Last week, Sally was featured in my Inspirational Parents #2 post. When asked who inspired her, she mentioned her business partner, Sam.
I have to agree with Sally in saying that Sam is a truly inspirational person and someone I admire, look up to and aspire to be like in so many ways.
I first met Sam when we played water polo together. As two of the more senior member of the team (sorry Sam), we naturally stuck together and got along well.
When I found myself with a three month old baby and a full time job that was an hour and a half commute from home, Sam came to my rescue and started me on my journey as a work from home mum.
Sam is bringing up three wonderful, bright, friendly and polite boys who are a joy to be around. She is also a high flying business woman and manages to find time to run and play water polo.
Sam inspires and empowers so many parents and I am delighted to feature her on my blog. Here are her answers to my now notoriously difficult questions.
1. Tell me about the most unexpected change to you as a person or to your life since becoming a parent?
I’d been a career girl through and through before Connor, my eldest, came along and I have to admit that I tried to keep it up for the first year or so after he was born.
6.30 am flights to Amsterdam for meetings, expressing milk at airports (thankfully before liquids were banned in the cabin!) and a permanent feeling of missing a limb pretty much characterised that period.
I must be a slow learner because it wasn’t until my second child came along 18 months later that I sat back, took stock and prioritised what was really important to me.
After a bit of soul-searching I concluded that I needed to work smarter, not harder, and take the time to enjoy the journey of childhood with my boys. Nine years on I’m still working on it – like I said, I’m a slow learner!
2. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced since having children?
Far and away my biggest challenge has been to retain my sense of self. Having three children within three years took its toll on my body and my mind (!) and for a while I found it hard to take time for myself.
My saving grace has been team sport – waterpolo in particular which was something I’d played since my university days.
At 35, I thought I was too old to rejoin a competitive team but a friend of mine was still playing and she encouraged me to get back on the (metaphorical) horse.
I joined Worcester Crocodiles, my local team, and haven’t looked back. There’s now a women’s masters waterpolo team in the UK – the English Roses – that has been set up in the last few years and which is fantastic for women coming back into the sport after having children.
Anyone over 30 can take part and our oldest players are in their mid fifties and still holding their own – so I’m planning on playing for the next couple of decades!
3. What do you regard as your greatest achievement?
I’m exceptionally proud of the fact that I’ve made the transition from a structured career path in corporate London to a self-defined career that fits around my kids.
I’ve invested in and coached a number of small businesses, of which I am particularly proud of two – Dorothy & Theodore, a fabulous e-commerce business that sells high quality family-related gifts, supporting other small businesses in the process; and ScholarPack, a cloud-based provider of management information software for schools.
I’ve been privileged to meet and work with some incredibly talented people and am lucky to have been able to contribute to the growth of some great companies.
It’s quite a feeling to look around the table on a Christmas night out and see twenty gifted people whose lives have been changed by a company I have believed in and supported since it was an idea on the back of a piece of paper.
4. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. What hasn’t killed you?
The breakdown of my marriage is the single biggest challenge that I’ve faced and something that tested me to breaking point. It was something that I had never imagined would happen and it rocked my innate sense of self-belief to the core.
At the time I had three children under four, was working with a number of small businesses and acting as a non-executive director for a major NHS Trust.
The only way I kept my sanity through this period was by leaning heavily on family and friends and having the children and businesses to throw myself into was a real blessing.
Five years on, I am most definitely stronger and more aware of the importance of the love and support of those closest to me.
5. Who inspires you?
Generally people who I perceive as ground-breakers and who don’t appear to let their fear of failure, or negative publicity, stop them from taking risks – and not just those with whose opinions I agree.
Christine Lagarde, Sheryl Sandberg, Angela Merkel, Richard Branson, Martha Lane Fox are just some of the people whose actions have inspired me to do more, work smarter and take risks.
6. I have just invented a time machine (and you thought you’d achieved something great). You can now go backwards or forwards to any point in time and deliver any message to any person, what’s your message?
I’d tell my 10 year old self that she’s great, wonderful, amazing; not to worry what other people think about her; and believe that trying and failing is infinity better than not trying at all. Just go for it!!
7. You have the opportunity to influence the entrepreneurs of the future. What life changing invention would you like to see on the drawing board?
This one is a bit too hard for me! Life changing invention? If I’d thought of one I’d probably be trying to put it into place. I quite like the idea of that time machine you invented . . .
8. I have waved a magic wand and all of your responsibilities have been taken care of for 24 hours. What are you going to do?
Call a friend, pack a picnic and head for the closest open water swimming spot.
9. How can women best be empowered to properly balance a career and a family life?
I am a firm believer in the need for companies, big and small, to provide flexible working options – and not just for women who have children.
At Dorothy & Theodore we have a range of different working patterns across our staff and this is part of what makes the company a great place to work as it allows our employees to balance their own careers.
A support network is also critical. That can come from within the family or beyond – the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”, is as true in today’s society in Britain as at any other time and in any other culture – and yet there are times when families can feel isolated and often the impact of that isolation is that women fill the gap, sacrificing their own careers and sense of self in the process.
The important part of balancing career and family life is choice, and to have that choice we need options – childcare options, flexible working options – and community support for our choices.
10. You’re off for a girl’s night out tonight. Where will you go, what will you drink and what will be the topic of conversation?
We’ll find a nice quiet pub with good food and atmosphere and share a bottle of Malbec over a leisurely dinner. Conversation will be varied and probably touch on politics, books, kids and whether or not we go for another bottle . . .