There, I said it. I have failed to ‘lean in’, ‘manage it all’, ‘balance work and life’ and ‘be present’. I have failed because I didn’t make it to the carnival to watch my children race, because I didn’t bake any sugar free treats, because I didn’t have time to organise playdates, because my children were always at after school care, because my daughter was struggling socially at school and it must have been because I was absent and always at work. I am a working mother and I have failed.
This was me at 37. Unhappy and uncertain, living a suffocatingly safe life trying desperately to meet the expectations of all those around me. I felt all of this pressure and failure at a time when I didn’t know who I was anymore. I felt crowded in a busy and seemingly ‘successful’ life and somehow I felt so lonely. I was very tired and it was just too hard. I started sharing my vulnerabilities and talked about these feelings with other mothers and soon realised most of them felt the same. Lost, pushed to our limits in this pursuit of perfection, stretched and unseen. I promised these mothers I would make a change in my life, and so with the support of my loving husband I took a leap of faith.
I remember the day when I decided to make this change. I got up before 5am to start my stressful corporate job in the city. I wanted to leave early so I could get to school in time to watch my daughters play basketball. You see, because of my job I was the absent mother. I was never at drop-off and pick-up and nobody knew me at school. Literally. I really wanted to change this and be more present, so I snuck out of the house in the dark and got on the train with my premixed smoothie. Afterall, it wouldn’t be a regular day if I didn’t feel down about the weight I had put on too, right? I got on the train and as I sat down I accidentally tipped the smoothie all over me and the seat. Berry, yoghurt mess everywhere! Drip, drip, dripping. OMFG I thought to myself!!! The mess was spreading rapidly, it was everywhere! “What should I do?” I yelled in a quiet, kind of crazy, whisper. Well, I did what any self-respecting woman would…I grabbed 2 pads out of my handbag and stuck them to my hands and started dabbing. I was dabbing my dress, the seat and the train floor. I pushed the absorbency of those pads to the brink! I got two more and two more and on it went resulting in a stellar clean up. I mean, this train had never been cleaner!
I got to work and took my dress off, rinsed it and thrust it under the hand dryer. My jam-packed diary didn’t allow any time to dash to the shops to get a new one. I smashed out another epic day. Meeting to meeting, I organised a cake for someone’s birthday, consoled a stressed-out colleague over lunch, ignored another passive aggressive comment from my boss and madly finished some work. I ran to the train, raced to school and got there as basketball finished. The kicker? My two daughters were playing basketball in their bloody black, heavy school shoes because I, mother of the year, forgot their sports shoes. I sat there at the basketball court, head in my hands and thought, this can not be it. This is not living.
I felt stressed out of my mind, deflated, guilty, perpetually tired and strung out trying to commute and manage it all. So, I manifested some serious courage and quit my ‘big job in the city’ because I literally could not work another uninspired day in a desolate cubical. I decided to create an opportunity that would give me the flexibility to be more available to my children and husband. Something inspiring I could be happy about and proud of…so I built the opportunity for myself and started my own small business.
As Director of my new small business, Intrepid Creative, I am passionate about helping businesses grow, establishing authentic relationships based on trust and honesty and living creatively. I am now building the flexibility I so desired in my previous corporate job. Now I can build my day around the swimming carnival at school, I can drop my kids off and chat to other mothers, I can make a nutritious meal from time to time. My life has changed in so many ways. I still work hard and enjoy my career but I am also more content, well rested and present and I can honestly say I am proud of who I am now becoming professionally and personally. I know I haven’t failed and that life can get better.
To workplaces out there I implore you to listen to the mothers working for you who are seeking flexibility. They will continue to work hard for you but this flexibility they seek, whether it be working part time, school hours or taking a longer lunch to volunteer at school, can be transforming. Granting this flexibility will have a ripple effect not only benefitting your business and culture but also those women, their families and their mental health. To the mothers out there wanting to take the entrepreneurial leap and create a business of their own I say, be brave, work hard and do it! Life is better on the other side.
By Jen Hutchings
Intrepid Creative is a boutique Gold Coast agency offering strategic brand, marketing and PR advice, specialist training and streamlined creative services to small business.