Nicole Kuklok-Waldman: “Establish boundaries”

Establish boundaries. Boundaries are healthy and will help you manage especially if you go out to business on your own. This is a constant exercise for me, as I always want to help and be busy, and with COVID and being in business for myself, I can literally work 24/7. Setting boundaries can help you […]

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Establish boundaries. Boundaries are healthy and will help you manage especially if you go out to business on your own. This is a constant exercise for me, as I always want to help and be busy, and with COVID and being in business for myself, I can literally work 24/7. Setting boundaries can help you keep healthy; for me, when I close my computer at the end of the day, I am done until the kids are in bed, end of story. I also consider what work needs to be done when and make sure I make time for that.

The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Kuklok-Waldman.

Nicole graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC. She is a lecturer at the University of Southern California, where she teaches Planning Law and Entitlement at the Sol Price School of Public Policy and the Lusk Center for Real Estate, and has guest lectured at Temple University and UCLA School of Law. She is also a published author, having authored a guest chapter in “Public Relations in Practice” by Professor Kate Kurtin at California State University, Los Angeles.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Of course, glad to be here. I grew up about 15 minutes north of Disneyland, right on the border between the Los Angeles and Orange County border. After attending UC Berkeley and Georgetown University Law Center, I started practicing law and, after about a year, found a practice I absolutely loved! I called myself the Lucky Lawyer because I was the only happy lawyer I knew!

Fast forward 20 years, though, and practicing law was still fun, but my carrer and my lifestyle weren’t exactly compatible and I was feeling stuck in my career. So I started investigating how to unstick myself, if you will, and I did a lot of reading and tried a lot of things! Some worked, some didn’t, but I learned so much! I now own a consulting firm with my best friend and we are killing it! But it took me awhile to get there.

Meanwhile, after being willing to explore and learn more, I learned I had gotten really good at something, and that was helping lawyers on how to transition their careers, so I founded the “Lucky Lawyer,” a course to help lawyers figure out how to find their best lives, just like I have.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Dr. Maya Anjelou said “When you know better, you do better.” I have to say that to myself, a lot, because I can be really hard on myself. That voice inside your head can be brutal! And it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I learned, after reading A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, that the voice wasn’t me. What a revelation! My own worst critic was a crappy voice inside my head that wasn’t even real. My own worst critic was a fake.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I love Brene Brown’s work about shame and vulnerability. It’s really hard to be honest and vulnerable about things that seem embarrassing or humiliating but that cannot only connect you to other people, but can also allow you to help others. I wouldn’t be doing this work without her, because it requires me to let a lot of people see behind a curtain. When you ask others to take a risk on you, you have to show you’re willing to take a risk, too. So I’ve developed this work being very honest about things I would rather not highlight. But I do believe that has helped others, and that makes it all worthwhile.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

Previous to the pandemic…which feels like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it…I owned a thriving consulting practice with my partner, Kate. We specialize in community outreach, land use consulting, and advocacy at the local and state level. Good news is that we are still thriving!

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

Our business has been nimble and open to change. We have been able to change up our business model as needed; especially because a lot of our consulting business relies on person-to-person contact, we’ve had to come up with innovative ways to engage with others on a one-on-one basis. We’re grateful that we’ve been able to successfully pivot.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

In addition to my consulting practice, I teach at USC and I have built up a reputation of successfully helping people problem solve, especially when it comes to career and career transition. I’ve generally just helped people as they need it, students, friends, and through referrals, and I have been volunteering to help people as the pandemic took hold. But I literally woke up one night a couple of months ago and seriously had an idea…a course that could help people figure out what they want to do next, as opposed to job counseling. I literally sketched it out in two hours one night; of course, that was after seven years of reading and study, but there it was.

How are things going with this new initiative?

The Lucky Lawyer program has become an awesome way to share what I’ve learned in a way that can really help others looking to get “unstuck.” I have always felt lucky to be a lawyer and want all of my lawyer friends to feel the same about their careers. I did a lot of work to get here, but they can do a lot less. Why reinvent the wheel?

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

So this is going to be a little sad, but I have never really had a good mentor, and while I wish I had, I can say that I would not have developed this course if I had had one. A good mentor would have given me honest career advice that I instead had to figure out myself. Of course, this took more time and energy, but now I have a program to help others. I do hope that readers will consider mentorship of others as a professional duty because I think it is very important to career building. But I also have a way to help you whether or not you have a mentor.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

Less sleep? Listen, this pandemic has been no joke, and I think we’re in a pandemic funk now where it’s been a year. It’s been crazy…I have a full time job, I teach, and I have two little kids at home who want to be around me 24/7. I guess the funny stories now come from how I am showing my children what a successful, happy person can look like. My five year old will come in wearing a pair of my Gucci pumps and a handbag and tell me she “looks like a worker.” They see me work at the park, at home, and they also see how much I am around and how I love what I do. When I ask what they are most grateful for, they say that it’s getting to see me more. And while I would not object to a quality spa day with no phone, I can agree it’s been, in some ways, wonderful. My daughter said to me the other night at bedtime, “Mommy, do you know what word our family uses all the time?” And I held my breath because I was afraid that word was not one fit for reprint. But I went ahead and asked her what word…and she said “I love you.”

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

One. Overhead kills. Want to go out on your own? Great. Make sure to minimize costs. Overhead is what kills businesses.

Two. Are you sure you want to go out on your own? Employment and ownership are two completely different things and they are not interchangeable with each other. Make sure you know what you want and that you are comfortable with owning your own business.

Three. Ask for help. If you have a mentor, that’s a great person to ask for help. If not, look for resources that might be able to help: Facebook Groups, Chamber of Commerce groups, whatever. Lots of people have started their own businesses and there is no reason to reinvent the wheel here.

Four: Give yourself some grace. We all make mistakes. If you don’t have kids, you may not be familiar with Carol Dweck’s work and her book Mindset, but I’ll summarize it for you here: you can learn anything or figure anything out, you just have to keep trying. And that’s the truth. Unfortunately, that was not taught when I was a kid (I don’t know about you)…but mistakes are not an end. They are a beginning. There would be no Lucky Lawyer program without mistakes.

Five: Establish boundaries. Boundaries are healthy and will help you manage especially if you go out to business on your own. This is a constant exercise for me, as I always want to help and be busy, and with COVID and being in business for myself, I can literally work 24/7. Setting boundaries can help you keep healthy; for me, when I close my computer at the end of the day, I am done until the kids are in bed, end of story. I also consider what work needs to be done when and make sure I make time for that.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

I’m a big believer in meditation. Being a lawyer, I always have lots of thoughts running through my head, and I thought, at some level, that I just didn’t have the ability to slow them down. I finally took a Harvard professor course and it clicked. Mediation is a practice, not a thing to do. You have to learn it and practice it to get better. It’s not just about downloading an app. And it really works. My kids do it. I do it. And it is a game-changer, the more you practice it.

I would also encourage folks to focus on what they can control. The world is a very big place and there are a great many things completely out of my control. Once I accepted that I could control very little, things got easier. I tell students looking for jobs to do the same. You can’t control whether you get an interview, but you can control how many job applications you complete. I can’t control COVID. But I can stay inside, keep busy, and accept this new reality. That is all within each of our control.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I really believe that living your best life, a wholehearted life, is the best way to change the world in a most impactful way. If you think of people you know changing the world, that’s exactly what they are doing. They are living their why, their dream, their zone of Genius. I have a friend through my kids’ school who is a very famous musician, and he uses his success to not only play amazing music, but also to use his leverage to help others. How cool is that? What if that could be you? Here’s the cool thing: I sincerely believe it can actually be every single one of us!

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I’d love to meet every unhappy lawyer out there and convince them there is something better out there. Because there is! And if you want to hook me up for lunch with Justice Sonia Sotomayor or Michelle Obama, you might get an awesome thank you gift. Just saying.

How can our readers follow you online?

Feel free to visit my website at or follow me on Facebook, Insta, or Linkedin. I promise I am the only Nicole Kuklok-Waldman out there!

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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