The Dream: Wake up, workout before my two little girls wake up, and get them washed, dressed, fed, and out the door with enough time for me to grab a cup of coffee.
The Reality: Wrangling my daughters through breakfast, getting dressed, remembering their backpacks, and hunting for a missing stuffed monkey — set to the tune of my two-year-old’s deafening tantrum that ends only after I hand her off to the preschool teacher. Was I so tired I could’ve crawled in the backseat for a nap? Yes. Did I miss her like crazy? Also yes. And that much deserved coffee? Not a chance as I jetted to a nine-hour meeting marathon.
This scenario may sound familiar, especially among millennial woman. In 2016, we accounted for 82% of U.S. births. Add to that the fact that millennials are the largest generation of the U.S. labor force, and it’s no surprise that juggling motherhood and career has become a focal point of so many conversations.
I know it all too well. I gave birth to two daughters within two years while working as an executive at a thriving Bay Area tech start-up. Finding work-life balance was a never-ending swing of rocking it in one area, then flopping everywhere else. Just when I thought I had it all together, there was something that knocked me off my game — a work deadline, a case of hand-foot-and-mouth rampant at my daughter’s school, you name it.
Oddly enough, I found my balance in the most contradictory way: by starting my own company. In December 2018 I launched FitOn, an app-based fitness platform that offers high-end workout classes like cardio, strength training, HIIT, and yoga. It stemmed from the realization that I wasn’t prioritizing myself and began how many companies do — by trying to solve my own problem (no time to exercise). And through that journey of working myself to the ground, having the epiphany, and doing something about it came five seemingly simple habits that have helped me become a more successful colleague, wife, and mother.
Habit #1: Audit your personal and professional to-do lists
I spent the last 5 years in my career as an executive at FitBit. As the responsibilities grew, so did my family. I had two girls under the age of 4 and quickly got used to my new schedule: waking up by 7 AM, working on my laptop, attempting to squeeze in a workout (and usually failing), getting the kids ready for the day, attending meetings until 6 p.m., then spending an hour or two with the girls pre-bedtime before getting back online again. It makes me tired just typing that out.
What was missing was anytime for myself, not even 5 minutes. I was putting everyone else’s needs before my own, whether it was my kids, boss, colleagues, husband, or family. I know I’m not alone. The modern woman has to be a career-driven, educated, organized, family-oriented, and oh yeah, ideally physically fit too. Add children to the equation and it’s no wonder working mothers are more stressed by a whopping 40 percent. The world expects you to work like you don’t have kids and to parent like you don’t work, I recently heard someone say.
It’s not that I wasn’t trying. There were times when I almost had it all “together.” Then came a new work deadline, another runny nose, or an unexpected business trip. The distractions would continue with a few hundred emails, dozens of Slack messages, and several text messages from my mom. The walk, haircut, or gym class I had in mind? Forget it. That began to take a toll on me and I realized something’s gotta give, and for once it wouldn’t be me. That meant taking a hard look at my daily routine, minimizing the running around (hello, grocery delivery!), and reacquainting myself with, well, myself.
Habit #2: Do the things that spark joy
You might have heard Marie Kondo’s mantra of keeping only the things that spark joy. The same should be held for experiences. For me, fitness gives me that happiness and has always been a huge part of my life. My dad lives for tennis, my mom is a Pilates instructor, and I was a group fitness fanatic in my teens and early 20s. I’d spend hours — yes, hours! — at the gym with my friends. I also craved that social experience. We got together almost every night after work for a sweat session.
But then came a busy career, and when I had kids? Game over. The commute threw a wrench in my schedule, so I squeezed fitness in where I could: walking on conference calls or lifting grocery bags as makeshift weight-lifting. Considering how much I loved working out, I wasn’t doing very much of it.
It dawned on me that at-home fitness would be my solution, but I either got lost in YouTube, felt like I was watching content out of the 80s, or was bored following gifs of someone doing a pushup. My husband would laugh as I spent 20 minutes to find a 20-minute workout, but nothing had the high-end feel I craved or instructors who were motivating. That’s when it hit me: I could start my own online fitness platform, create workouts I wanted, make it look beautiful, and hopefully inspire other busy people like me.
With my new business, I can take dance, cardio, HIIT, or strength workouts in between meetings, while the kids were playing nearby, or in a hotel room during work trips. And we all know it — endorphins are no joke. Those 5, 10, maybe even 20 minutes of moving my body give me a boost no caffeine or cat nap could duplicate. It’s energy and stress relief in one. After that, meetings, family time, and even tantrums feel easier.
Habit #3: Admit you’re lonely — and do something about it
We don’t talk about it enough, but it needs to be said: Being a woman and mom today can be incredibly isolating. I can be knee-deep in work or surrounded by screaming kids running circles around me for the entire day yet sometimes still feel utterly alone.
No matter how many great interactions I have with coworkers, my kids, or even my husband, it doesn’t compare to the deep connections I have with “my people.” Looking back, my most effective self-care was working out with friends. What else combines therapy and fun into one? And you don’t even have to go to the gym. Taking a walk around the neighborhood is efficient, social, active, and free. They’re my sounding boards, cheerleaders, and distractors in those moments when I felt alone.
I take that same idea of connection when I’m not laced up for a workout, too. My friends and I make it a point to plan annual friend reunions. It’s dedicated time with those who know you best. The challenge is a point person to spearhead planning, so try being the social chair on the first one. Or plan a weekly or monthly wine or coffee date — leave the kids at home — and make sure to plan the next one after the last sip. I also love learning a new skill, like piano or a language, with friends. It’s a welcome dose of grade school nostalgia (carpooling included!) and the commitment, usually an hour or so per week, is fairly doable.
HABIT #4: Don’t make “work” a four-letter word
It sounds like a paradox, but work has been one of my most important tools to balance motherhood. It gives me a break from the tantrums and lost stuffed animals. And starting my own company has given me flexibility so I can be a ruthless prioritizer of my time. I minimize meetings, work from home often, and understand that I don’t have to respond to every email as soon as I get that ping. Work is important but so is making it to my daughter’s swim class.
Remember my fondness for learning something new? It’s exponential at a start-up. When I worked for larger companies, the growth eventually plateaued. With your own business, you’re touching everything, from fundraising and sales to accounting, business development, influencer marketing, and figuring out how to build an app in 5 months (true story).
And don’t forget about the perks. I use business trips as a way to catch up on me time, whether that’s hitting the gym, ordering room service, watching Game of Thrones, or sleeping peacefully without someone yelling for “Mommy!” in the morning. You may be working, but it can be rejuvenating if you look at things from the other side, preferably while wearing a robe and eating French fries in bed.
Habit #5: But it’s also OK to take a break
My 2017 breaking point led to a “temporary retirement,” when I was 35. My husband and I quit our jobs and traveled around New Zealand, Australia, the Caribbean, and Italy for 6 months. It was the right time for us — we were burnt out from the Bay Area rat race, we had enough savings, and most importantly, our kids hadn’t yet hit the terrible twos.
The idea was to unplug. The payoff was feeling more healthy, staying more present, and shifting mental energy previously dedicated to work on self-reflection instead. For the first time in years, I had time to think about what I was truly passionate about. It was fitness, it was building businesses, it was being a mom but showing my girls that I was a career woman, too. And it was during that temporary retirement that my company was born.
Don’t be afraid of that gap in your resume. It can lead to new ideas, spark conversations in a job interview, and remind you that there’s a world outside the office.
Together these habits make for the most important lesson I learned in my journey from start-up executive to temporarily retired to founder and CEO: self-care is not selfish. It’s downright mandatory. Your coworkers, kids, and partner won’t benefit from a tired, less engaged, less happy version of yourself. Put yourself back on the to-do list. Whether it’s taking that pottery course you’ve been daydreaming about, training for a marathon, learning how to code, or whatever may spark joy, nourishing that mind-body-connection will make you feel better, work better, and remind you why you’re doing this crazy dance we call work-life balance. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a workout class waiting for me in the living room.