During Sarah Robb O’Hagan’s ascent running brands like Virgin, Nike, and Gatorade, she learned there’s no time like the present to push the limits of what you’re capable of.
“Life is too short to put your potential on hold,” says Sarah. “It is for sure a lot of work to balance parenting and career — and only you can set an agenda that meets your own level of energy.”
Her message arrived at the very moment I needed to hear it. The last few weeks have served up a heaping dose of FOMO mixed with a cocktail of close calls that quickly put things in perspective.
Sarah and the fellow “Extremers” she writes about in her book, Extreme You: Step Up. Stand Out. Kick Ass. Repeat, are living proof that you can aim high, stumble, and reinvent yourself–in many cases while embracing the messiness of parenthood.
“There are times in parenting when the sheer exhaustion of it means that being your best self is just totally indulging in time with your kids,” she says. “There are other times when you have the energy to set new goals for yourself and share with your kids what you are achieving in your life.”
In her book, Sarah recounts how Laura Wolf Stein elegantly described her drive surrounding career, family, fitness goals and other passions as “cylinders” that “often fire separately, not all at once.”
By doing so, Laura allowed herself to stay fully present during maternity leave, and later to not feel guilty if one night she missed her kids’ bedtimes because she’d “get to binge on them all weekend long.”
It Takes a Village
While interviewing with Gatorade, Sarah discovered she was pregnant with her third child. To her surprise, her soon-to-be boss, PepsiCo CEO Massimo D’Amore, welcomed the mother-to-be with open arms. She eventually went into early labor, just as she was putting the finishing touches on a rebrand that would kick up again during maternity leave. Sarah ultimately saved the brand from peril through a Jerry Maguire-like maneuver chronicled in Fast Company.
The parallels between parenting, leadership and endurance training are not lost on her.
“Parenting and families in general are a team sport,” says Sarah. “There is so much to be gained by surrounding yourself with others that can partner with you just as you support them. That’s the way to raise a great family.”
She shares the stories of Alli Webb, founder of Dry Bar, and national news correspondent Janet Shamlian, who kept their passions alive while staying home with their kids by taking incremental steps toward their goals. For Alli, it meant perfecting her craft by making house calls and taking a cue from her parents’ retail prowess. Janet started by watching and critiquing the news from her kitchen, then traveling to cover stories for days or weeks at a time, later enduring a cross-country commute, and finally landing her dream gig filming from her home base.
Whether or not your ambitions are career-related, Sarah believes every parent can tap into their potential–and in the process–inspire their kids to do the same.
“There are so many opportunities to take on responsibilities that stretch you and give you new skills,” she says. “Maybe it’s volunteering at an event at your child’s school. Maybe it’s picking up a musical instrument that you always wanted to play. Or maybe it’s getting the whole family involved in an activity you’ve never tried.”
“Just try something new. Along the way you might learn about some new aspects of yourself that you want to develop more.”
For Sarah, it meant finally venturing off on her own and building the Extreme You brand from scratch.
“My kids have really unleashed in me a desire to not be complacent, to keep learning and growing and to get out of my comfort zone — just like I ask of them!”
“I have come to learn that the most important thing I can be is a role model for my kids,” says Sarah. “I dealt with a lot of ‘mommy guilt’ when I first became a parent. Through the mentoring of other moms, I learned that the best thing you can give your kids is the example of you just loving what you do in your life and work.”
I know I’m not the only parent of young children who mentally puts their bucket list on hold while changing diapers and making chicken nuggets on rotation. So how do we move past guilt as one of the obstacles to living up to our potential, now?
“The way to get over mom guilt is by recognizing that the best parent is the parent who is thriving in their own life,” says Sarah.
“Guilt is a wasted emotion. Most people who are in their later years have more regret for what they did not do in their lives–to assuage their guilt–than the times they chose to pursue the things they cared about.”
I recently heard this same sentiment from Ric Elias, a passenger of the “Miracle on the Hudson” flight in the moments that he thought would be his last, and again from Alison Hadden who’s championing her “No Time to Waste Project” following an advanced breast cancer diagnosis at 38 years old.
“Most importantly — you only have one life,” says Sarah. “Allowing your kids to see you thriving and living to your potential is the best thing you can do for them.”