Comparing Ourselves to Other Women

On the Move Show 2Since my “Can’t You Just Workout” blog in December, I have been trying in earnest to workout regularly. It doesn’t easily fit into the schedule, and most days I feel like I need a nap more than a workout, but I made losing weight my 2019 New Year’s Resolution. I ordered a new pair of running shoes and re-joined my favorite yoga studio. Now one month in, I’m building the habit but still feel more “out of shape” than in when it’s time to sweat.

Despite this, I recently signed up for the hardest yoga class at my studio. If you’re not a regular yogi and can’t imagine how the words “hard” and “yoga” belong in the same sentence, then you need to come to a class with me! It’s full of body weight exercise challenges and a tempo that leaves me sweating so much I almost slip off my mat.

So I showed up for the Strong Class and chose my place in the back corner. I wasn’t feeling very energetic after a long week at work, so I just set my intention to “stay present and finish”. No frills, no extras, just survive. But no sooner had we launched into the flow that I was distracted by sudden movements on my left. One of the reasons I like yoga is because I can just be in my own head space, with no interruptions, for an hour. I don’t usually pay much attention to anything but the instructor’s voice and my breath… but there was this periodic flutter of intense movement in my peripheral vision so finally I looked. The woman next to me, perfect body and full lulu-lemon yoga gear, was doing four extra push-ups before each chaturanga. And then, my comparison voice started talking…

“Wow, really? Is that necessary?”…”Is she just showing off?”…”Is she going to do this the whole time?”…”The teacher didn’t even ask us to do extra! Isn’t the Strong Class hard enough in itself?”…”Why is she in the back row?”…

I’m embarrassed that this was my first line of thinking. It clearly came from a place of insecurity and envy. In the end, the fact that she showed up with such intensity pushed me to re-imagine the extent to which I could push myself, and made it much harder for me to cheat on the basic moves knowing she’d be right next to me killing it on her mat. The comparison born out of insecurity led to feelings of inadequacy. While it drove me to do better, it also left me feeling bad about myself.

The comparison game is alive and well in the female community. For some reason we ladies compare and contrast ourselves with each other like it’s our job. I’ve heard all my life that women dress more for other women than men, that the mommy wars are real, and women can form cliques that keep other women out. One of the central messages I took from Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In is that women need to stop competing with each other in the workplace and instead lift each other up – making overall gains faster, together. Yet even though I am 100% bought in to debunking comparison in favor of collaboration, here I was in this yoga class thinking…

“Ugh, show off.”

Bad habits run deep. But there is hope.

Two years ago while working at The Good Samaritan Health Center in Atlanta our CEO at the time suddenly decided to leave. The board was then faced with a decision – they could either run a formal executive search or promote me and my colleague, Breanna Lathrop, into higher levels of responsibility (Breanna as COO and Medical Director, me as CAO) establishing us as something like co-executive directors. I didn’t know Breanna that well at the time, and I’ll admit being a little nervous as to how this was going to play out. I was nervous because Breanna is really incredible. She is a mom of three, a nurse practitioner, a gifted leader, a hard worker… would I just live in her shadow? My comparison voice spent a lot of time wringing its hands in the first few months.

But then I realized this was a waste of valuable energy. Comparison simply makes a judgement and then walks away, no better for the data. I decided I wasn’t going to compare anymore. I realized we have different skills sets and ways of viewing the world – I’d be much more successful if I had a posture of collaboration. If every time Breanna did something awesome, or better than me, or innovative, or amazing I said to myself, “How lucky that I get to work with her! How can we capitalize on this and maximize our collaboration?”

This line of thinking has led to some pretty incredible things. At the most basic level, collaborating means that we’re on a team together in leading Good Sam and making a difference in the world. Since we both have families, there is need for teamwork and filling in for each other on a regular basis. When family calls, we know we have each other and work doesn’t have to skip a beat. We also brainstorm regularly and, as first time executive leaders, have found a sounding board and a source of wisdom in one another.

It is in this spirit of collaboration that we decided to write a book together – a book neither of us could have written in a silo. We brought our unique stories and strengths to the story, rounding out the overall message because of our differences.

Last Friday Breanna and I were filming a workout and interview segment on a TV show for our newly released book. As we stood on the stage and did workout moves in sync, laughing at ourselves and feeling equally awkward wearing yoga pants on television, I realized this is women doing life together at its best. As we walk through the new territory of marketing and promoting a book, especially on radio and TV, I sure am glad I’m doing it with a partner.

In comparison thinking, I’m evaluating for a winner and a loser. In collaboration thinking, we’re winning together.

The Case for Moms

img_7377Despite the gains working moms have made in society, the question still lingers for some employers as to why, in a competitive environment, they should choose moms for top positions. The assumption underneath this question is, “If given the choice between one employee whose attention is divided (between work and home) and another who does not have family responsibilities – why should I choose the mom? What competitive advantage does the mom bring to my company?”

Let’s start with output. A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that over the course of a 30-year career, mothers outperformed women without children at almost every stage of the game. In fact, mothers with at least two kids were the most productive of all (more on this here).

But there’s more! Other studies demonstrate that working women bring a competitive advantage across multiple corporate dimensions: profits, innovation, workplace culture, and management, to name a few. (I am assuming a big portion of these women are moms, since seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent are employed full-time. More stats from the Department of Labor on working women here).

A recent article cites research from The Peterson Institute for International Economics, which completed a survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries and found that having women at the C-Suite level significantly increases net margins.

“A profitable firm at which 30 percent of leaders are women could expect to add more than 1 percentage point to its net margin compared with an otherwise similar firm with no female leaders,” the report notes. “By way of comparison, the typical profitable firm in our sample had a net profit margin of 6.4 percent, so a 1 percentage point increase represents a 15 percent boost to profitability.”

That same article also concludes that women bring benefits in terms of creativity and retention:

Joe Carella, the assistant dean at the University of Arizona, Eller College of Management, has found that diverse companies become more creative. “We did our own analysis of Fortune 500 companies,” he tells CNBC Make It, “and we found that companies that have women in top management roles experience what we call ‘innovation intensity’ and produce more patents — by an average of 20 percent more than teams with male leaders. Having female senior leaders creates less gender discrimination in recruitment, promotion and retention, according to the Peterson Institute. That gives a company a better chance of hiring and keeping the most qualified people.

A 2017 Morgan Stanley report “An Investor’s Guide to Gender Diversity” found similar conclusions:

“More gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better products, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction.”

And finally this Forbes article from last month concludes that:

  • Firms with women leaders have increased sales revenues and certain dimensions of market performance.
  • Having female representation on boards of directors is positively related to a firm’s financial performance.
  • The new wave of women elected to Congress could also be a positive development for our government. Historically women legislators sponsor more bills, pass more laws that benefit women in the workplace and infuse more money back into their districts than their male counterparts.

Clearly the data points to the fact that women (and moms) in the workforce is a positive thing – but I think our imaginations are still limited by thinking about women with family and work obligations as being divided and therefore having a competitive disadvantage. We (mistakenly) believe that working moms are finite creatures who only have so much time and talent to go around, and if they give a significant amount to their family – work performance will suffer. In my experience as a working mom, manager, and leader – this is simply not true.

While working moms are indeed finite creatures, we are also really good at integrating our many spheres of life and managing multiple, competing priorities simultaneously. This can be as simple as practicing a speech while driving to your book release party while talking with your five-year old and soothing the crying baby and making sure the catering platters don’t spill in the backseat (true story! More on this personal project here) to running a large company in a fast, ever-changing industry – the muscles are the same.

And as I stood at the front of the bookstore reception room and watched my co-author (and mom of three) talk about our mission of advancing health equity in this country (while my five-year old daughter hugged my legs) I thought about the case for moms. The fact is she and I care deeply about our work because we’re moms, not in spite of it. Our mom responsibilities to be present with our families have taught us countless lessons about being present with our staff, our audience, and our neighbors in need. We wrote our book in ten minute increments in the daily chaos of life, and we’ll continue to give presentations that get interrupted by our children (either because they’re in the room or they’re on our minds) – and this will translate over into our work capacity because leadership at work is often chaotic too. The security issues, patient policies, strategic plan committee, and budget assignments all need to get done right now and the report is due by 5:00 pm.

In the fast-paced and increasingly complex world that we live in, if I need someone to handle a big job at work – I go looking for a mom.

The Choice to Stay Home

lisa's familyHappy Monday Mommas! I am really excited about today’s guest blogger, Lisa Gingras Stokes. Lisa and I went to high school together and since then she has become mom to three amazing kids (ages 5, 4, and 2). She has a degree in early childhood education and public affairs and is a certified pastry chef and breast cancer survivor. Her latest adventure is becoming a stay at home momma! I asked her to tell her story of making the transition from a corporate job to stay at home mom. Lisa has generously shared her processing of this decision and why it was right for her family, and I hope it encourages readers. Whether you work outside or inside the home, the important thing is to support moms being able to make the choice that works best for them, because when a mom is following her dream – the sky is the limit. Enjoy!

4:45 AM…Alarm goes off…Coffee…News…5:30 AM…Kids get up…6:45 AM…Leave the house…Drop off at two separate places and get to work by 8:00 AM…Work work work…5:00 PM…Head out to do the pickups…5:35 PM…Pick up first kid…5:50 PM…Pick up the other two…6:15 PM…Finally get home…7:30 PM…Bedtime for the kids…

That was it. My life, Monday through Friday. My time with my three kids was spent repeating myself for them to get their shoes on 500 times in the morning and then a quick hour and a half at night hurriedly getting in dinner, baths, a couple quick cuddles at bedtime.

This was my life, until two weeks ago when I “retired” from my corporate 8-5 job.

The thought of leaving my corporate job came really fast. This has always been a dream of mine. Actually, it’s what I always wanted, even before having kids – to have my babies and then volunteer at their preschool. Let me just say though, I have never worked at a preschool, so why that was my dream I have no idea. But, leaving my job shot into action when I saw my sister make a post on social media about an opening at my kids preschool for a volunteer pre-kindergarten teacher.

We were at the beach on vacation. I read her post out loud and looked at my husband and said I want to do this.

I wanted to go back to work from vacation, put in my notice and start working at the preschool. Now, could this have actually happened at that moment? I mean maybe, yes? But it was all a little fast. I would need to take tests and get certifications. Our insurance was through my current job. And school was starting in two weeks. It was a little much. But, this put the thought in my mind and I knew at that moment this is what I was going to do.

We talked and talked about it. I went into work after that vacation and told them I was going to work one more year and then I was going to retire from the corporate life. Well, the more and more I thought about it, I changed my mind and decided when school let out for Christmas break that was going to be it. I picked the date of December 21st and couldn’t have been more excited about this. I may or may not have even had a countdown on my desk…

The closer the day got the more excited I was to start this new journey as a stay at home mom, but also, my anxiety grew too. I felt like I was losing a part of who I was.

I have worked my entire adult life and for the past 5 ½ years have worked in this same office with this same close knit group of people. They are like family. They were there with me through 3 babies, cancer treatments, mood changes and finding myself again. They are more than just co workers and leaving them was not going to be easy.

But also, my mind was going crazy with the thought of me possibly not contributing to our family enough? Would I feel guilty going out and doing things if I wasn’t working a traditional job? Would my husband think I shouldn’t be out and about? Would he think I shouldn’t be able to complain about the craziness of the kids, because after all this is what I’ve wanted? Would I even be able to survive the craziness of the kids (a very legit question)? What if I failed staying home?

We talked it out…Everything that was going through my mind was normal. How could I not feel this way? I was a workaholic. Someone driven by schedules and deadlines and I was now moving into a role of freedom. I made the right choice. I felt at ease. I said goodbye to my work family and bawled my eyes out as I pulled out of the parking lot.

But at home, we celebrated. Celebrated that mommy is now going to be available to my kids whenever they need me. Celebrated that I won’t have to miss any school functions and have others fill in. Celebrated that I won’t need to feel guilty for calling out of work when someone is sick or has appointments. Celebrated that we are blessed to have my dream become a reality and I can become the stay at home mom that I have always wanted to be. Terrifying?…Yes…. Amazing?… Absolutely!

‘Twas the Night Before Work

Me & AubsIt’s the night before I return to work after almost two weeks off for Christmas. Two great weeks filled with wonderful family memories (Emma started crawling! Aubrey is riding a bike!), delicious homemade food, and precious holiday traditions. It was good, nostalgic time and long enough to ease into a new normal – one that is more relaxed and simple. But tonight is the transition night, when I move from vacation mode back to work mode, so dinner, baths, bedtime routine, books, and clothes laid out for tomorrow are done. The hustle begins again, and I feel the stress and dread rising. It’s 9:30 pm and I’m perusing the internet trying to find an article to help me make the transition more successfully this time.

What I’m looking for is someone to speak to the emotions of vacation transitions, but what I find are how-to guides about efficient pre & post vacation tasks that can grease the skids for your return to work. While somewhat helpful, tips like “organize your office before vacation so you come back to a clean space”, “divide your emails into categories based on level of urgency”, or “bring a souvenir from your trip back to the office” are not meeting my need. They actually just remind me of the reasons I am struggling with the transition in the first place! Spending so many hours a day in an office, constantly plugging away at tasks, and having to compartmentalize my life are the things I haven’t missed.

The ease and flow of vacation rhythms where life is more integrated and free, is precisely the loss I am feeling tonight. My “regimented schedule muscles” have gotten flabby, but in really good ways.

For example, tonight I observed my infant playing with the bubbles in the bath. It was so precious I watched her do it for 20 minutes. In my normal rush, I wouldn’t have even noticed. That’s what I’m sad about leaving- the freedom to linger with the ones I love without the massive and hovering to do list. Time to bake cookies instead of buy them, watch multiple Disney movies in a day, or spend an afternoon just being and not doing.

The transition is just hard. Sometimes half of the battle is expecting the transition pain to come and let it run its course. In addition, I find it helpful to repeat some key truths to myself:

Remember reality – vacation is wonderful, but it is not a long-term possible reality for most people. On vacation, my husband and I are both hands-on with the kids and we usually have additional family members with us who enjoy and engage with us all day. I find my mind wandering on vacation to thoughts like, “this is what it would be like if I stayed home…” but that’s not true. This is a special reality only available when we’re all on vacation together. If I stayed home, my extended family wouldn’t be there, Aubrey would be at school, and Eric would be at work. For the most part I’d be by myself with the baby and I’d have a lot more on my plate than just hanging out with my kids. The stay at home mom life is hard too. It’s not vacation. I have to remember to be realistic. As another blogger put it, “Nothing gold can stay, no party was meant to last, and there’s no such thing as a permanent vacation.”

Remember vacation – there are some things about vacation that I don’t want to forget. I like that on vacation I am slower, more contemplative, and more present. I like that there’s more time for eating well, sleeping, and exercising. I have time for that third cup of coffee in the morning or afternoon mixed drink while sitting on the front porch watching the cars drive by. Vacation is always a good reminder for me that there is more to life than work. It gives me a chance to get in a new groove, to reset. I hope some of this carries over when I go back to work tomorrow. Perhaps my direct reports would appreciate a more present, less rushed manager just like my kids do.

Remember blessings – the practice of going around my life and counting blessings has many times helped shift my mood from discouragement to gratefulness. I think this is especially important in this case. Many of the blessings in my life are possible because of my work, and pointing out these associations to myself is important. Practicing gratefulness for work can breathe life into haggard places.

Remember others – I find again and again that if I’m experiencing something challenging the chances are, other people are too. The post-vacation blues can make me have a very self-centered view, thinking my own thoughts and feeling my own feels in my little world. When I remember that others around me might also be having a tough transition tomorrow morning, it shifts my focus from “poor me” to “how can I encourage them and make their transition easier?” If I can shift from negative “how am I going to do this” thinking to positive “how can I help you do this successfully” strategies I’ve not only conquered my own dread but I’ll help create a workplace tomorrow that is a little happier and more compassionate.

I tried this with my five year old daughter tonight. Before she went to bed I said (with all my best enthusiasm):

“Aubrey, are you excited that tomorrow is a school day?”

“Well, um… I’m actually a little nervous” she said.

“Really? Nervous? Why?”

“Well… (thoughtful pause) I guess I just get nervous when I’ve been away from something for a while.”

Nodding I replied, “Yeah, I can understand that. You know, mommy feels that way too. But the good news is, once we start our normal routine you’ll be just fine.”

And so will I.

The Pursuit of Health & 3 Questions to Ask Yourself in the New Year

family portrait

This almost seems like a mom rite of passage, but I had my first terrible migraine a few weeks ago. I started the day feeling irritable with throbbing head pressure, but figured I was just tired. By 10:30 am it was growing more painful, so I left work to rest and instead got hit will a full blown aching, chills, light sensitivity, nausea and vomiting migraine. By day 2 when the Excedrine stopped working, I found myself in urgent care getting the “migraine cocktail” (by the way, three injections that burn going in should not be called a “cocktail” – false advertising! I thought they were bringing me a stiff gin and tonic). Even after the cocktail and some Motrin, the headache and flu-like cold symptoms persisted for days so I went in for an MRI to make sure nothing more serious was going on. Thankfully the MRI came back normal, and now I’m armed with prescription drugs and a new prayer, “Lord, help me to never have a migraine again!”

One interesting question you’re asked in urgent care is to choose a number from 1-10 to describe your pain level. One is depicted by a yellow smiley face emoji where 10 is a very angry red emoji that says “worst pain imaginable”. The urgent care clinical team did a great job getting me from a reddish grimace face to a calmer light green face after the migraine cocktail.

But I kept thinking about the pain scale after I got home. Theoretically there is another scale to the left titled, “health scale” that goes to the highest level of well-being you can imagine. It dawned on me that I spend so little time attending to this other scale and, maybe if I did, I would spend less time on the pain scale.

And I’m not just talking about self-care, I know it’s more complicated than that. I often read self-care articles and walk away defeated, wondering how some moms find time to do all the self-care stuff (to some degree I’m just resigned to the fact that I’m not going to sleep, workout, or eat clean as much as I have in other seasons of life). But this is beyond that kind of self-care, or even pampering like back rubs or pedicures. I’m talking about making the daily pursuit of my own health a priority, just like I prioritize the health of my family members, or people I manage at work.

The paradigm shift is to stop thinking of myself last, to give in to a little self-mothering.

When I followed up with my primary care physician about the migraine, he asked if I was aware of any triggers that set it off. Since it was my first one I admitted I wasn’t sure, but had a hunch that lack of sleep had something to do with it. I’m a person who needs a lot of sleep to function normally, and lack of sleep has pretty immediate effects on my health and mood. The doctor suggested I get more sleep. Brilliant! 🙂

Thankfully Eric was willing to make some adjustments. We started “Daddy’s Sleep Training Academy” to help Emma sleep through the night. Mommy moved to the in-law suite in the basement (out of earshot) and Daddy took over night duty. Within just a few nights Emma was sleeping through with just a short period of crying around the time she normally woke up to nurse. It turned out to be better for my sleep and Emma’s sleep to let her cry it out a little ((cringing)). While my instinct to get Emma up as soon as she started crying was coming from a caring place, it was not helping the sleep situation. My “self-sacrificing” was making it worse! I’ve also noticed a couple of examples recently at work where in my effort to be helpful, I actually confused some processes and protocols related to a new program we were launching. It’s a growth edge for me to learn that sometimes what I need to do is – nothing.

We’ve found in our house that grumpy, angry, complaining people are often sleepy, hungry, stressed out people and we approach solutions with a communal mindset. If mom is red lining first thing in the morning, that’s a sign she needs help getting everyone out the door. If dad is exhausted at the dinner table, then baths and dishes can wait until tomorrow.

I heard from so many moms that all they wanted for Christmas this year was time. The faster the world spins, the more time slips through our fingers. In this fast-paced culture, it can feel like there is just no time left for moms to focus on themselves. Yet I find again and again that the more I intentionally shift time to take care of my own needs (pursuing a health score), the more other needs around me take care of themselves. Sometimes the pursuit of your own health is the best thing you can do for the ones you love, manage, and care about. Or put more simply, let me suggest a progression of three questions to ask yourself (in this order) as you move into 2019:

  • What will make me healthy?
  • What will make my family healthy?
  • What will make my neighbors healthy?

The last one comes from a place of desiring a more equitable world where, once our own needs are met (put your personal oxygen mask on first before assisting others) we turn our attention to our community. If you would like to learn more about working for the health of our neighbors, particularly those in under-resourced environments, please visit, or consider starting your New Year by reading my first book on the topic (co-authored with another working mom!) which is available in early January.

I hope 2019 is your healthiest year yet – because there is no limit on the impact a healthy mom can make on this world. 🙂 Happy New Year!