Founding and running your own company can be difficult and challenging. As a mom, it can be even harder. In my 23 years as CEO and 16 years as Mom (13 of them as a single mom to two girls), I have evolved my thinking on how to manage these two roles. Here are a few guiding principles that are grounded in optimism, acceptance, ingenuity and planning.
Stop Feeling Guilty
Working mothers may or may not be able to completely put their guilt to bed. So it’s important to step back and remember why we do what we do. Ultimately, I ease the guilt by giving myself permission to make mistakes. Running a business and being a mom means making sacrifices on both sides. You will not be perfect. The dinner you rushed home to cook may not taste good. You may get to the game late. You might not win the big deal you missed your son’s recital for. You cannot do everything. You need to let go. I implore you to move on from the crippling guilt that can come from being a working mom. The guilt will not help you be successful in either case.
Plan Your Family
I postponed having children until I had a strong leadership team in place. I also waited until my business had enough critical mass to sustain my taking a three-month maternity leave. Starting a business is a 24/7 commitment. It should be your obsession. This may not be what you want to read, but family planning will let you give your new venture AND your future child(ren) the time and attention they deserve. Keep in mind, I started my company when there were far fewer women in business, at the top of any business, or in the technology industry. Having a child while being a CEO elicited many comments, I can assure you, however none of them ever bothered me because I believed in myself and I had a solid plan.
Make Like Gumby
The ability to be flexible is something that I have developed over time. I am not afraid to say that I like to be in control of things. The best leaders must also know when to give up control. I spend a good 20-30 minutes every day re-juggling priorities. The ability to quickly shift gears and accommodate the unexpected is key to survival. Almost anything can be changed. It’s ok to compromise. It’s ok to say no. I am in the eye of the hurricane. I am calm. I live in chaos. I move with it. I find the rhythm in it. I put some order to it. I don’t fight it. It’s all about one’s attitude, being ok with change, and rolling with it.
Have a Little Ingenuity
If everything is important, nothing is important. My philosophy is that everything and everyone, including me, have the time and space to be a priority. At 6:30 a.m. it’s getting the kids to school, at 7:30 a.m. it’s me going for a quick run, at 9 a.m., it’s my company. There are times when work or family must take a back seat to the other.
When I discovered that my daughter had a major health issue, I moved meetings to other days to find the right specialists over several weeks. I still had the meetings, I found the right specialists and it all got done. I take the red eye flight home to make the annual mother/daughter soccer game. I can’t make it to every game, but I’m there when it counts. I have meetings in 15-minute increments. I try not to do dinner meetings. I pumped breast milk in the men’s room because there was an outlet. I have changes of clothes in the office for multiple occasions.
Keep a Healthy Mind and Body
I don’t have days to myself. But I do carve out time for myself. No surprise; I plan it. It doesn’t matter if it’s an early morning run during the week, a late night mindless TV show, five minutes of meditation, walking the dog or getting a massage. Sometimes just washing my hands in warm water and soap is all I need to get it together. I avoid the news or social media at night so I can escape from information. Getting a minimum six hours of sleep is critical.
Live in the Moment
There’s nothing worse than thinking about work when you are with your family and worrying about your family when you are at work.
I compartmentalize and visualize the problems occurring in both worlds. They all exist in file drawers. I pull out the file folder when I need to, open it and deal with it. Then I visualize putting it back in the file cabinet and shutting the drawer.
I reapply make-up. I remember having a devastating conversation with a former colleague and immediately afterwards, meeting a client at a comedy club. Going from one emotional extreme to the other seemed unlikely, but as the CEO, I needed to pull myself together. In the cab, I reapplied my smeared make-up and took some deep breaths to temporarily let go of what had just happened. I carry extra make-up. When I reapply it, it forces me to stop crying.
I am an eternal optimist and believe in the power of positive thinking. I am very clear on what success looks like in every challenge I face. I truly believe that what a person puts out there manifests itself in the universe. There is no room for negativity in my world. I believe anything is possible. I make mountains move. Period.
Running a company and being a parent is not easy. It requires resilience and grace under pressure. It means you need to constantly show strength, even when you are not feeling particularly strong. When I stopped trying to be perfect and control everything, it got easier. I am a better CEO because I’m a mom, and I’m a better mom because I’m a CEO. At the end of the day, you have to make it work for you and only then can it ultimately work for everyone else.