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How Anna Lundberg of One Step Outside Tackles The Extreme Work Life Balance Of Being A Woman Business Leader During Covid-19

An Interview With Tyler Gallagher

We have an opportunity now to do things differently. Whether it’s reevaluating what really matters in your life and making a big career change, reviewing your spending habits, or just living life a little more slowly, we have the chance to take the best parts of this experience and carry them into whatever comes next.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Lundberg.

Anna Lundberg is the founder of One Step Outside, where she helps experienced professionals around the world design a career, a business and a lifestyle that brings them more freedom, flexibility and fulfilment — outside of the conventional 9 to 5. Ex-Oxford, ex-Procter & Gamble, today she combines her 10+ years of experience in global branding and digital marketing roles with her training in coaching and positive psychology techniques to help people reimagine the next phase of their career. She is the host of the Reimagining Success podcast and author of Leaving the Corporate 9 to 5: Stories from people who’ve done it (and how you can too!). And she is a mum of two.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Born to Swedish parents and growing up in the UK, I followed the expected path as the ‘good girl’ who did well at school, graduating top of my class as Valedictorian at an international school. I took a gap year to travel before studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Oxford, continuing to do another degree at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, and then accepting a job in brand management at leading multinational Procter & Gamble (P&G).

It always felt a little ‘accidental’ to end up in marketing in the private sector after my studies that had rather focused on international relations and developing countries. Having said that, P&G was the best school for branding and marketing, while also giving me experience of people management, training and facilitation, presenting to large audiences, negotiation, and coaching. I specialized in digital marketing and had the opportunity to work closely with senior leaders at Facebook, Google, and various creative agencies and media companies.

However, there was always a disconnect between what I was doing in this big corporation and what I felt that I *should* be doing. In 2013, I first took a sabbatical and travelled across South America; then, I handed in my resignation. Initially, I was providing digital marketing consulting to clients from well-known brands and big corporations right down to small start-ups and entrepreneurs. Along the way, while I was pursuing a lot of personal development and immersing myself in literature on different career paths and business opportunities, I trained and certified as a coach.

Today, I combine my business and marketing experience on the one hand with life coaching on the other to help experienced professionals and business owners redefine ‘success’, build effective personal brands, and achieve better work-life integration.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

Rather than one story, what comes to mind are the different encounters and conversations I’ve had with people who I never would have met had I continued on my linear corporate career path trajectory.

One of the first things I did when I quit my job in 2013, even before I incorporated my business in fact, was to start an interview series where I would speak to other people who had left their ‘9 to 5’ to understand their challenges and advice to people looking to do the same. This eventually became the basis for my book, a collection of 50 of those career transition stories. Without a doubt, these conversations with inspiring people around the world — whether as part of that interview series, which I am still doing, or in one of the many podcast recordings that I’ve done over the years — have been the absolute best part of my entrepreneurial journey to date.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Always working on exciting new projects! I’ve been supporting my clients both one to one and in my two group programs for some years now, and I’ve long felt that there was a gap to provide teaching and guidance at more of an entry level. I’m now planning an ‘on-demand’ course that clients can work through at their own pace. I’m hoping this will both provide standalone support to people who aren’t in a position to invest in a more comprehensive program and serve as a steppingstone for prospects to get to know my framework and my style before working more closely together.

I’m also working on my next book, a follow-up to my last one, Leaving the Corporate 9 to 5, as I now explore life Outside of the 9 to 5 and how you can build a profitable business that can sustain your desired lifestyle.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have to say my parents. They have been incredible over the last couple of years since I had my two little kids, always making themselves available whenever possible and being completely present and devoted grandparents. They are so supportive of my work and very understanding of the difficult phase we’re in right now with such young children.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

I really see myself as being fortunate to have got through the last year or so relatively unscathed and I count myself lucky that my family and I have stayed healthy throughout this time. Of course, it has been difficult not to see our loved ones as often as we would have liked, especially my sister and her family, who only just got to meet my son when he was already seven months old.

I had our second child back in November and, in a way, being pregnant and then having a newborn during the pandemic has been relatively well timed. Less pressure to attend lots of social occasions or endure the stress of traveling with a baby. At the same time, the unknowns around the impact of contracting COVID on the fetus, first of all, and then the anxiety around giving birth during lockdown was, as you can imagine, pretty stressful.

Because of the pandemic, we chose not to put our toddler into nursery and so the challenge then has been to have two kids under two at home with no childcare and very few outings or visits from friends and family.

Oh, and in the meantime, we joined the mass exodus from London and moved down to the south coast, which of course has added stress and a lot of renovation work into the mix.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

We were very careful about not taking unnecessary risks during my pregnancy. Other than that, we’ve tried to find joy in the little moments of spending quality time with each other and with the children, and made the most of nice walks in the park or playtime in the garden.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

For me, the challenges of COVID have coincided first with the challenges of maternity leave and then with my efforts to get back on top of everything since returning to work. I kept things ticking over while I was gone, having pre-recorded lots of content for my social media and my podcast, and having a freelancer who kept the scheduling and posting going in the meantime. However, it has been a slow and painful process of balancing my ambitions on the one hand with the reality of having very few hours in the day, and very little energy, to work on making those ambitions a reality.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

I have to keep telling myself that this is a temporary lull and that I need to be kind to myself. Now was never going to be my peak career moment. I’m in it for the long haul, and if I don’t get my book out, or my course ready, this year then I can still make it happen next year.

I once heard a version of the otherwise clichéd ‘juggling’ analogy, which stressed the importance of distinguishing between rubber balls — they’ll just bounce back if you drop them — and glass crystal balls — they’ll shatter into a thousand pieces. My social media following, my pipeline of clients, my business — those are all rubber balls that will come back, even if it takes time. My own health and that of my family, as well as my relationship with my children and with my partner, will shatter if I neglect them and so there is a clear prioritization there.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

I’ve been working from home ever since I started my business in 2014. Initially, I used that freedom to be location independent and to travel the world while working from my laptop; lately, I’ve been using that same freedom and flexibility to manage my business around my kids. I’m incredibly self-motivated and I love the work that I do and so that really helps to give me the energy I need to do what I need to do workwise — even when I haven’t slept in a year.

In fact, having that clear ‘why’ or sense of purpose, both in your work and in your family life, is so critical in enabling you to do what you need to do. It’s important to define what success looks like for you — and your definition right now is going to look different to my definition, and different to how you would have defined it pre-COVID.

More practically, you have to set boundaries. Boundaries can be physical — shut down your laptop, close the door to your study, and turn off the notifications on your phone — as well as mental, as you separate your working self from your home self.

And, finally, but perhaps most importantly, you must be kind and compassionate with yourself. Things aren’t going to go exactly as you want them to in work or in family life so take a deep breath, don’t take it personally when things go wrong, and recognize that you’re doing your best — and that’s enough.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

I’d love to say that I had some magical solution in the form of, say, meditation and mindfulness, but the truth is that real life is much messier than that. I think there are some tangible things you can do — again, setting clear boundaries, maybe having nights when you’re together and nights when you have some ‘me time’, for example. Most important for me is to be empathetic and understanding of what we are all going through, and trying to find the right balance of giving each other space while also being supportive.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

  1. Everything is a phase. I was given this advice when we had our first baby, and I’ve clung onto it ever since. However bleak, however hard things might seem now, at some point, this will all be over — we don’t know when, but there will come a time when things will be different.
  2. We’re all in it together. There was an incredible period early on in our first lockdown here in the UK, when the sound of clapping for the NHS could be heard every Thursday evening, when we had weekly Zoom quiz nights with friends and family around the world, and when everyone — even celebrities! — was in exactly the same situation, stuck at home and making (or watching) Tiktok videos. There was beauty in those moments of pulling together as a human race.
  3. What will be will be. In the words of Macbeth (or rather Shakespeare), “Come what come may, time and the hour runs through the roughest day.” Focus on what you can control and accept that there are some things that you can’t.
  4. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Resilience is built from overcoming challenges and responding to adversity and we are all going to emerge from this experience with a new sense of strength and a toughness that we maybe didn’t have before.
  5. We have an opportunity now to do things differently. Whether it’s reevaluating what really matters in your life and making a big career change, reviewing your spending habits, or just living life a little more slowly, we have the chance to take the best parts of this experience and carry them into whatever comes next.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

It has to start with empathy and with truly listening. It’s tempting to want to rush in and help, to offer advice and to feel like you’re making the other person ‘better’. Active, empathetic, listening requires you to be fully present, to give them the acknowledgement that they need and to seek to understand, without judgement, before responding respectfully and with sensitivity as you explore what kind of help they’re actually looking for.

It can be hard not to be doing something actively, but sometimes the best thing you can do is just be there and show them that you care.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The name of my business, One Step Outside, comes from the quote, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is one step outside your comfort zone.” There are three important parts to this quote. First, you’re encouraged to dream big, to fantasize, to imagine that everything you’ve ever wanted might just be possible after all; second, you have to get a little uncomfortable as you grow and take risks; and, third, it all starts with that one little step.

I took that one step out of my comfort zone when I quit my job back in 2013 and I’ve taken many such steps since then. And, yet, it’s easy to shrink back into a smaller comfort zone over time and I’ve definitely allowed that to happen during the pandemic. Someone close to me recently gave me a much-needed reminder that maybe it’s time for another step out of my comfort zone, and so that’s what I’m working on now.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow me on LinkedIn for the latest articles and podcast episodes: https://www.linkedin.com/in/annaselundberg/

You can also follow me on Instagram:

https://instagram.com/annaselundberg

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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