Mama Shaker: Shannon, Choosing to Be Present Instead of Perfect

Former competitive gymnast Shannon Stearn is learning how to calm her inner critic and be mindful as she and her two sons grow—while coaching others to do the same.

“For the past 40 years I’ve always talked to myself pretty negatively,” she says. “I’ve been a really hard critic. I’m very much a perfectionist, which made me really successful as an athlete; but, as a person, especially as a mom, there’s a lot to criticize.”

As a gymnast, Shannon was under extreme pressure to maintain a certain weight and constantly felt like she wasn’t good enough. The self-criticism followed her through school and even into a lighthearted form of athleticism as an acrobat in the circus.

“I didn’t want to just perform and have fun,” she recalls. “I wanted to be the best.”

“I’ve always been a really introspective person and I have had a lot of things I’ve had to work through with my own issues from parenting and the way I grew up,” she says.

When Shannon started her family, and all these memories came flooding back in the reflection of her boys, her perspective began to shift.

“I never will be the best mother or wife,” she realized. “So how do I be okay with where I am? Not just okay, but how do I thrive?”

“It just made me think there has to be a different way, especially for moms—we have so much else to take care of, how do we also take care of ourselves in a way that isn’t completely punitive?” she thought.

As founder of Savage Wellness, Shannon empowers her clients to grow stronger, both physically and mentally—no matter what their inner critics say—by helping “make it something where we get to feel proud every step of the way, and focus on every small choice that we’re making because it’s so hard to even make the small choices.”

With her two boys, Shannon now finds it liberating to release the urge to control every outcome.

“Initially it was kind of hard for me to let go of that control,” she says. “What’s kind of fun is watching how they teach me about myself now and give me these little challenges that help me grow as a person.”

Shannon is witnessing her 7-year-old “becoming his own person; he has his own thoughts and ideas, and wants and needs.” So she’s “transitioning into parent now that listens to my child and what he wants, and helps him make a decision versus just telling him what I think is the right thing to do.”

Plus, there’s an emerging dynamic when the two brothers (4 and 7 years old) are together that Shannon says requires a new parenting style for “this third child centered our lives.”

Since her older son’s disposition is so similar to hers, Shannon is working through some of the challenges she faced in childhood, while encouraging his growing independence.

“As he’s becoming more autonomous, and I have to let go, it’s really kind of freeing for me to to learn to trust him,” she says, acknowledging that it’s not easy. “I’m really focused on creating that trusting relationship and letting him feel confident as a person and not just somebody who’s being bossed around.”

Mindfulness is something that Shannon practices with her son when he’s feeling upset or being hard on himself. Together they take deep breaths and do meditation.

“My hope is that he can grow up feeling a lot more peace within himself.”

“I see this little mirror of myself,” she says. “I’m parenting myself through all these challenges that I struggled with and didn’t really come to an understanding of that I needed until I was 35.”

“Here’s my chance to really be able to nurture those things and those frustrations I’ve had with myself,” she says.

Mama Shaker: Whitnee, Fueling Parents at Work

Helping mothers thrive in the workplace is literally what gets Whitnee Hawthorne out of bed in the morning. She’s honed the art of a 4:45 a.m. wake-up call, so she can dedicate two hours before her son wakes up to The Savvy Working Mom, her coaching business and brand new podcast—all before she heads to the office.

“What inspired me was seeing this gap in support for this population that I am now part of, that I believe is ultimately the game-changing population for our country and for the world,” she says about creating a platform to help working mothers, alongside her full-time role as a technology director at JetBlue.

“Society is not set up to support us in the right way, and that kind of pulled back the curtain on the challenges,” she says. “I get a lot of head nods. I hear a lot of support and I get a lot of thank you’s for bringing this conversation forward.”

Whitnee and I share a passion for celebrating inspirational and entrepreneurial mamas despite us both being fixtures in a corporate setting. From her perspective, therein lies the opportunity.

“I know that there are a lot of groups out there supporting working moms as entrepreneurs,” she says. “But I also feel very strongly that we need to keep women in corporate. I really believe working moms are the backbone of society, and if we get supported better, our society is going to improve and our corporations are going to do better.”

Whitnee believes that taking a holistic approach to supporting caregivers in the workplace goes a long way.

“There’s a focus on providing tools to help people multitask better, and manage their time in the office, but there’s not an understanding that when you show up to the office, you show up as a full person,” she says. “And I think there’s a big gap in addressing what does someone need across the day, across the week, across their life, so that they can show up with their A-game at work.”

How This Mama Makes it Work

“Eating right and working out helps me to have the energy level that I have,” says the former personal trainer and gym owner, who incorporates yoga into her morning routine since she has another baby on the way.

While it may sound like Whitnee has endless energy, it’s passion that fuels all her pursuits and a personal definition of success. It’s a framework that she follows for her clients too.

“A huge part of that is getting to a place where you know yourself, where you accept what you want, and you believe that you deserve what you want,” she says. “And making decisions that are right for you and your family; not making your decisions based on what somebody else, some outside force—your neighbors, Instagram, your colleague, your boss—think is right for you.”

“When you have that clarity of what it is that you want and what success looks like for you, then you can align your actions to it and it makes life much more joyful.”

Now, those early morning hours, that many of the women I speak with swear by, start to make sense as a critical foundation for a happy and fulfilling work day.

“I get a lot of pleasure out of helping others, so success for me also looks like, ‘who have I helped today, whose life have I made better and have I contributed outside of myself to make the world better?’ Whitnee says. “And when I feel like I’m doing that, then I feel like I’m being successful.”

Mama Maker: Chandler, Being Open to the Unexpected

Chandler Lettin believes that moms deserve much more than a one-size-fits all approach to motherhood. As the co-founder of a line of nursing-friendly bras, she’s a refreshing oxymoron.

“I have a strong stance on ‘fed is best’ because some people aren’t able to do it and that doesn’t mean that they’re failing,” she says about the pressure on moms to breastfeed.

“I can tell you this firsthand,” Chandler says. “My world was crashing,” is how she describes what her own struggle to breastfeed felt like in the moment.

“I didn’t know why I couldn’t do it, but it was just not in the cards for me.”

By creating a design to “ditch the clips,” AVYN can work for any active woman since “there’s nothing aesthetically that screams ‘this is a nursing bra’” she says.

“The journey in motherhood is something that you just are never going to be prepared for,” the mother of two girls 13-months-apart says. It’s why her approach for herself and her company is to “just go with the flow.”

“I’m really big on just saying no to the mom guilt,” she says. “It’s too much and the pressure today is unreal. You can’t be great at everything.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

Chandler and her business partner, Lauren Woodworth, have enjoyed getting to know other women in a similar path.

“All this is very new and we have pretty steep learning curve,” she says. “We are definitely still learning and we’re very transparent about that.”

Unlike hyper-competitive business environments where egos clash, they’re reaping the benefits of a more honest, open approach to the growth of AVYN.

“The best part about doing this is the more you let your guard down and ask the questions, people are amazing and so willing to help and offer advice,” she says. “Women are really supportive of each other and that has been my favorite part about it.”

“I like learning a new way and hearing what all these amazing people are doing and what worked for them,” she says. “Even in different industries, you still find similarities and processes to make things more efficient, and cheaper and better.”

Chandler finds comfort in connecting with other entrepreneurs locally and online, in all sorts of businesses.

“It’s really great to have a support system of other people who might not necessarily be in in your same place, but who understand your battles.”

She’s learned that know one really knows that they’re doing when they first start out. With the plethora of information available, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by opinions and options.

“Finding your support system is the best piece of advice I can offer because if you have people to back you and understand your decisions and let you be who you are and not pass judgment, then it’s a better experience,” she says.

“At the end of the day,” Chandler faces the unknowns of motherhood and entrepreneurship by “trusting my gut and making the best decision with what I have available in a moment and going from there.”

Mama Shaker: Natalie, Helping Generations of Mothers Finally Heal

Decades of dancing carried Natalie Garay through university and all the way into her seventh month of pregnancy with twin girls, before it came to an abrupt end when she was placed on bedrest and immobilized by a C-section.

“My body completely atrophied,” she says. “I could barely stand up straight. After the surgery the doctor is like, ‘okay, get up on your feet and start moving around as soon as you can.’ I could barely get my body out of bed.”

Fortunately, Natalie rediscovered movement through a friend that taught Pilates and soon realized it was something she wanted to teach to other women. Eventually, she started helping moms through post-baby rehabilitation as part of her services as The Pilates Mama.

“Nobody talks about how to rehabilitate after having children,” she says, describing the all-too familiar scenario of being sent home in excruciating pain with a newborn (or two) to take care of on little-to-no sleep.

“For a woman to have a C-section and not be prescribed physical therapy seems absolutely ridiculous to me,” says Natalie. “It’s a major abdominal surgery, and if someone was having a shoulder surgery or knee surgery they would get prescribed physical therapy right away.”

“I knew none of this when I had my girls,” says Natalie. “Back then, I probably could have advocated for myself more but we’re kind of conditioned to just go along with what the doctors say.”

That’s especially the case with Natalie’s clients in their 50s, 60s and 70s that have endured a lifetime of shame and fear associated with accidents that happen while sneezing or jumping, and are afraid to veer too far from a restroom.

“We have generations before us that put everybody else first and we are just starting to learn that we have to take care of ourselves more so, and first, before we can take care of others,” she says.

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Women Helping Women

Natalie’s noticing a generational shift in how mothers are making time to take care of ourselves and address the issues that previously lingered for decades after giving birth.

“Moms of our generation are going ‘okay I get it, I can’t do anything and everything falls apart if mom’s sick or mom’s not feeling good,” she says. “The world falls apart when mom’s not available. Nothing’s working if I’m not working.”

As a single mother, Natalie knows this firsthand. She counts on the women she’s surrounded by to help her through the ebbs and flows of motherhood–especially now that her three girls are in their teenage years.

“This is a time where you really need the village, and you really need the team and I had to call in the aunties and the village to help me navigate all of this because it’s really, really hard.”

She also carves out time in the morning to set her intentions for the day. This includes writing her “morning pages,” a practice that’s helpful for capturing all the thoughts percolating in our minds, as described in the book, The Artist’s Way.

It helps to have a little humor too. Over the holidays, Natalie’s “Calm the F*ck Down” theramist went viral after a friend posted it on Instagram.

Before reaching our boiling point, Natalie encourages moms to get educated about the options available for things like ab separation and pelvic floor rehabilitation, and advocate for ourselves.

“We can’t be as present and we can’t mother, or run our businesses, or be the community members that we want to be, when we have this constant nagging pain or lack of energy,” she says.

Mama Maker: Joanne, Keeping Mothers Active in Pregnancy, Postpartum and Beyond

When Joanne Shepherd emerged from a “mum and bubs” mental health unit for postpartum anxiety and depression, returning to an exercise routine was critical to her recovery. As she started running again and struggled to nurse her newborn in a sports bra, she figured there had to be a better option.

“Mums deserve so much more,” she remembers feeling at the time. “We give so much to our kids, and here I am in the backseat of the car trying to change, just so I can feed my baby.”

After looking around for nursing-friendly fitness attire, Joanne was disappointed by what she found. So she set out to create something more “glamorous” for women like herself who really needed postpartum exercise to thrive.

“If I can provide that little bit of something, so that mums can access exercise postnatally to be able to help them cope and survive things, that’s what I want to do,” she recalls.

The mom of three started MummActiv without any design or business experience, but that certainly didn’t limit her creativity and innovation. In fact, she’s been the recipient of fashion industry awards in Australia.

“Everything that you can wear during your pregnancy, you can wear postpartum,” she says. “I still wear the leggings now, every single day, even though I’m like 20 months postpartum, because I designed it so that you can fold down your belly band. So they’ve got some nice extra coverage as well as support through that abdominal region.”

Joanne designs all MummActiv clothing and swimwear to be worn for years to come. Many of her customers have already owned her pieces through multiple pregnancies.

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How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

While building her business, Joanne takes care of her two toddlers and an older son, while continuing to teach primary school two days a week. She juggles it all while her husband works overseas for four weeks at a time.

“Once I put the kids down, I’m so shattered and exhausted but that’s my only opportunity to get real, chunky stuff done,” she says.

Joanne has also made time to get her personal training certificate so she can post online workouts for moms to do with their babies. When fires ravaged homes and wildlife in Australia a few weeks ago, she quickly set up a fundraising effort so proceeds of all sales could go towards providing relief.

“I like to be able to share my story so that mums can realize you can get there,” she says. “You can teach yourself how to do everything that I’ve done in my business.”

As a self-made entrepreneur, she’s learned by reading blogs, listening to podcasts and other online resources “to get myself to where I am right now.”

“I think that’s really important as well because a lot of mums find themselves, postnatally all of a sudden in this void,” she says, faced with the challenge of wanting to care for their children while making a living.

“But there are things that you can do,” she says. “You need a truckload of determination. You need a bucket full of resilience.”

It also helps to have the activewear to keep up with you.

“Anything is possible,” Joanne says.

Mama Shaker: Nicole, Guiding the Way to a Sweet Family Life

Nicole Seawell was a high-achieving attorney when her first baby plotted his own course by arriving three weeks early. Now with three teenage boys, she’s learned how to navigate the unique personalities within her family, channel her peak productivity, and ultimately guide others to do the same.

“My professional life kind of went topsy turvy,” she says about her jolting start to motherhood. “I didn’t value the supporting role enough. Once I did, I realized I’m actually excellent at supporting others to get done what they want to, and that has taken me from a good attorney to a great one.”

Nicole found her sweet spot when she “worked one leg in the business world and one leg in the legal world,” because she liked the fast pace of business.

“Where I found my special power was being able to be in both worlds,” she says.

“I was born under a productive star,” says Nicole, adding that she’s been told by Tibetan monks and Guatemalan ancient women that “I have a way of tuning into my ancestors’ wisdom and youth energy.”

“I’m able to see the path forward in any situation.”

Today, that means weaving together her work as an attorney with her husband’s law firm and her coaching business, Sailor’s Sweet Life, which is named after her golden retriever.

“I can’t have a more supportive partner in my legal work than the father of my children and my co-creator in life,” she says.

The ability to tap into prime opportunities for creativity and productivity has also helped Nicole’s coaching clients. In fact, she’s learned it’s not about dramatic, sweeping changes.

“Really what they’re looking for is helpful tweaks,” she says. “Inherently they are them, and they want to stay that way, but they want to be a more productive, more enjoyable version of themselves.”

It Takes a Village

At the root of Nicole’s mission to help families maximize joy and decrease stress are tools like Enneagram to learn about the unique personalities that can form our families and support systems.

“Ninety percent of the time you have good intention by people,” she says. Instead, “it’s miscommunication; people speak to one another like they’re speaking to themselves” that causes tension and stress within a family.

“There’s no better way than honoring each other by speaking to that person or acting with that person the way they want to be treated,” she says.

For Nicole, learning about her sons’ different personality types has been a game-changer.

She recalls feeling frustrated, thinking at the time, “I don’t understand, I’m doing the same thing” as a parent, until she realized, “they’re three different people.”

“It was like a light shone upon our family and so much stress disappeared,” she says.

As a fellow fast-talker, I found my conversation with Nicole energizing. But with her boys she’s learned to change her cadence and count in her head to give her son 20 seconds to respond.

“So much with teenagers is letting them talk when they want to,” she says.

Even so, Nicole believes that every stage of parenting comes with its own challenges. She believes the “enjoy every minute, it goes so fast” reminder commonly dished out to parents of young children is “cruel advice.”

“It is magical, but it’s absolutely exhausting,” she recalls.

And if you don’t love every stage of parenting, Nicole doesn’t believe that mom guilt is necessary either.

“Spare yourself all of that and be your own champion by arming yourself with tools that help you get through it,” she says.

“Along that whole spectrum, if you know you and if you’re doing this with someone else and you know them, this can be so much more of an enjoyable journey.”

As an achiever married to a perfectionist, Nicole and her husband took the time to learn about each other’s personalities and communication styles.

“We conscientiously–when they were real little–figured out how we work well together and how to honor that,” she says. “I can see when I trigger him and he can see when he triggers me, and then as your kids grow you can pull them into the fold.”

She also believes this insight can be applied to other caregivers and extended members of the family.

“Our mentors, our people who teach us, are all over the place in our lives, so being open to that is really important,” she says.

How this Mompreneur Makes it Work

Self-care as a goal can feel intimidating until you know yourself and “what feeds your soul,” says Nicole.

“I love being in nature and that’s one of my coaching principles to reset the heart and reset the mind, but also to open us up to creativity,” she says.

Nicole takes a “brisk walk” early each morning and in the evening with Sailor, no matter what the weather brings in her home of Colorado.

“Unbelievable solutions come and brainstorming that you didn’t think was possible,” she says about recommending afternoon walks to her clients.

She incorporates the “science of timing” in her practice and to plan out her day, based on the book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink.

“On the whole, the way that the world operates and the way that the majority of humans do is that you have an uptick of analytical activities first thing in the day,” she describes.

“There’s a slump that we all kind of recognize around lunchtime.”

According to statistics, more mistakes are made in mid-day surgery, and “judges are more cantankerous, less likely to be compassionate in the afternoon,” says Nicole.

“Afternoon is good for creative, restorative activity, quiet work, collaborative work,” she says.

As a parent who experiences the daily “witching hour” with my boys, I wasn’t surprised to learn that around 4:00 or 5:00 p.m., we all get an energy uptick.

Fortunately for Nicole, she has plenty of it to go around, which she channels into “nourishing” her teenagers after school and at dinner time.

While the path through each stage of motherhood looks a little different, Nicole believes that there’s wisdom to be gained along the journey.

“This is an amazing set of skills and experiences that you’re having,” she says about parenting young children.

“It won’t be forever but put that framing on the whole ride–that you’re an amazing supporter–and you’ll have so many wonderful opportunities.”

Mama Shaker: Sarah, Unleashing Extreme You

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.

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“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!”

Oxygen Masks

“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.”

 

 

Mama Shaker: Linh, on Working Motherhood and Start-ups

Newly minted CMO Linh Ho has been through numerous acquisitions in her career. However, it’s the skills that she acquired while becoming a working mom that have helped prepare her for this new chapter.

“It is all hands on deck every day in a start-up,” she says.

Linh cites “directness” as a skill she learned from having kids–and from her kids–which she finds to be equally useful on a start-up timeline and budget.

“They’ll tell it like it is, there’s no sugar coating, no filter,” she says. “At the same time, as a mom you have to be direct and assertive with your children when it comes to their safety or establishing a routine. In the start-up world it’s like that too.”

It’s also the source of a New York Times best-selling book, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and podcast.

Linh says this kind of unfiltered exchange leads to mutual growth. For example, she recently spent time with her data science team which is “full of ideas” and has a “ton of energy.”

“They’re doing super cool things, so I’m learning from them as well–and equally as a mom, I’m learning from my kids. They’re so raw and I find start-up environments are raw too.”

How She Makes it Work

“In a start-up you’re on the clock,” says Linh. “And the investors are watching.”

This isn’t so different from Linh’s daily routine. Most days, she’s responsible for getting the kids up and out the door in the mornings, even if it’s after a 5 a.m. conference call or two.

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Her husband picks up the kids and makes dinner, and then does a handoff back to Linh for bath and bedtime–except when one of them is traveling.

“Evenings are packed and by 9 p.m. I’m exhausted,” she says, noting that some nights she has to turn her laptop back on if there’s a deadline. She typically gets 4-6 hours sleep.

Her weekend mornings are her “yoga time” or kickboxing.

“It’s my hour or hour and a half on both days, and I don’t give that up very easily,” she says. “My husband can attest to that.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

Linh supports the female entrepreneur community, both as a founder herself, and a mentor to other women through platforms such as the Female Founders Alliance, started in Seattle by Leslie Feinzaig.

“Leslie is basically trying to help other female founders get a leg up where traditionally it’s been a little bit harder for women to get in on funding from the venture capital world,” she says.

Linh extends this coaching and support to her personal life too.

“I would always tell my friends, ‘dream big,’ and I take that from my late father,” she says.

“He came over here as an immigrant with nothing; he was a dreamer and he just went after it. He just gave it a shot no matter what happens.”

Linh’s fearlessness and determination was evident throughout the six years she and I worked together, while both starting our families.

“There’s no limits when it comes to dreaming,” says Linh, about recently encouraging a friend to stop longing for her dream vacation to Portugal, but instead buy a property there. They’d do the research and visualize what it would be like.

“And then if you really want it, then work backwards from it and try.”

Once again, Linh’s outlook is dually relevant to entrepreneurship and parenting.

“You’ve got to give it a shot,” she says. “You’ve got to try and see what happens. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, you learn so much from trying and it helps make you stronger.”

Turning a New Leaf After Mat Leave

As I anticipate my return to work amidst Fall’s cooler mornings and cozy evenings, it feels like the closing of one chapter and starting of another–despite how taxing and complex the handoff may be.

I always feel a wave of nostalgia this time of year, especially since three years ago I became a mother for the first time–experiencing Matrescence firsthand–and one year ago when I learned I’d go through it for a second time.

Reflecting back on the baby and toddler milestones that whizzed past us over the course of the past four sleep-deprived months, I now feel a sense of pride of what ensued.

Here’s a typical “work week” by the numbers, as a temporary stay-at-home mom (and aspiring Chief Household Officer):

  • 14 hours of breastfeeding per week, typically every 2-3 hours around the clock
  • 45 ounces of pumped milk per week, typically while multitasking one-handed thanks to my pocket-size Spectra S9
  • About 15 bottle feedings per week from the aforementioned supply, plus more than 400 ounces of supplemental formula (until we got hit by silent reflux, nixing dairy)

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  • Nearly 1,000 diapers, from teeny-tiny Pampers Swaddlers to my favorite super-soft and sustainable Bambo Nature, where we grew up to size 3
  • Countless hours of eye contact and smiles, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cobbled-together dinners, and bedtime stories

All together, these helped double the size of our once 7-pounder, while his older brother started preschool and became a “threenager” before our eyes.

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I squeezed in self-care through the help of my village, technology and conversations with a group of Mama Makers & Shakers who appeared at the most clandestine times:

And then there are the memories that don’t have a number attached to them, but are immeasurable in the way they’ve brought our family closer.

Together, the four of us have continued to ride the rollercoaster of emotions that started when life caught us by surprise on the last day of May. Both boys keep us on our toes, but when the chaos settles, the sweetest moments are revealed.

While I’m still not sleeping, I don’t have a freezer stash, and I can’t tell you what the next six months will bring, I will embrace the unpredictability.

I won’t feel like I’ve stepped away from my career, but rather enhanced it by overcoming non-stop challenges over the last four months.

This time around, I won’t strive to be super mom, but will remind myself to stay present and do my best for the moment.

Mama Shaker: Rachele from VFit

As Rachele nears the 3rd birthday of both her virtual fitness company and her youngest child, she’s embracing the growth that comes with getting out of her comfort zone.

This includes spontaneously running a live virtual fitness class for a casting agent in a Las Vegas hotel ballroom, in front of 100 fellow entrepreneurs auditioning for the popular TV show.

“The only way to experience VFit is to do VFit,” she says, as she describes the moment where she and her fellow trainer streamed 50 class members from around the country over Zoom, much to the bewilderment of the casting agent.

“It was amazing to see all these familiar faces from outside. We had nurses logging in–in their scrubs–from their hospitals,” she recalls. “That’s the culture we have. It’s lifting each other up, being there for each other.”

“My eyes started watering, thinking, ‘This is incredible. If it doesn’t go anywhere further than this, I’ve done something special.'”

“When I left it wasn’t about what was going to be the next step. I felt so in the present and so much energy. For once, accepting that I give so much, receiving all that support and love, and feeling like I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.”

Overcoming the Fear of Failure

It was her husband’s words that gave Rachele the push she needed to finally audition 10 days earlier.

“The reason I decided to go is because he gave me this one line, ‘If you see somebody else on that show with your same idea, and you never tried, you’re going to have that regret.’ ”

“And that got me right there. Regret. You can’t run a business with regret,” she says.

“What is failing, really? If you put something out there and it doesn’t work, you learned and you can usually get yourself out of it. It’s the fear of failing that’s so debilitating.”

“Vulnerability is my word of the year,” she says.

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How Motherhood Inspired a Business

After working in an “everyday 8-5 job at a computer, without any windows” for about 8 years, and moonlighting at a gym, Rachele had her first child.

“I went back to work part-time and it just didn’t feel right,” she says. “I felt like I was going to miss her big moments, and it was more of a hassle to get her to daycare every day.”

Rachele says she devised a plan that started with getting her personal training certificate online and building enough clientele over Skype to allow her to leave her office job.

She’s also a big believer of “being around the right people and putting yourself in situations.”

After conducting a combo workout and cooking class with her friend over Zoom (the same video conferencing app that has vastly improved working from home for me), she got inspired to scale her business, as her husband had been encouraging her to do.

“The wheels just got spinning,” she says. With the addition of MINDBODY for booking, Rachele had everything she needed to host group classes.

As an added incentive to finally give it her all, the logistics of teaching at the gym had lost its luster for the now working mom of two.

“It became stressful and I wasn’t even enjoying it anymore,” she says. “It was a three hour production to teach a one hour class. Waking up two kids from naps, finding someone to watch them, or lugging them to the gym…”

Rachele officially launched VFit by putting out a free week with 10 classes on the schedule. Immediately there were 25 sign-ups and 12 people became members.

Fast forward to today, VFit has grown to 225 members, 99 percent of which come from referrals.

“Friends bringing friends makes it more fun” and adds accountability, she says.

Women Helping Women Succeed

VFit has helped Rachele realize that she enjoys working and feels a sense of pride and self-worth by contributing to her family’s income, despite the challenges she initially faced as a new mom trying to juggle it all.

“I think it would be boring to not work hard,” she says, which she credits as a lesson she learned from her own hard-working parents, as well as the legacy she hopes to leave her own children.

“There’s no perfect balance. Even when I think I have perfect balance, day care closes, or my kids are sick, or something else comes up. You don’t have this perfect plan. You just try,” Rachele says.

“I don’t sit there worrying about the unknown. I just do what I can.”

Flexibility is an important part of the culture of her team of trainers as well.

“If you had to get a sub at a gym last minute, good luck. Everyone at VFit has stepped in –from a hair salon to a park — to cover classes for each other.”

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Rachele also values the lessons she learned with her partner in an earlier coaching business that ultimately helped prepare her for VFit.

“I don’t think I could have started this business on my own without working through it with someone else, the first time,” she says.

It Takes a Village

VFit has taken off in what Rachele describes as “these little microclimates that don’t have gyms with daycare, that have severe weather, and that are in rural areas,” very similar to where she lives in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

Despite her loyal following in places like Kentucky, New Hampshire and Oregon, Rachele has aspirations to grow her virtual fitness studio in a way that’s manageable and keeps the “human factor” that sets VFit apart from pre-recorded alternatives.

“There are millions of people whose lives can be changed from this platform that have no idea we’re around,” she says.

Rachele isn’t discouraged going up against companies with “millions of dollars to spend” because of the connections she’s built with her team and her close-knit community of members.

“They’re the best marketers I have because they’ve stuck with it,” she says, noting the “sweaty selfies” members share with each other after class in a Facebook group.

Rachele has also found VFit’s unique voice, with the help of a copywriting coach she calls her #1 investment, helping her “dig into the truth of who you are.” She says it’s about so much more than weight loss or developing biceps:

“It’s a way of life. It makes you a better person. It’s a fun group to be around every day because they truly lift each other up.”

You can try it out for yourself with VFit’s free week of classes.