Thinking of Getting Pregnant? Don’t Leave Before You Leave

Today’s post is mostly written for the ladies. But, I think it’s helpful for men and women… so, if you are a male reader, stay on… share it with a lady you care for.

logoI just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. In the book she addresses the challenges that women have in the working world. (She’s the Facebook COO and gave a fantastic talk on the subject at TED.) She addresses the idea that women can limit themselves in terms of their careers. It’s addressed to women in a more corporate setting. But I do think there are a lot of applicable lessons for women business owners also. Let’s change the things we can control about ourselves in the working world.

One mistake that Sheryl addresses and that I see women in our industry do all the time is ‘leaving before they leave’… meaning that women leave their jobs before they have to leave. Sheryl has noted that women stop short on career goals with the idea that they will someday have children. She sees women who have come in fresh out of college to a challenging position with a lot of opportunity and not reached for the next level of opportunity because they may someday have children. They wonder how the children will fit into that load of responsibility and they leave (they mentally check out.)

I agree that I see this too. I will confess that I did this with my own career when I was younger. While still in college I already started thinking about how I would fit a baby into my accounting career eventually. I guess I like to plan. But, this is limiting. I subconsciously (and consciously)  limited myself with the what-ifs and when-ifs. SO SILLY when I think back to it! (And – I like to believe that I self-corrected in the last few years.)

In our industry, I see women who stop selling themselves and their services when they decide to start a family. Starting a family is the most important thing you will likely do in your life. No doubt there. But – there are so many variables at play. Sure – it could happen in a quick 9 months if you are lucky. (It happened to me that way with my #1.) Or – it could take 3 years. (It happened like that for me with #2. And – I had a miscarriage in between.) There are so many things that happen in this family plan that are not in anyone’s control… don’t leave before you have to leave. And – then – when it’s time to finally take that leave – make the best decision for your family… take a solid maternity leave, and decide how your work will change and what you want to change about it.

You have a LONG lead time to think and plan for this sort of thing. YES – I know – you may get booked for a wedding 18 months out. And – if you get pregnant next month – then what? Well – then you adjust. (This is why it’s good to have a solid contract, a back-up plan, damage control, and colleagues that can jump in.) BUT – do NOT stop selling yourself and your business until that time comes. Keep reaching for those opportunities!

What do you think? Have you found yourself in this situation? Share in a comment below.

Here’s is Sheryl’s TED talk… which I LOVE… so many great nuggets in here on this topic on a broader scale:

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The Guilt that Comes with Work-Life Balance

In the first year after my daughter Lili was born, I went thru an identity crisis of sorts. I wanted so hard to retain a sense of self, yet everything had changed. Along with this battle came the real test of work-life balance. Oh sure – I had struggled with balance before having a child. But, when you throw one more factor into the equation (a child, a big move, a career shift, a death, a divorce, etc.) then work-life balance is really tested.

There was a common pattern of feeling like a failure in my life:

Me at my outside-the-home office: excited to be at work and out of the house, but also feeling really bad about not being with my kid

Me at home with kid: happy to have time to share with her, but also feeling really stressed about the 10 design revisions I had to email and the 5 orders that needed to go out in the same week

No matter where I was or, what I was doing, I felt like I was doing a BAD job. I felt like I wasn’t giving my all to my child. I felt like I wasn’t giving my all to my business.

It sucks to feel like you are underperforming in all areas of your life.

Have you experienced this?

This is work-life balance GUILT.
We feel guilty that we’re working. We feel guilty that we aren’t working.
We feel guilty that we are ‘having fun’ (taking care of child is not always fun… but, you get the point. ) We feel guilty that we aren’t taking advantage of the time to have fun with our children (or our significant other, or pets, or parents, or you-name-it.)

How do you get past this?

There are some things that I’ve learned and some things that I do to make this better. This doesn’t mean that I’m still not challenged with this. (I felt it this morning as I watched my 1 year-old on ‘internet TV’ at school.) But, I definitely don’t feel as much guilt as I used to or that I’m underperforming in all areas of my life. This is VERY freeing to me.

How I get past feeling guilty about work-life balance…

  • Remind myself: “I’m fortunate to have this flexibility. Not all working parents get to have the time that I get to have with my kids.” And the experiences that my kids are having with other kids is one that I want for them too. On the flipside, I work hard and deserve to have time for myself and my family.
  • Remind myself: “There will always be things left undone. There will always be items on my to-do list. There will always be more moments I could have had with my family.” Focus on the DONE, not the UNDONE.
  • Focus on being present. When I’m at work, I work. When I’m with my family, I’m with my family. I sometimes have to trick myself into focusing. (Like: locking my laptop in a drawer on the weekends.)
  • Know: Taking care of myself is JOB #1. I’ve learned that if I give myself one hour in the mornings for myself then I am able to focus better on my work. If I give myself 30 minutes at the end of my work day to wrap up loose ends and clean off my desk, then I’m able to focus better on my family. If I get enough sleep, food, and exercise, I’m a better business owner AND a better parent. I am the machine that runs everything and if the machine isn’t cared for, everything else suffers.

Tell me… how do you get past this feeling of guilt? Share with us in a comment below.

No “Mom” Excuses

We’ve been talking about what it’s like to be a parent and run a business over these last 2 weeks.  Today will be the last post (for now) in this mompreneur series.  I’m sure the rest of you non-parents want to get back to business!  LITERALLY.

I have one very basic rule by which I live the balancing of kid(s) and a business.  It is…

Image: Creative Commons

Don’t blame your kids.

What does this mean?  It means don’t use your kids as an excuse for not getting your work done – ESPECIALLY with clients.  These excuses may sound like this:

I’m so sorry for being late, Jonny threw up all over my purse.

I have to flake again.  I can’t find a sitter.

I won’t be able to meet the deadline because Maddy isn’t napping well and I couldn’t get it done in time.

The reality of the situation…

The reality is that every insane thing is going to happen when you are juggling your own business and children.  There are days that you will have to jump through hoops of fire to get it all done.  Children will be sick. Children will not nap.  Babysitters will flake or quit or get into an accident.  All of these things will make it incredibly challenging (and at times, impossible) for you to get your job done.  But, don’t blame your kids.

There are 2 reasons you shouldn’t blame your kids…

1) It’s not fair to your kids.

It may be the best excuse, the actual excuse, for not getting your work done.  But, it’s unfair to your children to blame them.  You will begin to resent them.  You will begin to see them as the barrier between you and a super-successful business.  And, it’s not their fault.  They didn’t set out to make your day impossible.  They’re just doing what they do: be kids.

2) It sounds like a weak excuse.

All parents know that this is not a weak excuse… kid sh*t happens.  But as a business woman, you need to remember business is business and personal is personal.  If you rely on your kids as an excuse you begin to sound like the grade schooler who tells his teacher “The dog ate my homework.”  It might be true, but it doesn’t come from a position of strength.  It sounds disorganized and irresponsible.

What do you say instead?

Be honest, but don’t blame your children.

I’m so sorry for being late.  I didn’t calculate how much time it would take me to get here.

I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend the networking event as planned.  I have other obligations.

I won’t be able to meet the deadline because didn’t schedule appropriately.  I want to make it up by doing this…

You see how all of the above ‘excuses’ are so much more professional?  You are taking responsibility for your business.

Exceptions…

You can talk amongst colleague-friends about the trials and tribulations of being a parent.  There is very little judgment here.  If a good wedding industry friend is having childcare issues, I’m going to relate with her.  She can share this with me.  But, I’m not going to open up all of my personal family-balance challenges with a potential client or a colleague whom I don’t know very well.  It isn’t professional.

Taking responsibility…

As a mom, you’ll get good at damage control when it comes to balancing your kids and your business.  You’ll be good at finding that replacement sitter in seconds flat.  You’ll become good at wiping up vomit before it ruins your client’s fabric swatches.

You’ll also see that you are responsible for this damage control.  (That’s your job – for better or worse – as a mompreneur.)  And, you’ll take responsibility for all of it.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what forces try to block us from doing our work.  Business is business.

Over time, I came to learn that only I was responsible for my business actions (not my child; not an employee).  I wouldn’t dream of blaming my kid for ‘getting in the way’ of my business.  Not only because it’s unfair to them – but also because it’s MY JOB to make sure that I can put out the mompreneur fire drills that happen daily.

What do you think about this?  How often do you use your kids as an excuse?  Is it fair to them?  To yourself?

How Becoming A Mom Made Me a Better Businessperson

Last week, I discussed some things that I would have done differently as a new mom(preneur).  Many of you expressed having had similar experiences as a new parent.  And, some of you yet-to-be-mom(preneurs) expressed “YIKES!  I’m scared!  Better rethink my plan!”  I hope I didn’t scare too many of the yet-to-be mom(preneurs) out there.  There are many ways I became a much better business owner when I became a mother.

I became much more efficient.

Before having Lili, I had allllllll sorts of time… Time to work ALL the time!  I think if I actually spent all that time working, it would be a different story.  But, often when we work all the time, we aren’t really working.  We are often wasting time.  The incredible thing is when you are forced to smush your week into 10 hours or 20 hours or 30 hours (and eventually 40 hours) it’s incredible how efficient you become.  There is no time for nonsense.

I became much more intuitive. 

Along with efficiency came intuition.  When I became a mom, I didn’t have time to deliberate on every single decision.  I got really good at trusting my gut and going with my instinct.  I no longer question every single little tweak to my business.  This intuition has saved my sanity and given me piece of mind.

I established better work-life boundaries.

I became better at setting boundaries between my personal life and my work life.  This didn’t happen overnight, tho.  I had to evolve into this after being a parent for a couple years.  Initially, I was all over the place – without boundaries – and not taking enough care of myself.  After a while, I became better at turning off the computer before dinnertime and LEAVING it off.  I became better at closing the office door and not going back in.  I became more confident in telling “no” to the client when the request just wasn’t realistically feasible or good for business (or my sanity).  I became better at prioritizing.

One more thing…

Some people will say that you become better at multi-tasking as a new parent.  I think multi-tasking is not effective.  As a new mom I thought I was good at this.  I would even brag about it.  But, the truth is, when you’re doing 10 things at once, you aren’t really doing any of them well.  What I came to see on the days I was attempting to work while simultaneously take care of my child, I wasn’t giving either the attention they deserved.  It was hard, frustrating, and exhausting for everyone involved.

How about you?  What are some traits, characteristics, or work habits that you picked up when you become a mom?

What I Learned As A New Mompreneur, Part 2

This week, I’m sharing my thoughts on being a new mompreneur… this is for all the women entrepreneurs out there who are new moms (or will be new moms some day).  There are some things I would go back and do differently in those early days where I was learning how to manage my business and my role as a mother.  (Revisit yesterday’s post for the first 3.)

Don't get poop on the wedding invites!

What I Wish I Could Do Over (continued)…

4 – Accepted more help from people willing to offer

People often said, “Let me know if I can help!”  I never really had anything to ask them for.  And, there’s a part of me that didn’t want to impose.  (So silly!)  But, in hindsight, I should have had a list of things ready.  Those things include:

  • I hate cooking.  We’d love a meal.
  • I need sleep.  Can you hold Lili for an hour while I nap?
  • I forgot something at the office.  Do you mind running over there and grabbing it for me?
  • I need clean onesies.  Can you do a load of laundry for me?
  • I need a drink.  Bring over a bottle of wine, STAT!!

But, I rarely took people up on their help.  We do this as business owners.  We rarely ask for help because we are used to doing everything ourselves.  You’ll never have another time in your life where people honestly want to help you.  Take them up on it!

5 – Slept when baby slept instead of work when baby slept (at least in the beginning)

Like I mentioned yesterday, I would have given myself an actual maternity leave instead of jumping right back into work in my business.  Along with this, I would have slept when baby slept.  This is especially important in the first couple months when baby is waking at all hours of the night.  Those daytime naps are critical.  But, because I was back at my computer so soon after giving birth, I would work when Lili napped. And, with being woken up so often at night, I wasn’t getting any sleep at all.  And, if you aren’t taking care of the machine (that’s you) it will break down.

Working when baby naps will be an important part of your work/mompreneur strategy as the baby gets older – LATER.  (I’d say at around 3 months, the sleep routine becomes a little more predictable for some babies.)  But, give yourself the time to rest when baby rests in those early months.

6 – Had a better childcare plan than “We’ll see what happens!”

I think as small business-owners we think that we can take care of a child and simultaneously run a business.  (It’s the reason that many of us start businesses.  We want control of our day and work.)  But, at some point we have to choose – will I work 40 hours/week or spend that time with my kids?  It’s near impossible to work and take care of a small child’s needs.  Something’s gotta give.  And, you find yourself in a situation where you need childcare help.  SURPRISE! SURPRISE!

Oh – my husband and I had all sorts of ridiculous plans for Lili’s childcare… most of which actually (surprisingly) worked to the detriment of our sanity.  At the time he was working with a lot of European companies and we were living in Seattle.  His work day often began at 5am to make up for the time zone difference.  My work day typically got busy in the afternoon (when my staff would come in) and evening (when I’d have client meetings).  So our shifts were as such:

5am-12pm    I’m in charge of Lili / Andy works
12pm-2pm    Lili naps / we both work
2pm-8pm    Andy is in charge of Lili  / I work

We were 2 ships passing in the night.  And, we were tired… EXHAUSTICATION-NATION!

That was the general schedule with all sorts of adjustments made for scheduled phonecalls and meetings swapped.  I’m blessed to have a very supportive husband. (Believe me, I give thanks every day for his equal partnership in child rearing.)  Somehow, miraculously, neither of us ever missed a meeting or had a phone appointment with a screaming baby in the background.

And, we could technically work with her in the room… sorta technically… OK – not really…

You see… When your child is an infant, they have needs… feeding, pooping, sleeping… basic needs… but they happen very often.  While they are newborn there is no ability to put them down for more than a few minutes because they will soon (within 30 minutes) let you know they need something from you.  So, your work is being constantly interrupted.  It’s hard to get focused when this little person is asking something important of you every few minutes.

“Bring your daughter to work” day didn’t work so well for our family.  I found that I wasn’t really working, nor was I really attending to her needs.  I was failing at BOTH.

It’s not easier when they grow… Older kids need attention too.  And, even the most independent child (like mine) gets bored and will come to you and start pounding on your keyboard.  It’s funny to think that prior to having kids, I thought I could just teach my kid otherwise.  (“My kid will be different!”) HA!  The kid will always have the last laugh on this.

I hope you don’t think that I’m complaining about my situation.  I know how fortunate I am to have had this opportunity to work AND be with my child.  BUT… I would have had a better childcare plan.

After your maternity leave, I would recommend having 1 day a week where you have someone (a family member or sitter) help you with the baby.  Let this be your day of complete focus on work only.  You’ll find that you are incredibly efficient when you have this time to focus.  (AGAIN – this should only begin after a PROPER maternity leave! ;)  And, then explore other childcare options.

How about you?

I’d love to hear your experience?  Were you better about this?  How did you manage all this?  What do you wish you had done better in your early days as mom-preneur?