balance you out?

I am obsessed with women succeeding in every aspect of their lives. That could mean success as a student, an attorney, a mom, whatever. PlaySource is a resource I created to help moms (and dads of course) succeed at one small piece of the parenting puzzle.

Parenting is so tough, and I for one can use all the help I can get. I find myself often asking, where do I take my daughter to play when it’s raining outside? What family-friendly restaurants can we go to? What summer camps are available? PlaySource is an online database that helps parents find answers to those questions and more.

I realized at some point that I don’t have hobbies, so PlaySource is now my favorite pastime! It makes me feel so connected to the community in general and with local parents especially. Knowing that we are all in the same boat and we all face similar parenting challenges is comforting and encouraging. Running PlaySource is one of the many hats I mentioned earlier, so it contributes to my overall satisfaction and well-being. Plus, it’s something completely different than my day job, which makes it an exciting new challenge.

As a woman who has many mentors, what do you do to pay it forward with younger up and coming women?

I pay it forward in both formal and informal ways. At my former firm, I co-chaired the firm-wide women’s initiative committee and I look forward to getting involved with Katten’s robust Women’s Leadership Forum. Informally, I mentor several women, all at varying stages of their careers. I typically meet my mentees when they reach out to me after seeing me give a presentation or they contact me through the alumni group of my undergraduate scholarship. I try to give a no-nonsense but optimistic perspective. I’m vulnerable in sharing what worked for me and what didn’t, in hopes that they will avoid the same pitfalls I experienced.

Many of my mentees are feeling the same imposter syndrome that marked my early years in law. It created a sense of not belonging and having to “fake” it. I was afraid to be myself because I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. My perception, which came from a place of insecurity, was that I did not grow up like other lawyers in the firm. I soon realized, however, that everyone makes mistakes, everyone has their own story of struggle, and the firm is better off having people from many different backgrounds.

What advice would you give to a woman about being her vulnerable, authentic self, like you have?

With respect to vulnerability, it’s important to know your audience and to tread lightly initially. You want to be vulnerable and share your own experiences because diverse perspectives will benefit the organization. However, there’s a thin line between vulnerability and “TMI.”

As for authenticity, I think step one is to define success for yourself. Once you’re clear on what success means to you, and you stop trying to achieve someone else’s version of success, you’ll be able to seek more relevant advice and will be able to act in a way that aligns with those goals.

Anything else you want to share with us?

Do you know the easiest way to get what you want? To ask for it (nicely)! Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.

And also, don’t forget to vote!

A question we ask everyone...what do you want to be known for?

That I am obsessed with women succeeding.

My favorite quote is...

Lift as you climb.

Connect with Erin on LinkedIn. Follow PlaySource Dallas on Instagram.

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