Four Life Lessons from a Career-Driven Mama

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I work full time and I’m a mom. I’m not special. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force. These women are superheroes, master jugglers, inspiring leaders and valued contributors.

As a mom, wife, employee, leader, friend, daughter and sister, I encounter the peaks and valleys of life like everyone else does. I have had the privilege of being a mother to my precious 4-year-old twin girls for only a brief time compared to having spent more than 20 years in the workforce. Currently, I work for a borderless global digital agency, where I lead the Minneapolis office of approximately 50 very talented individuals. As I reflect on these past few years of parenting and leading an office, I have learned some incredibly valuable lessons that apply to both of my jobs.

1. Nothing lasts forever. Everything is a phase.

In other words, BREATHE. You will get through this. When kids, life or work knocks you down, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But the reality is that hard things happen. Kids get sick or hurt. Clients throw curveballs or your best talent resigns. It could be any number of things. But I believe it’s through those challenging times that you learn the most. You find out who you are and what you’re made of. Remember, what counts is how you react in these situations. You are setting the example for your teams at work and your children at home. You are demonstrating to them how to show up when times get tough. When those bad things happen to you (because they will), focus your energy on taking things one day at a time, they will get better.

2. Balance is a fallacy. Boundaries are real.

Work/life balance is not a reality for me. I say that because I am always accessible. With my iPhone in hand, I never truly disconnect from work and no matter where I am, my family is always my first priority. That means I am mentally tied in and available to work and family most of the time.

With that in mind, boundaries are essential for me. In my experience, boundaries are only real if I respect them first and foremost. No one else is creating and enforcing them for me. It’s solely on me and if I stand firm and communicate well, others will respect the boundaries I have set. Before I had my girls, I spent a lot of time at the office and with clients. When they were born, I created boundaries for things like the number of evenings I would commit to work events, the hours I was in the office and how often I traveled.

Of course, the business world is ever changing and we can’t be too rigid. Sometimes a big pitch and an important client meeting happen during the same week in two different states and you can’t miss either. That means there are times we must make exceptions to the boundaries we set. But it has to be an exception, not the rule.

3. Never make assumptions about other people.

This isn’t news. There is even a saying…when you ‘assume’, you make an ‘ass’ of ‘u’ and ‘me’. But let me remind you…no matter how perfect someone else’s life seems, never assume that it’s really like that. Yes, I know there are superwomen all over the world, but no one has it all figured out. Our journey of life is messy and how you perceive people in your personal and professional life is just that – perception, which as we all know isn’t reality. So, do your best to approach everyone with empathy and kindness in your actions. And don’t be afraid to show vulnerability. I have found that these qualities can be positively disarming and it opens the door to making real connections with others. That’s what feeds my soul.

4. You are better than you think you are.

If you’re like me, you have big aspirations…a home-cooked meal on the table every night, an empty inbox, a good night’s sleep and time to hit the gym five days a week. Something’s got to give. But don’t beat yourself up about it. I can assure you that you are your own worst critic. Many believe their perceived “weaknesses” are glaring and obvious to the rest of the world. The reality is that they are not. Your “shortcomings” are magnified in your own mind. As a matter of fact, it’s more likely that your friends and colleagues recognize your strengths more than you do. We tend to take for granted those things that come easy to us so we don’t value them in ourselves as much as others value these qualities in us. Look at your kids, not only do they like you, they mimic and pretend to be you. (Admittedly, mine are four years old so they still think I’m cool. We’ll see if they feel that way in ten years.) Bottom line, don’t fixate on your weaknesses, go all in on your strengths. If you spend your time and energy on what you’re good at, you’ll be happier and so will those around you.

T.S. Eliot said, the journey, not the destination matters. From my perspective, that couldn’t be more true. With small children, I try to live in the moment every day to enjoy the precious time we have together. And as I encounter the ups and downs of balancing a career, I try to celebrate the good and lead through the challenging times. For me, being able to work at a place where I am valued and am surrounded by amazing people is a gift. Most of all, I appreciate the support I get to be a present mom. I could not do all of this and maintain my sanity without my amazing husband, family, friends and company all standing with me.

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