I’m just going to cut right to it: Becoming a mom can be a giant mind fuck. Everything changes: your time, your priorities, your budget, your sense of self. For many of us, early motherhood can be a confusing period that is often compounded with postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, sleep deprivation, or general stress brought on from a daily routine that demands more than we can give. As such, this chapter is often when many women reexamine their careers.
In between diaper changes, daycare drop-off, and racing to a work meeting, many of us find ourselves asking, “How can I make this all work? How can I redesign my life so that it isn’t so hard? What is worth it, and what isn’t?” We ask ourselves a lot of questions, but rarely do we have the time to properly figure out the answers. This is where Natalie Ruskin steps in.
After a decade of experience as a producer at CBC, Natalie made the move to venture out on her own as a career and life coach. A mother of two young boys, she understands the complicated space where women have a strong desire for a change, but are maxed out and can’t find the bandwidth needed to seek clarity, to form a strategy.
Beyond one-on-one counselling, Natalie launched The MoMentum Talks: a series that helps moms connect, inspire, and problem solve. The next one is happening on Monday, December 3 (it’s all about authentic leadership), and we think it’s a wonderful way to end the year that will surely help you realize your dreams in 2019.
SDTC: How would you describe the MoMentum series?
NR: I created The MoMentum Talks to make public the private conversations many of us working moms are having in our own heads. These are honest and unfiltered conversations with influential working moms about how they are navigating motherhood and livelihood in an authentic way.
The MoMentum Talks is a forum for me to explore in a bigger way the challenges and desires that my working mom clients express to me on a regular basis (e.g., how to mother more mindfully, how to build an impactful and profitable career post-kids, how to bring back our mom mojos through self-care, or rediscovering physical intimacy with our partners post-kids).
Your next event is focused on authentic leadership. What does that mean to you?
Authentic leadership begins with how we show up as leaders of ourselves, every day. It begins with self-compassion and vulnerability. These terms are getting a lot of air time lately, so let’s talk about what they really mean. Self-compassion, simply put, is accepting the messiness of the moment without judgment. When we start to gain awareness into how we respond (or, more likely, react) to our messy moments, we realize how conditioned we are to judge ourselves in an attempt to control the situation. Self-compassion asks us to bring greater ease, softening and non-attachment to it all.
Vulnerability is how we do self-compassion in a dignified way. For me, vulnerability is about finding the most honest way to be in any given moment. Sometimes, vulnerability shows up in saying, “I don’t have the answer,” and then being with the discomfort of not knowing while still maintaining dignity. As is often said, vulnerability is the opposite of weakness: it is a strength.
Authentic leadership is needed now more than ever before in every facet of our modern lives and society. As mothers, we are unconsciously highly competent in this form of leadership, having spent years unintentionally cultivating the skills of authentic leadership in our own motherhood.
Authentic leadership shows up differently for each leader, because it is an honest expression of their own challenges, strengths and subsequent resilience. It shows up as vulnerability, self-compassion and honesty, and it is largely governed by intuition or, in more scientific terms, emotional intelligence.
As mothers, we have a direct portal to our intuition through the very primal and primary task of caring for little babies. When we expand that intuition and that fierce care-taking capacity into communities beyond our families, we find ourselves capable of leading in a sustainable, honest and energizing way. We leave others feeling better off and empowered, because we aren’t looking to power-play or be the guru; rather, we are expressing our credibility and capacity in a deeply rooted and real way.
Authentic leadership shows up when we let go of our preconceived ideas of what a leader is supposed to look like. For much of my life, I eschewed leadership because I feared the responsibility and decisiveness I imagined was required to be a leader. My mindfulness teacher, Maria Gonzalez, defines a leader as anyone who has the ability to influence another person. When I look at leadership from that perspective and I connect with my intuition, I feel excited and empowered about authentically leading others to be authentic leaders in their own lives and work.
How has motherhood directed/shaped your career?
It’s been a very nonlinear path for me post-kids, and I resisted that nonlinearity for a few years. Today, I encourage my clients to accept this nonlinearity as an essential part of the evolution of their careers into working moms.
Looking back, I think I initially set myself up to feel like a failure, because I only paid attention to a certain mom-career model, which wasn’t sustainable for me. That model was one where mothers return to their pre-kids, full-time and, in some cases, high-stress jobs.
Before kids, I worked at the CBC, first as a Current Affairs producer and later on as the innovation lead of an award-winning employee-engagement initiative I co-founded. When I returned to the CBC after my first mat leave, the crown-corporation was underfunded and in major job-cutting mode. The innovation work I had fostered pre-kids was no longer an option, and my only alternative, if I chose to remain at the CBC, would be erratic shifts producing the late-night news.
No, thank you.
Nonetheless, I still elevated that mom-work model in my mind as something I needed to be and do in order to feel like I was enough. I made a few attempts to return to full-time corporate work, but it never felt right to me. Some days, I felt paralyzed and lost, wasting time and energy grappling with a model that I knew had been unsustainable for me, even pre-kids. I had spent years in unsustainable jobs at the start of my career in the CBC, working twelve-hour days and not doing much else until my health suffered and I was forced to adopt a more holistic relationship to work. And yet, here I was again, post-kids, facing the same deep-seated feelings of inadequacy around work, despite all the pre-kids work I’d done to get clear about what optimal mental well-being feels like for me. Deep down, I felt like I wasn’t as hardcore as the other moms who seemed to thrive, at least from the outside, in their full-time career or full-time mom life.
In time, and with some powerful coaching, I came to realize that what I really wanted was a hybrid model, where I was still earning the living I knew I was worthy of but on my own terms, on my own schedule.
My biggest turning point: realizing that I could create my own career.
Just like the many jobs I had sprouted for myself as an intrapreneur within the CBC, I could take the leap and trust that I could create the ideal career for myself, post-kids.
Today, I am so grateful for the challenges I faced post-kids: not only do I feel more confident and capable about what I do than ever before, but I also feel like I truly understand the challenges of my clients in a way that I can meet them wherever they’re at, giving them a sense of hope and then guiding and supporting them toward building a sustainable and profitable career that aligns with their deepest values and strengths.
Oh, and I am having more fun in this hybrid career than anything else I’ve ever done before!
How do you think your approach to life has shifted most since becoming a mother?
It’s only after having kids that I can see how much of a practicing perfectionist I was before kids. Without kids, I had the latitude to indulge my perfectionism, and only occasionally did that trait feel like a liability, usually during extended periods of time with family and other people’s kids!
Here’s the big aha for me post-kids: my perfectionism kept me from really stepping out of my comfort zone and moving towards what I wanted on a deep level for myself. I longed to feel that my work was a full expression of myself, my creativity, my value. I spent ten years doing “important” and “glamorous” work in journalism and media, but I secretly always felt that I was holding back.
It was only through the bootcamp of motherhood—the difficulties and the messes—that I was able to shed some of my perfectionistic ways and ultimately expand my sense of self. Through the challenges of motherhood, I uncovered my main taproot of resilience and owned the impact I truly wanted to have through my work.
Motherhood was the ultimate (and unintentional) training towards authentic leadership.
Now, with my own family, perfectionism is not only impossible but a time-sucking delusion.
Today, my work is to accept rather than micromanage the mess, the hard, the discomfort—to see all these seeming inconveniences as a portal to greater ease. When things start to feel messy, my default setting feels compelled to clean up. Immediately. When children aren’t following the plan I’ve built in my mind, when I can’t get to my weekly yoga class, when I’m interrupted during dinner (fifteen times!) to get another napkin, wipe up the spill, pick the sticky waffle up off the floor…my work is to see these perceived inconveniences as opportunities to practice mindfulness-in-action. To do the simplest but hardest thing in that moment: slow down and notice my breath. Period.
As parents, we receive daily (often hourly) reminders that we are not in control. When I try to control everything, life starts to feel very tense and flat and alone. Last night, we were up at 1 a.m. with our 2.5 year-old-son. We recognized his barking cough as croup and my husband had to take him right then to the hospital for treatment. My perfectionistic wiring kept me wide awake in bed, stuck in a place of fear and control: “I need my eight hours sleep! How will I complete all the tasks I’ve lined up for tomorrow? How will I show up to serve my clients?” I laugh now about the irony of stressing about not getting my eight hours which was just keeping me awake longer!
I was only able to fall asleep when I 1) Identified that I was caught in the fearful thinking, 2) surrendered the “how” and 3) Connected with breath and body to physically release tension and relax.
You’ve obviously filled a space in the marketplace where you noticed a lack of something. What are you trying to offer moms that you felt didn’t exist?
The MoMentum is a transformative coaching program for working moms who want to be leaders in their own work and life, authentically. My clients are intelligent working moms who are motivated to create work that is profitable, impactful and sustainable. There are a lot of wonderful mindfulness programs and coaching programs out there, many of which I’ve experienced as client and student, but very few that combine the two. I brought my discerning journalist mind together with my mindfulness and coaching training to build the results-based coaching program that I wished I had as a mom going through a career evolution.
What can guests expect to get out of next Monday’s talk?
The feedback I’ve received from past talks and events I’ve hosted is that moms leave with a different and refreshing perspective about themselves and their impact in the world, they have concrete tools they can integrate right away, and they feel inspired and empowered about moving beyond their current status-quo into areas that have been enticing but a bit scary.
Taking place at The Workaround, we know this event will be a high-impact evening, leaving guests with lots to consider and work towards, while offering a warm environment for moms to share, connect, and feel good in. Light refreshments will also be served, and you’ll leave with a nice gift bag. (We all love small perks!)