How I Learned to “Have It All” as a Working Mom (Hint: I Ditched My 9-5)

How I Learned to “Have It All” as a Working Mom (Hint: I Ditched My 9-5)

3 min read
Palak Shah

Palak Shah (BiggerPockets Podcast episode guest #368) is the founder and owner of Open Spaces Capital and Open Spaces Women. An engineer by trade, after the birth of her two kids, Palak decided to make the move to entrepreneurship to be able to spend more time with her children.

She brought her knowledge and 17 years of experience in building systems, processes, and scaling from her corporate career in engineering leadership to fast track her real estate investing journey. In her first three years investing full-time, Palak purchased, renovated, rented, and refinanced properties creating an almost $5M rental portfolio and generating $1M in annual revenue. It is now her passion to empower other investors to pursue entrepreneurship through real estate investing to live an empowered and financially free life without taking undue risks or over-leveraging through her coaching program Open Spaces Women. Follow her on Instagram @openspaceswomen for tips and motivation for building and scaling your buy and hold portfolio.

Palak worked in engineering leadership in various industries. She was in the nuclear industry for six years until she joined a startup as a consultant to analyze big data to predict power plant failures. A few years later, she moved over to the management side in engineering at a startup for efficiency measures. She then spent six more years in the pharmaceutical industry, running a specifications department at a glass manufacturing factory.

After the birth of her two kids, Palak realized she needed to create a life of financial independence—one that allowed more time for her family while allowing her to still make an impact. She decided to make the move into entrepreneurship, co-founding and managing Open Spaces based in Philadelphia. Her focus is on renovating deteriorated properties in and around the city.

Palak manages the end-to-end lifecycle, starting from sourcing properties, completing renovations, and renting them out, along with financing and investor relationships. She takes pride in bringing people together to achieve the common goal of empowering a community through real estate development. She believes that profitable growth can be achieved, sustained, and even enhanced by embracing diversity in business partners and by engaging with local communities to foster development that is inclusive.

Open Spaces accomplishes this by providing high-quality rental homes and apartments, with great customer service, at prices that are affordable.

Palak is active on Instagram @openspaceswomen and is passionate about inspiring other professionals.

Palak was honored by Billy Penn in the “Who’s Next Real Estate and Housing” series of 2018, highlighting Philadelphia’s most dynamic real estate, housing, and development professionals under the age of 40. She was also featured in the BiggerPockets Podcast episode #368 and Real Estate InvestHER’s podcast episode #47.

Palak graduated with an MS in Mechanical Engineering from University of Illinois.

@openspaceswomen on Instagram

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This is the first post in the series “Real Estate Investing for Women.” This series is dedicated to providing inspiration for women, especially 9 to 5-ers, to move toward passive real estate investing—a considerably lower-risk investment than other strategies.

After my father passed away when I was very young, my mother—a teacher—dreamed to see me in a steady full-time job. I graduated with a master’s degree in engineering, built a 17-year career, and was recognized as an industry expert in my field. Climbing the corporate ladder was the gold standard. So, when I made it to a managerial position, she was thrilled! And I was, too—for having made her proud.

For us 9-to-5 folks, this dream—the gold standard—trains us to be risk-averse. It makes us comfortable in the cycle of steady paychecks, despite marginal yearly wage growth, mortgage payments, and retirement accounts. Saving for a few weeks of vacation, cars, or some other indulgence reinforces our feeling of security—even though it rarely satisfies our desires.

This tentativeness is generally even more pronounced in women, who are conditioned to keep their head down and be grateful for what they have. A risk-averse, 9-to-5 job further closes women off in a society that has already put them into a box.

This brings me to a very important issue that faces women today. We’ve all heard about the gender wage gap. Women earn only 79 cents on the dollar compared to men.

However, the more troubling and lesser-known statistic is that of the wealth gap. According to, women own only 32 cents on the dollar compared to men. [1] The caregiving burden is one of the key drivers of wealth inequality.

Related: Women Influence 91% of Home-Buying Purchases. So Why Aren’t More Investing?

Working Moms: This Is Why You Should Invest in Real Estate

Motherhood is what made me start my real estate investing journey. Here’s my story.

My husband and I decided to have kids in our late 30s. When I got pregnant, I thought I had it all. And then, when the baby came, everything changed!

My maternity leave was short, childcare was expensive and subpar, and my health was suffering because I had no time for myself. I pumped breastmilk during conference calls in a tiny office, using newspapers so nothing would be visible to the outside world (lest I offend a male coworker).

I felt like a lie had been sold to me for decades. I thought that I was doing the right thing by waiting to be in a good financial position, working hard to build a career, and then having kids once all the stars aligned. What I didn’t realize was that a thriving corporate career involves a lot of sacrifices that I was not willing to make. I wanted more…

I wanted to make an impact in the world but still be able to spend time with my kids—and not kill myself trying to do all of this.

The Moment I Decided to Take the Leap Into Real Estate

After much internal turmoil, I decided it was time to take control of my destiny! I took a big risk by quitting my job to pursue my passion in real estate. But I promised myself one thing: This time, it was going to be on my terms.

My goals were to achieve financial independence, to become my own boss, and to grow to reach my fullest potential. Real estate investing and entrepreneurship gave me the freedom to get out of the cycle—to make my own rules.

Have you heard a business owner complaining about the glass ceiling? No? That’s because there isn’t one!

Entrepreneurship is limited only by the entrepreneur’s vision and drive. Sure, society’s prejudices will still be there. You may need to navigate those challenges, but you’ll have more control in how you do so. In my real estate investing and entrepreneurial journey, I’ve found that integrity is respected, hard work pays off, and your good ideas, well, they’re benefiting the business owner—you.

Pensive young woman looking through the window

Related: 4 Differences Between the Way Women & Men Invest in Real Estate  

Foregoing Comfort & Tradition for Greater Benefits

So, why do smart people choose to make money for others by working for them? Because the liberty of entrepreneurship comes at a price. To get that liberty—setting your own goals, making your own decisions to benefit your own ideas—means giving up the ease provided by the low-risk cycle of traditional career paths.

Living passionately and giving something your all means getting out of your comfort zone—steady paychecks and all. For me, the biggest challenge was being OK with being different, because becoming an entrepreneur really gets you out of the box.

Physician and author Spencer Johnson asked, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

This question points to the core of what stops us—fear. I propose a different way to mitigate that fear: a combination of the liberty of entrepreneurship and the low-risk of passive income. Investing in passive real estate is a low-risk business strategy that lets you pivot from the traditional path and into the liberty of spending more time on family, hobbies, or whatever makes your soul sing.



Are you considering real estate in lieu of a traditional 9 to 5? What’s holding you back? How can I help? 

Let’s discuss in the comment section below.