Having a baby was what made me realize I was doing business all wrong.
Because I was scared, I’d been creating a life around my business instead of creating my business around my life.
I was scared that if I let up on the gas everything would fall apart, that I would start to fail, and that all the things I had worked so hard for would slip through my fingers like water cupped in my hands.
At the time, I’d spent the previous four years creating and growing a marketing agency. I’d already had three kids, but I’d never actually taken maternity leave.
I was working from home, which meant working late nights, early mornings, and during nap times, and that is how the business grew. I knew the business was keeping us afloat every month—my husband’s income was not making ends meet.
I was determined to grow the business. I was overworked, but I wore it like a badge of honor. I knew that I’d be able to take a break eventually, once I got my business to a certain point. I felt accomplished and ahead of the game—until I went into preterm labor with my fourth baby.
My water broke and everything spiraled out of control—fast. Nurses ran in and out of my hospital room, saying that the baby would be in the hospital for at least a month, but probably until the due date. They told me I may not even get to see the baby after the birth, depending on the baby’s condition.
Being stubborn like I am though, I thought, These people are crazy! I will be taking this baby home in two days, just like the others.
Oh, was I terribly wrong.
A sweet little girl came into the world in the middle of the night and was placed on my chest just long enough to snap a picture before she was whisked away to the NICU with my husband because she needed help breathing.
I was alone, distraught, and still in total denial of what was happening.
When I finally got to see her, there were so many cords all over her, and all I could do was hold her hand in the little NICU bed.
Six hours after she was born, I was back in my hospital room on a client call, running my business, because that was what I had to do. My husband was barely bringing home a thousand dollars a month, and I had bills to pay and babies to feed. I was not going to let my life fall apart. I was in denial. I thought I had to give everything I had to my business, that I didn’t need a break. I had this!
A month later, we brought our sweet girl home from the hospital, took a breath, and then COVID came and the world shut down. My husband lost his job, and I was in full-blown survival mode. It was time to sink or swim. If there had been an opportunity for me to take a break, that was once again put on hold.
But then, I finally broke.
In the middle of listening to a webinar, I started to ugly cry and knew that things had to change, and change fast. I was missing the little moments of my newborn, while also working myself to exhaustion.
Maybe this scenario seems too familiar to you. Maybe you needed to step away for a new baby, health issues, to take care of family, or you just wanted a vacation. But working until your eyes bleed was preached from the rooftops, so you felt like you had to do it all.
Creating a business that works FOR YOU, instead of you working for it, has to be baked into your business strategy. Just like a marathon, there are times that you run hard and times that you slow down to conserve energy.
The research is actually in favor of you taking a break, too. Daydreaming and letting your mind wander boosts creativity and productivity and helps with decision making.
Fast forward to my fifth baby, who also graced us a bit early. But this time I was ready.
I created the space to take the break I needed. I did this with intention, creating an actionable plan and setting up boundaries with my business, clients, and family. I worked ahead where I could, and I delegated tasks to keep everything running while I was away.
I took myself out of the “performing” piece of my business and finally stepped into the “conductor” role.
Just like an orchestra, every quiz response, sales call, and email had a “tune” to play to pull off the symphony.
As the conductor of my business (AKA CEO), I started with an actionable plan that:
- kept the revenue-generating pieces of the business running
- communicated with current clients and made arrangements based on both of our needs
- planned for what could be done ahead of time and what needed to be hired out
- scheduled time off in my calendar (to block appointments being set)
Most business owners are good at planning and dreaming about what we want, but creating the space for it doesn’t always happen. We suffer from a lack of boundaries, either from wanting to please people (like our clients and family) or not knowing when to say no.
“No” is a powerful word, and we only feel its power when we say it. If only we realized that when we continually say “yes,” we are quietly saying “no” to other things—things that are usually more important.
Once I developed my plan, the next most important step was to make sure all my clients and family knew the details. I wrote an email ahead of time and left it as a draft that my husband could send the minute we knew the baby was coming. Because having a baby is not as cut-and-dried as planning time off for a vacation, it meant that some work and personal things had to be rescheduled. At thirty weeks pregnant, I started giving everyone we met with a heads up. I did this early because of our pre-term baby, but also because it gave everyone enough time to get used to the idea of me being away, and that meetings would either be paused or conducted with a member of my team.
On the family side, we decided that we did not want family in town when we were in the hospital or when we returned home, because we didn’t want to entertain. Our good friend who lives on our street watched our little ones while my husband and I were at the hospital. We didn’t have to worry about the logistics of family being there, and the awkward entertaining that happens when you bring a baby home.
The delegating puzzle piece was the most difficult for me. My work was a multi-step process of creating workflow systems, working ahead on things that I wasn’t ready or able to delegate, and entrusting my assistant with putting together instructions and videos to decrease the amount of questions that would come in. Once I properly delegated the tasks that I needed to, people could do what was needed without me having to look over their shoulder to make sure it was done right. Mainly, I delegated sales calls and client requests. It was overwhelming at times to train people to do the things that made the business work, things I’d kept in my head for five years. But most often, training people helped make things clearer for myself, too.
I remember my assistant’s first sales call. I asked him if he was ready. He said he was, and he came out of it with flying colors, giving me the ability to step away from that role even after returning to work.
This process of stepping away allowed me to see what stepping into the CEO role really looked like. By taking a step back, I was able to see the business—the processes, products, and its future—from a different angle. This insight enabled me to make higher-level decisions and to create a permanent executive role for myself.
Our job as owners, founders, CEOs, and visionaries is to create the vision and build the road to get there. It is not our job to do “all the things,” trying to make it work all on our own. Besides, other people actually want to come along for the ride.
I realized that because I was holding on to my business so tightly, I wasn’t letting it grow, like keeping a plant in too small of a pot. When I finally let go and gave my business space to grow, people from a variety of places and with different experiences came to work with us.
Ironically, I regained my freedom after giving away control. Control that, out of fear, I thought I needed to have to be successful, to be secure.
You only have this moment, this first, this child just like this for right now, and you didn’t start a business to be trapped by it.
The pandemic made many of us realize just how fragile life is and rethink how we handle life and what we put our energy into. You don’t have to live life on the edge of exhaustion every day, but you do have to plan breaks to make them happen.
Life is precious, moments don’t last forever, and we need to enjoy them to the fullest NOW instead of trying to create space for the “eventual” break.