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Name: Alicia Dearn

Business: Bellatrix PC, a California and St. Louis based law firm

Industry: Other — Law Firm

Location: St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.

Reason for starting: This is my third business. In 2007, I had a successful you career as a lawyer in a large firm. But I had this nagging feeling that I should be doing something “more” (that being a vague, undefined feeling). Around that time, I met my husband and it was love at first sight. So when he had to return to London to care for an ailing parent, I quit my job and went with him. In May 2011, a prominent law firm in San Diego (where I was based), offered to make a partner. So I shut down my second business and joined them. About a month after that, I was diagnosed with stage-zero endomentrial cancer (with complications) and was very sick. This caused the law firm I just joined to freak out, and within a couple of months of my diagnosis — while I was on leave recovering from surgery, in fact — they fired me. The combination of the loss of income (I’m the sole earner in my family) and medical bills bankrupted me.

Devastated, I borrowed money from my mother and moved to Saint Louis, Missouri, because I could no longer afford to live in San Diego. We bought a shell of a house for cash and lived like campers for about a year until we could afford to rehab it (with such luxuries as a kitchen, bathroom, and electricity). That was at the beginning of 2012. At that time, I was able to get some of my clients back from the firm that fired me. And despite the fact that I was still in poor health, I started my third business — my current law firm — with offices in both Saint Louis and San Diego to start. I had to grow it enough that I could afford to get health care again, which is something I was able to accomplish at the beginning of 2014.

Related: Strength is Harnessed Through Struggle 

How do you define success? I define success as freedom. I am successful when I have absolute freedom with; how I spend my time, including what projects and cases I work on; how I spend my money; where I go; and where I am in the world. I don’t see success as not working, but rather as having total control over work, so that everything I do is my choice and in my joy. I’m close to that now, and it’s amazing.

Biggest Success: I have had a lot of successes in case results, business growth, good hires, etc. I don’t have one that I can point to and say that it’s my biggest. My success over the last three years has been a slow slog — it’s like building a brick wall, each brick is a success and just as important as every other one. The first three years were hard fought successes in their own ways. But I’m very excited to see what 2015 will bring, including the challenges and successes.

Related: Read about another female entrepreneur who started her own law firm here. 

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it? Well, I started off with no money, no infrastructure, and not even basic utilities in my house. So I had to hustle and be creative so that I wouldn’t lose clients. I worked from the library and other random places a lot and couch-surfed with friends when I was in San Diego! I used technology to professionally run my firm while being cost-effective.

Who is your most important role model? I have never had a single role model. I’ve always been influenced by many different people who have contributed to the world in different ways, and who have different perspectives and wisdom to share. And sometimes my influencers change.

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Edited by The Story Exchange