Antonia writes; I was lucky enough to meet the very inspirations and forward-thinking, Blaire Palmer at a workshop for Raising Films. She whipped that room into a buzz of positivity and problem solving. She was kind and progressive and authentic (one of my all time favourite combinations). We connected and I came to realise she’s an amazing author, life coach (www.thepeoplething.com), she’s got tonnes of podcasts and she often is a guest speaker and consultant. PLUS she’s a Single Mum! She’s about to embark on a trip of a life time travelling some of the world with her daughter in their camper van (with two dogs!), all whilst continuing her inspiring work. She really is one of the kind; breaking the mould, the status quo and rocking all presumptions I had made about life and parenthood. I asked if she might write me a blog post to share how she started her business and what she’s learnt, plus how she manages it all with a child. Her blog post blew me away. It resonated so loudly with me, and her writing is so fluid and captivating. I know I will be quoting it for the rest of the year. Her blog discusses about NOT BEING ABLE TO HAVE IT ALL, how she’s come to believe this so fully and how she balances work and being a parent. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
I started my business when I had nothing to lose. I was 30 years old, single and childless, living in a one-bed flat in West London. And whilst I didn’t want to fail I also knew that it wasn’t a disaster if I had to move back home with my parents for a few months should the worst happen and my fledgling company went belly up. You can still get away with that when you’re 30. Just.
It didn’t happen, of course, and I was nearly 7 years in to running my thriving leadership coaching business when I decided to have a child. Still not having met the man of my dreams I selected a donor with an exceptional sperm count and the rest, as they say, is history.
I realised pretty soon, however, that having a child was going to be far more disruptive to my life than I ever could have imagined. It sounds naïve, doesn’t it, but I really did think that I could do it all and have it all. I could travel with my work and be responsive to clients any time of day or night whilst making my own baby mush and continuing to date. I even bought beautiful cotton nappies with the very clear intention of never using a disposable and adding to the terrible landfill situation (that lasted about a day).
It’s more than 10 years on now and I feel in a position to share some lessons I’ve learnt about being a mumpreneur, although I’m still on a steep learning curve, unpicking and rethinking all the time. The myths of motherhood are so powerful that it can take a long time to realise that you’ve subscribed to them despite the fact that they’re not working for you and never have.
You can’t have it all
The biggest myth and one I’ve realised most recently is that you can’t have it all. Or rather, to be clear, you can’t have it all if having it all means conventional success at work AND conventional success at home. It pains me to say this as a fully signed up feminist but this has nothing to do with being a woman. It’s humanly impossible. Men can’t do it either.
Our ideas about what professional success looks like were developed at a time when one partner (usually the husband) had the career and the rest of it was taken care of by the other partner (usually the wife). Even if the wife worked, as so many women have done throughout history, they would be expected to put family first. Success at work for the career-ladder focused partner meant job security, a bonus, a payrise, regular promotions and the badges of success – the car, the nice house, the fancy foreign holidays.
Alongside this came a whole lot of myths about what you had to do and what you had to be seen to do to succeed. It was about putting in long hours, going for promotions even if you didn’t particularly like the job on offer, pleasing the boss, going over and above, traveling as required and basically doing whatever it took. When people asked you how you were you were meant to say “Busy” and everyone was delighted for you.
Meanwhile the other partner fed the kids and did the laundry and helped with the homework and went to the PTA meeting and washed the cotton nappies. Success as a Mum was also defined at that time. Mums are places for safety and comfort. They are the primary child-carers. They are present in body and in spirit. They are stable emotionally and full of wisdom. And they’ve always got just the right snacks, tissues, plasters and those teeny-tiny screwdrivers in their handbag…just in case.
Whether anyone was ever able to achieve success in one of these two roles as defined so powerfully by our society I have no idea. But to achieve success in both simultaneously? Forget it.
Being a Mum and a business person is about choices. It’s about deciding what matters to YOU and what doesn’t. It’s up to us to come up with a definition of success that works for our own personal circumstance and aligns with our own personal values. If we stick with the definitions given to us by society we will constantly fail. And that’s no fun!
In other words, you CAN have it all if YOU decide what “all” you want to have. Then you let the rest of the nonsense go.
Clients often don’t like to know you have kids…but that’s too bad
I used to keep the fact that I had a daughter very much to myself. It wasn’t a secret exactly. I just didn’t think that clients would take me seriously if they knew the details. Because I bought in to the myths of success (see above) I had a work-self and a home-self.
But I found that very hard to sustain. In fact, it’s become harder the older my daughter gets. We now homeschool which means she’s in the house A LOT! And she really dislikes me travelling for work so I am very picky about what business travel I will do and what I won’t do. If I’ve promised to take her somewhere I won’t blow that off for a last minute business meeting.
Increasingly I’ve been honest about my situation. In fact, I’ve adapted my business so that it’s actually relevant. These days my clients are people looking to work in a way that really aligns with their values, that integrates with their life outside of work and where work doesn’t feel like such hard work. How can I have credibility to work with those individuals and hold them to this incredible ambition if I sacrifice my own whole-life integration?
You are going to enjoy your business much more (which has to be one of the true measures of success) if it integrates well with the other aspects of your life that matter to you. Clients who don’t like that need to jog on.
Get lots of help
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a lot of people help you in both your work and your mum role. A cleaning lady, a PA or Virtual Assistant, a nanny or au pair, a helpful neighbour, family and friends, one of those personal concierges…whatever you need.
There is no reason you have to do it all. Do the bits you love or care about. I like a clean house but I don’t like cleaning. I’d rather watch Party of Five re-runs on Netflix. I love my daughter but I also love my work so an au pair is really helpful to me (and provides a nice change of pace for her). I cannot book my own train tickets. I literally cannot. So I have a VA who does it for me. Same with my accounts. The cost is miniscule compared with the cost of all the mistakes I make whenever I attempt these tasks AND compared with my hourly rate when I work with clients. My job should be the stuff that brings in the business and then doing a really great job for clients. And when I’m trying to remember my Trainline login I’m not doing the thing I get paid to do. This applies just as much to your life at home. As a single homeschooling Mum my time with my daughter is precious. I don’t want to be sweeping the front hall. I want to be watching Horrible Histories with her.
Be willing to shapeshift your business, and your parenting, as needed.
My business has had different names. It’s had different specialisms. It’s had different marketing strategies. It’s had different business models.
My parenting is shapeshifting all the time. I worked 3 days a week and had two days at home with her. I went from never doing the school run to almost always doing the school run. I worked while she was at school and then hung out with her in the evenings. I took her out of school and hung out with her during the day and worked when she was asleep (which is a lot, luckily!). We’re just about to disrupt our lives again and take off in a campervan for a year of worldschooling, digital-nomading, #vanlife so it’s all change once more.
I used to consider all of this a sign of failure. I couldn’t stick at one thing. I was never satisfied. Why is my business always in such a state of flux and my life always in the middle of some major transition?
Now I embrace it. We are bug-fixing constantly. We’re noticing tensions – aspects of life that don’t work as well as they could – and we’re addressing those. We’re flowing from stage to stage as our needs and priorities change. It’s fine. It’s beautiful. Go with it.
But I don’t know what it is yet. One of the reasons we’re taking a year long road trip is to unpick even more of our attachments to conventional wisdom. Letting go of the ego around having a nice big house or a fancy car or working with high profile clients is relatively new. But it is liberating. None of it would have happened if I hadn’t chosen parenthood a decade ago. Allowing mum-ing to take me on an adventure and not fighting it hasn’t been easy. But the more I let go the more fun I have. And that feels like a step towards true success for me.
You can follow Blaire’s family travel adventures on her new blog https://abrilliantgambleblog.blogspot.co.uk/
Blaire will be running a number of classes and courses for people at a professional crossroads throughout 2018 and 2019 – sign up to her newsletter to get information about that as soon as she has it at www.thatpeoplething.com