When you picture a working mom, you might typically think of school drop-off, suits, a stuffy commute, a travel mug of coffee, computers, heels, a one-hour lunch break, and a rush at home to do homework before starting the whole thing all over again the next day.
Many moms have a routine like this one for their workday, and I laud them as a special kind of strong that I admire. However, for those moms like me who are seasoned professionals from home, we are still working moms; our environment just isn’t the traditional one.
I searched the word “professional” on an image sharing site I use for blogging, and it came back with some powerful images — none of them the same. There was a chef making pasta by hand. A woman photographer prepping for a picture. A man standing on a dirt road, and of course the man in a suit at a large corporation. What does this mix demonstrate?
Professional means being good at what you do. It’s not a particular kind of job.
My morning commute is going around the house picking up laundry from various hampers and dropping it in the washing machine before I check the day’s e-mails. My suit of choice is normally my pajamas, and it’s gotten so regular that my two year old will actually pick up my house shoes when he finds them and exclaim, “Office! Office!” before running them to my desk for me. I do drink exorbitant amounts of coffee, but not from a travel mug — I use a beautifully designed ceramic mug I picked specifically because it encourages me to have it on my desk.
I don’t wear heels and I don’t have to meet anyone else’s deadline for arrival or departure for my day. I do have to prove myself daily against an onslaught of voices ready to say I’m not real. Not a real mom because I work. Not a real professional because I’m at home. Not a real working woman because my job doesn’t fit some arbitrary definition of “work”.
Why? Because as humans, we like to put other humans into boxes, categories, and definitions of what we can know, understand, and accept. As a mompreneur (I love that term!) I don’t fit many boxes, but I designed my life that way.
Humans like to put other humans into boxes, categories, and definitions of what we can know, understand, and accept.
I didn’t want to leave my kids at school. My oldest son learns best in an environment that plays to his strengths as an individual. By homeschooling him, I can let him learn according to his learning style. That’s been a huge benefit to his education. I didn’t want to work a 9-5 job, but we needed the extra money that my working could provide.
When I started as an entrepreneur, that particular decision was made for me because we were newly married and close to broke. We didn’t have but one car and my husband used it to get to the job that paid our mortgage every month, so I had to make money the only way I could — on the computer.
We didn’t have but one car and my husband used it to get to the job that paid our mortgage every month, so I had to make money the only way I could — on the computer.
At the time, I was helping run our math company, but the income there had to be reinvested into the business for growth opportunities, so to make what you might call “cold” cash that I could spend on projects at home, I turned to freelancing. Turns out, my background in art and the foundation in marketing I learned from building our family startup were a good match. I was able to consistently deliver great user experience designs and marketing art for clients. From that income, we were able to pay cash for a second car, pay cash to fix our washing machine, and we even covered an emergency medical incident with our son with cash — all earned from my business, while I stayed home with, and homeschooled, our kids.
It took a lot of planning. It required saying no to some good options like play dates and certain field trips. It meant that I worked after dinner and had to get up a little earlier to get e-mails done before breakfast. There’s a reason it’s called making it work: because you have to work in order to make it.
There’s a reason it’s called making it work: because you have to work in order to make it.
I was very proud of myself, and my husband was proud of me. It was a very happy and accomplished feeling to run a successful business. I had finished my first book, I was getting booked to speak at conferences, our company’s profits were growing, and I had a nice little side income from graphic design.
It was motivating, until I tried to go to a homeschool meeting where other moms didn’t understand why I worked. Or when I tried to join a young business leaders group only to be told I couldn’t because I’m a woman. Or when I tried to join a working women’s group but wasn’t accepted there either because running a graphic design business from home wasn’t considered professional enough.
From that moment, I harnessed their rejection and used it as motivation to become the person I wanted to be — whether the groups I was “supposed” to fit in decided to accept me or not. I gave up trying to fit in and started writing my own rules for life. I decided what was most important to me, and I was determined to build a life, including the work I was passionate about, that made it possible.
I decided what was most important to me, and I was determined to build a life, including work I was passionate about, that made it possible.
Recently, I ordered a copy of Ivanka Trump’s Women Who Work. It’s sitting here on my desk. She’s beautiful, her outfit perfectly accented, and the book is still waiting on me to read it; but I do enjoy that the title says “Redefining the Rules for Success.” Who knows if I will agree with what she writes inside, but she has my attention.
Because as a woman who works, I am definitely redefining the rules for success. My rules are housed in being there daily for my kids, getting to drink coffee in my pajamas while I design slide decks, and holding a two year old in my lap during a conference call because when he is upset, he needs his mom, and this is my life. This is my success.
I chose the life of an entrepreneur because I love it. I am passionate about the work I do helping kids navigate high school math in a fun and dynamic way. For many students, we are the only place they discover math can be fun. We’ve had people tell us they pursued STEM-based majors in college because we showed them how exciting math was when they took our classes in high school! Do you know how addictive it is to know what you’re doing every day makes a difference to someone? I wasn’t going to turn my back on that experience, and I chose to do the work that was necessary to make the money match the passion. It was the same with the Leadership Book club, freelance design, article writing, and helping entrepreneurs use performance art techniques to enhance their brands.
I am in this industry because I wanted to build a life where I could make money doing work that lights my soul on fire. What surprised me was when I had to push the negative voices out of my head and actively choose to go forward. There wasn’t always a clear path, but as Michael Hyatt says, “You can’t fail if you don’t quit.”
So I didn’t quit.
I actually started signing my emails “Ever Onward, Only Forward,” just to remind myself and the people working with me that we were going places, often in spite of our doubts or fears.
These choices don’t mean that I am more of a professional than other kinds of working moms, but I’m not less of a professional, either.
Professionalism is about keeping your promises, meeting deadlines, and delivering value to your customers. It’s about integrity and character. You can be all of these things, no matter what kind of shoes you’re wearing. You can be all of these things while being a homeschool mom.
Just because some other mom doesn’t live the life you do, doesn’t mean she isn’t working just as hard.
Doing the work it takes to have the life you’ve imagined for yourself is the very definition of success in my book.
So whether you’re driving a commute tomorrow in heels, washing your scrubs right now because you’ll head to work after I’ve gone to bed, or you’re gearing up to go to work at the job you have for yourself, know that you have my respect. As a woman, as a mom, as a professional.
I’ll let you know what I think about Ivanka’s new book after I finish it; but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last decade, it’s that you have to build a successful life intentionally, and any woman who is doing that is definitely a woman who works.