Can you have it all? I mean can you run a company and be a mom? I think the answer to that question depends on how you measure life and motherhood.
In a recent interview with PepsiCo’s CEO, Indra Nooya, Indra shared frustrations around being able to have it all. And by “all”, she was referring to leading a company, being a good wife and mother as well as daughter and daughter-in-law. In her short, but candid interview, Indra shared examples of not meeting motherly expectations set by others and having to find ways to cope or create work-arounds that made sense to their family. Each example furthered her point that, for women, it seems improbable to have it all. And that we should stop lying to ourselves by thinking that it’s possible.
Although this was a sound bite on a single day and mood or circumstances may have affected Indra’s answer, I disagree. I believe you can have it all. That may also be the optimist in me, however, I’ve been on both sides of this and with two boys, ages 15 and 9, I do believe it’s possible to lead a company, lead a team, lead at work and be a beautiful, strong mother. But, as suggested by Indra, it takes a little ingenuity and thoughtful planning.
There are several challenges when it comes to figuring this out.
Define your own metrics (Don’t compare yourself to others. Live guilt-free)
And, my focus here is in motherhood, because, let’s face it, there are already enough pressures and deadlines built in at work to keep me busy. If I don’t understand where I am headed in motherhood, then how will I know when I’ve arrived? So, how do you measure effectiveness as a mom? Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t use as my measuring stick… the number of “muffins for moms” events I attend. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are some nice opportunities here, and I used to be a teacher, so I understand this is a very nice gesture to bring parents into the classroom. The problem is with meetings and travel it has been impossible for me to attend these functions. And, if I were measuring myself by my attendance, I would certainly feel like a failure.
Instead, I ask myself these questions? Do my children feel loved? Do they know that I am proud of them? Do they know that I care and do they feel valued? Have I taught them to be kind, be considerate, to have integrity, to love others, to be tolerant, be humble, be generous, to be honest?
I read a parenting book a number of years ago when my children were small. A mom and her spouse created a long list of things they wanted their children to know how to do by the time they graduated high school, from making a salad, to doing laundry to budgeting to investing in the stock market. They broke the list down to 6-8 items per year and focused on one at a time. The author shared a story of how her friends came over and were a bit appalled that her 5 year-old son was making a pb&j on the floor. She was tickled that he was making it himself. As if that wasn’t enough, her 7 year-old had just moved the laundry from the washer to the dryer and her 14 year-old had just made money in the stock market. This is a long example of measuring the success of parenting based on your own standards, not those imposed by others. That starts a negative reaction and generally leads to comparing yourself to others, which is a very unhealthy way to go.
Set yourself up for success (You can be in charge)
I admit this is a lot easier said than done. Working for J&J for many years and climbing the corporate ladder there forced me to make decisions that in many cases put my work first. I think the culture of working in corporate America sometimes forces you to have to compete with one another. If numbers are down or the competitor is making greater strides, sometimes we feel we need to work harder and generally that means more hours just to stay ahead. Looking back I am sure there are many decisions I could have made, however, at the time, felt unable to do so.
Starting a business has not been an easy road, either. However, over time, I have been able to set the culture and determine what is most important for me and for those that work with us at Maestro. The happiness of our Maestronauts (a term for our team members coined by one of our developers) is incredibly imperative to me. I want them to know they have the freedom to be the same people at the work that they are outside these office walls. I want them to do what they need to do to help Maestro advance while also being free to do what they need to do to keep their families well and themselves happy.
I’ve worked to live out this respect for balance through the expectations I set, the vision I cast and the example I set. But to further solidify Maestro as an extension of our Maestronauts’ lives, instead of a secluded compartment, we established a set of core beliefs. These include principles like “Life is meant to be lived”, “If businesses had a love language, ours would be service”, and “Humility makes us all teachable.” To some, they may just be words, but to us they are foundational pieces of our culture.
Be present (Quality over quantity)
Taking a page from the younger generation regarding balance is important. For years, I worked to find the right work/life balance. I think switching hats is a thing of the past. When you are passionate about something you naturally going to live it. I wear all of them all the time. I am a mom while at work and vise versa. And, I think it’s a good thing. At work, my team gets all of me, including the skills that make me a good mom - caring, empathetic, nurturing, good listener - and vise versa. What I do try to do, however, is be present no matter which situation I am in. When out for dinner with my family or enjoying time together, I do my best to put my phone away. As a matter of fact, we use the phone stack method now where we all put our phones in a pile on the table during dinner and just let them ring or buzz without response, so all of us are present.
Take time for yourself (It's totally worth it)
I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but take the time to restore yourself. I love eating healthy, lifting weights, reading, cooking, taking naps, pedicures and massages. I’d love to love to mediate, too, but I haven’t figured that out yet. A little over a year ago, I was struggling to get workouts in and was suffering as a result. So, I hired an amazing trainer. The only challenge was that he worked the same hours that I worked, so to spend time with him meant that I would have to make seeing him a priority. What? Make making time for myself a priority? That seemed just wrong …until after doing it for several weeks, it felt so right. Trust me, the first few weeks of sneaking out of the office early on Monday afternoons, or arriving a bit late on Friday mornings so I could get my workouts in was so weird. After all, I started as an Avon lady at age 13, totally rocking the bunion crème for my elderly customers in the neighborhood and have not stopped moving since. It was a huge shift for me. However, what waited on the other side has been glorious. I have found a better Jen, better boss and a better mom through the process. Taking care of myself has allowed me to find more of myself and has led to greater happiness. The end.
The reality is that we are all going to parent or mother a bit differently based on life and the circumstances we find ourselves in. I think when we feel more intentional about everything we are doing we find greater purpose and therefore greater happiness. We are all wired differently. Let’s not judge ourselves against each other. We have to go with what works for each of us.
I recently flew out to meet my family who had started family vacation with friends and attended a few sports camps out West. Instead of flying back when our quick vacation was over, I chose to drive the 24 hours back with them. Although I worked most of the way back, I enjoyed laughing over dinner together, hiking our luggage up to our hotel in Iowa City and eating ice cream at Oberweis Dairy on our way through Chicago. As a matter of fact, when trying to make up my mind at the ice cream counter and deciding between mint chip and coffee flavored ice cream, the gal behind the counter said I could have a scoop of both. And so I did. And, I enjoyed each one.
I think it is possible to have it all, both leading a company (or finding success at work) and finding success as a mom at the same time. The thing is, “having it all” is different for all of us. What’s important is that each of us writes our own definition of success and pursues it with the passion, ingenuity, might, flexibility, responsibility and love that only a mother can give. I can tell you from experience that it’s worth it.