Before 2020, I was on an entrepreneurial roll. I had started – then sold – a successful fitness studio, grown my health coaching practice to five figures in under a year, published a cookbook (my dream!), and founded a natural foods company. Additionally, I was in the early phases of launching another studio business, slated to open in the spring of 2020 (we all know how that story ends). I may have appeared to be overly ambitious, but I was addicted to the hustle. What wasn’t on my agenda: having children, despite being in my mid-thirties. My husband and I would have occasional conversations about kids, but we ultimately decided it wasn’t in the cards.
On top of the business building, my husband and I loved to travel. A couple of summers prior, we had spent almost three months backpacking around Europe. As a result of that experience, I got bit by the travel bug – hard. Subsequent trips landed us in Mexico, Costa Rica, Bali, and all over the United States. We had a planned trip to Peru to visit Machu Picchu in April of 2020 (which obviously didn’t happen). I loved being able to go off on a whim, whether that was flying to a foreign destination, or just going out to eat without worrying about a babysitter. Many of my friends had small children, and it didn’t sound so appealing. There were so many sacrifices, limitations, and logistics. Most days I could hardly keep my schedule straight. I couldn’t imagine having a tiny human dependent on me for every need.
There was also the relationship factor to consider. I had heard horror stories. No one really knows what goes on behind closed doors, but bringing kids into the mix can strain a marriage. Of course, there is the opposite side of the spectrum: when a bundle of joy simply brings more joy. Yet I was not sure I was ready to take that gamble. We were happy and fulfilled. I didn’t want to interfere with those feelings.
Then the pandemic hit, which impacted me in multiple ways. There was the stress, heaviness, and heartache on a macro level; what was happening on a global scale. Microcosmically speaking, building a business in that environment felt like pushing a boulder up a mountain wearing ankle weights. With the uncertainty, I started to shut down and burn out. Many people can categorize their stress response as either fight or flight. I am more like an ostrich who sticks her head in the sand until it is over.
With a professional shut-down, came a personal slow-down. I suddenly had more mental and energetic space than I had had in years. In that space, the societal noise got quieter and my intuition got louder. I did a lot of soul searching, gaining clarity on what truly mattered to me, and how I would like the rest of my life to unfold. I think this was the “silver lining” of COVID, and many people probably share my sentiments. Without a clear path forward professionally, I suddenly got bit by the baby bug – hard. But even when my husband and I took the pandemic as an opportunity to enter parenthood, the doubt and fear arose just as quickly as the questions. We would be over 36 years old when the baby arrived (if everything went according to plan) – what our society considers a “geriatric pregnancy.” And what would it mean for my career when the world returned to normal, whatever that meant? But with my son’s arrival in June 2021 came a simultaneous shift in priorities. It also changed the way I operated. As entrepreneurs, I believe we are all seeking a sense of fulfillment, freedom and peace. Ironically, I found that in motherhood. What I was resisting the most is what I needed the most. Here are the reasons why I am happy I changed my mind.
I focus on someone other than myself.
That may come off as conceited, so let me explain. For most of my early thirties, I had been taking a spiritual deep dive. Embracing mindfulness, manifestation, reading self-help, attempting to become a better version of myself. I spent much of my twenties feeling stuck – stuck in old habits, behaviors, and mental patterns that didn’t serve me. So my stint in self-exploration felt empowering. Then one morning I remember waking up feeling like I was overly-focused on myself, and I was ready to turn my attention toward something bigger. I firmly believe bringing a child into this world is one of life’s greatest teachers. It’s constant lessons about unconditional love, adaptability and resilience. I don’t feel as if I was going to learn those lessons – in the way that I wanted to learn them – by ticking the items off of my to-do list.
I have a new appreciation for daily joy.
For so much of my adult life, my sense of happiness and worth was attached to what I achieved. I believe this is what society teaches us, from the traditional school setting to the post-college climb up the corporate ladder. We are programmed to pick up the shiny pennies along a predictable path. I remember telling my therapist over a decade ago that my mood constantly felt like I was swimming underwater, just below the surface. If something significant occurred (like a business win or a new relationship), it would “pop” me up, and I would stay afloat for a while. Inevitably, I would resubmerge until the next dopamine spike. As for consistent contentment, that felt beyond my reach and not how I was hardwired. When I started to do a lot of work on myself in my thirties (adopting a gratitude practice, becoming more aware of my thoughts for example) I created a stronger sense of inner peace regardless of what went on externally, but I still had work to do. I now know that this is the difference between hedonistic and eudaimonic happiness. It wasn’t until my son was born that I embraced an appreciation for smaller moments of joy. With motherhood comes a lot of mundanity. Every day demands dishes to be washed, meals to be made, clothes to be laundered, errands to be run. It’s easy to operate on autopilot, stuck in the rut of my routine. But with every smile, snuggle, celebration of a new milestone, I am reminded of a deeper fulfillment. Being able to witness his wonder and curiosity for the world brings more meaning than any achievement or creative endeavor ever could.
I have rediscovered the art of rest and play.
Before becoming a mom, I took life and work too seriously. The need to be productive, push forward, and prove myself didn’t leave a lot of room for rest. I felt as if I always had to be pounding the pavement. Because I loved what I was doing, I frequently felt “in flow,” but with the passion came a lot of pressure. I was often anxious and very attached to outcomes, rarely allowing myself to simply enjoy the process. When you have a newborn, you’re forced to rest. Not only did I have to physically heal, but I was in survival mode during those early months, and my main agenda became connecting with, and caring for, this new baby. It was a daily unfolding that required being over doing. As my son got older, I rediscovered what it meant to play. Not only do I get to witness his childlike sense of wonder for the world around him, but with each exploratory experience, I am reminded what it feels like to be immersed in an activity. Life is filled with more laughter and fun, creating the perfect balance to business.
I feel more creative and expansive.
To piggyback off of the above, making room for rest and play makes me feel more creative and expansive. I don’t work well under pressure, but I always thought I needed to put it upon myself to propel me forward. The anxiety probably served a purpose at some point – working to prevent procrastination so that I was better prepared. This is appropriate when studying for an exam in college, but in entrepreneurship, it blocks my creativity. I feel more inspired with a better work-life balance.
I (ironically) have better time management.
When I became a mom, gone were the days of freedom, flexibility, and a nine to five work schedule. In the early days, I had to find much smaller pockets of productivity while my son napped. As his naps got less frequent, time blocking became even more necessary. I started to notice that these shorter work windows prevented multitasking and distraction. I am less likely to scroll social media or hang out in my inbox. More importantly, even though I have less time, I still get the job done. Personally, I not only tend to overestimate the amount of time it takes me to complete something, but I also use all the time allotted. It turns out I am not alone. This is Parkinson’s Law, which states that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” Whether we have two weeks or two days to complete a project, we think in terms of how much time do I have rather than how much time do I need. My time management has gotten more efficient in motherhood. I have less time, but I also know I need less time too.
I am more self-compassionate.
I can be my own worst critic and beat myself up when things don’t go according to plan. Becoming a mom means learning to let go of control. I have also learned to better pivot and problem solve. This reprogramming has positively impacted my business. Rather than overthinking or worrying what needs to happen, I am more prone to determine the next step and take action. When issues arise, or things don’t work out as I hoped, I am increasingly compassionate towards myself. Motherhood has given me the gift of grace.
As with anything, there are pros and cons. I am not going to sit here and say parenthood has been all sunshine and rainbows. When there is a last-minute doctor’s appointment that needs to be made, my toddler is throwing a tantrum in a public place, or childcare falls through, it can be challenging. But I breathe through those instances and recite the mantra this too shall pass. I remember these moments are ephemeral, time is fleeting, and there is so much more good counterbalancing the bad.
I will also admit there are days when I miss the version of me before becoming a mom. A time when I didn’t know exactly how life was going to unfold, and that felt uncertain and exciting. Those days when I had more independence and less mom guilt. When my ambition and drive weren’t overshadowed by dishes and diapers. But I don’t believe I could have sustained the way I was operating. I know I would have constantly been pushing the finish line forward. And every time I attained a goal, the way I felt afterward never matched my expectation. Becoming a mom has given me an anchor to something more meaningful. Life doesn’t have to be so black and white, all or nothing. Sometimes there are shades of gray and the best of both worlds. Not everyone would feel this way. With increasing rates of childless adults choosing not to have kids, there are so many women who will continue down a childless trajectory without regret, equally fulfilled by other pursuits. Perhaps without the pandemic triggering a change of heart, I would have been one of those women. I am glad I will never know.