In March of 2020, I had my second son in the throes of a global pandemic, and in the throes of my career in the fast-paced, never sleeping advertising industry. With it, came an immense amount of joy and laughter, and, to be honest, it also brought stress, doubt and tears.
Looking back, I realize I have learned so many things from this wild time that will help me succeed in both my personal and professional lives. Managing a four-person household during a pandemic is oddly similar to leading a 120-person planning and monetization team at a Fortune 50 media company. I jokingly refer to these learnings as “pandemic-professional-parent skills,” and I want to share them with fellow parents, with the hope that my learnings will help them too.
Set Realistic Expectations
It’s no secret that every day brings surprises, both good and bad, and the pandemic seemed to bring a lot more than usual. But if you go into your day expecting perfection, that your 4-year-old tornado of a son will actually listen, or your major marketing campaign will go without a hitch, you’ll be disappointed and discouraged.
Instead, set realistic expectations. Know that downs may happen. But so will ups. Yes, you may find out you are losing your star employee, or your baby may cry for what seems like forever, but if you are mentally prepared, then these will be just bumps in the road as you navigate the day.
So how do you do this? Despite everything going on around you, find a way at the start of your day to center your mind. Whether it is over coffee, while you are feeding your child or when you first sit down at your desk, take a deep breath and determine what your mark is for a good day. It could be one of those days where your toddler was up in the night, and you have back-to-back meetings, so your mark could be simply surviving until your head hits the pillow. Or maybe you just gained a new client and your house is finally in somewhat of an order, so you want to set your mark to checking off three quarters of your to do list. (But don’t make it the full list, as we all know that never happens!)
Overall, be truly honest with yourself, because your expectations are not influenced by anyone but yourself. Perfection is fiction; don’t hold yourself (or other people) to that bar.
Allow Yourself to Rebound
It is amazing to consider what we have all lived through since the start of COVID-19. And, as 2022 begins, pandemic life seems to keep on going, bringing new strains and worries, such as kids staying healthy in school and team cultures staying intact. Plus, fragmentation of our marketplace has never been more prevalent.
Yet throughout it all, we are continuously evolving and learning, soaring and falling, and it’s important to acknowledge it all rather than shove it under the rug. For instance, when you feel yourself on a slope, let yourself ride down it.
During quarantine, I sometimes felt guilt on how hard it was to have two kids at home while my husband and I both worked at home (his full-time job is watching the kids!). The daily feeling of “failure everywhere” was at an all-time high. I didn’t finish my strategic plan. We skipped baths again. The presentation didn’t go as planned. The sink is full of dishes. I completely forgot about a deliverable. I didn’t spend enough time with my family.
But when you tell yourself your feelings are unwarranted – it makes the fall so much worse. What we should take away is how to rebound. The fall doesn’t make you unworthy, unable; it makes you human. So, in work and home life, concentrate on how you recover – not how far you fall or how often you trip. It’s important to allow yourself as well as your family, colleagues, friends, and kids, the space for adjustment. Allow yourself, and them, to rebound. And then celebrate it – you picked yourself up. You rock.
Fill Up Your Cup
How many times have you heard “you can’t pour from an empty cup” or “take some time for yourself”? The problem is that it feels impossible, and even selfish sometimes. More times than I can name this past year, I had to dig into my bone-dry cup and somehow turn it into positive energy for an unhappy team member, a needy kid or a frustrated client.
Sometimes it feels like every single moment, someone, somewhere needs something from you. Feedback on a report. A snack. A response to an email. A clean shirt. I think often of the analogy of a pot that is boiling over. You can either take the pot off the burner or turn down the heat. A five-minute walk may cool things down, but they will get hot very quickly when it goes right back to the high heat.
So, try to find longer-term, sustainable ways to “turn down the heat” in a meaningful way. I think many of us forgot who we were throughout this pandemic. I sometimes feel like I am just getting the glimmers back now. Laughing with my husband at the kids, chatting with a coworker about a new show, setting up a birthday party with my friends, signing up for a leadership course, enrolling my toddler in school.
Whether it is running, reading or gardening, or simply just staring at the wall, we all need time to fill up our own cup. Make time for it. Set a reminder. Block out 30 minutes (even 10!) a day. Add it to your to do list. Just make it happen. No excuses. YOU are your most important fan.
We Are Doing It
We should all write “managed a global pandemic” on our resumes – and understand the hidden skill sets and tactics we employed during the past year plus of our lives, so this wasn’t all for naught. The internet and TV doesn’t ever turn off (especially when everyone is in their homes!).
Everyone was hit hard by COVID-19. When it comes to us working parents, many left the work force to support their family. Or they stayed in and had to somehow do it all and stay motivated (WHAT?!) .
Hopefully these three “pandemic-professional-parent skills” will help us all, so we can grow, balance and appreciate our professional and personal lives that much more. Approach each day with room for ups and downs, empathy and time for ourselves. Let’s all get ready to rebound. ■
Karen Babcock is VP of planning and monetization for Comcast Advertising.
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