What “having it all” means to me: A letter from CEO Sarah Wells to her daughters

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By Sarah Wells

Dear Daughters,


Most parents tell their children, “you can be anything you want when you grow up.” I feel the same and I say this often.

But I also want you to understand that this wide open world of possibilities is an opportunity—the dream itself comes only by hard work, some good luck and good timing, and a healthy dose of reality.

Girls, here are some words of wisdom for you as you forge your way in the world, from my perspective as entrepreneur of a fast-growing business and as your mama.

1. Be open-minded to changing your path (even several times) along the way

 

Children cycle through professions they want to be when they grow up as frequently as the seasons change. Veterinarian, police officer, teacher, astronaut (or dinosaur in your case, oldest daughter). I’m baffled why adults feel pressured to pick one path when they are 18 years old and stick with it until retirement. I see more and more friends breaking out of this mold and reinventing themselves.

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In high school, I wanted to be a politician. I left my hometown and went off to college in Washington, DC. There I discovered I loved advocacy for vulnerable populations of women which taught me that I’m creative, a strong leader, and great at marketing and fundraising. As a result, I moved on to serve as the head of a national healthcare nonprofit. Becoming a mother while in that job opened my mind to new creative outlets (product ideas! Multitasking! New network of friends!) and I left the nonprofit sector to launch a business selling stylish, functional breast pump bags. Now I run a highly successful and rapidly growing company that I started up on my own. I’m not a politician!

Figure out what you are good at and what you are passionate about. Keep an open mind; the initial path you choose may lead you into other areas.

Don’t be indecisive or waste your money and time, but constantly refine what you are doing professionally based on what you are learning about yourself.

2. Failure is critical to your success


I won’t tell you to feel good about failure. Failure can be heart-wrenching and I have almost given up on jobs and myself at times. But I will tell you that every failure I’ve had along the way absolutely made me a better person and businesswoman.

Failing the big math exam in high school (as an otherwise strong student) and going to summer school over it was embarrassing. I eventually passed, but I’ve never failed an exam again, even in subjects where I struggled. I learned to ask for help in that experience. Now, I ask for help in business (especially in math!) all the time.

Being passed over for a significant job opportunity that I was more than qualified for because of unfair assumptions (being too young for the role) absolutely leveled me. I cried for a while. I had a full on three-month pity party. And then I went out and got a highly coveted job at a national organization at age 27. Harness failure as energy to find a better option. It’s okay to get angry! Take that and turn it into positive action.

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3. You can have it all, but you cannot give everything 100% of you 100% of the time


Though I hate to even acknowledge this, it’s real: because you are females, daughters, there will come a day when you’ll be asked a certain question, “can you have it all?” Most of the time this is referring to kids and a professional career. The first thing you should know is that this is an impossible question to answer for everyone, because “all” is relative to each person. I can tell you that I have it all. And I think you can too.

Start by making a list of what “all” is for you. Here’s my list: my husband, my kids, my family and their families, a small circle of friends, my own company and some personal time/activities. I have all of that. But here’s the catch: I cannot give everyone/everything on this list 100% of Sarah Wells 100% of the time. But the great news is that you can still have it “all” even when you aren’t the best at every bullet point on the list 24/7.

Some days, my business work just does not get done. I’m sure I’ve left sales on the table. But it was a tradeoff on that day or moment that I made in exchange for something else, like taking you to a swim lesson, or getting a nap for myself when I had the stomach flu.

The hardest is when I cannot be there fully in your presence, but that’s okay too. When you get to spend time with friends, your caregiver, other family, in school, etc. you are growing into independent, confident, smart cookies (it really does take a village!) I cannot possibly answer every email the moment they come in while also being fully attentive as a mother. So every day, sometimes hourly, I decide which trade off to make. But I’m still very satisfied as a professional and a mother. And I believe I’m very good at both.

No one is ever fully focused on everything on their plate at all times, whether you have kids or not. So yes, you can have it all, daughters. But be realistic and be kind to yourself.

I’m proud to be a role model to you as a mom and an entrepreneur. I hope I inspire you to believe that you can be anything you want and you can have everything on your list. It will be my pleasure to watch your whole life unfold before my eyes. Add that to my own list of “all”.

Love,

Your Mom


After the birth of her daughter, Sarah had her entrepreneurial “light bulb moment” and launched Sarah Wells Breast Pump Bags, based on a stylish and functional designer handbag that replaces the frustrating tradition of carrying a cheap vinyl breast pump bag. Since that time, Sarah’s business has grown by leaps and bounds, while she speaks with women from across the country about the blessing and challenges of motherhood. Sarah is a mom, an entrepreneur and a women’s health advocate. Prior to starting her business, she spent 15 years running national nonprofit organizations committed to achieving quality healthcare for Americans, with a personal passion to improve policies for girls and women. Sarah Wells Bags offers handbags that fit all portable (and some hospital grade) breast pumps on the market, in a wide variety of styles, colors and prices. She also recently launched the “Pumparoo” pouch for breast pump parts (wet/dry bag), which moms can use to refrigerate their parts between pumping sessions and clean just once a day.

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A short work week provides the perfect opportunity for us to teach our children about kindness—and to look at the world around us and see all the beautiful things others are doing.

Whether it's standing up for ourselves against unfair criticism (we see you, Meghan Markle!) or wishing good things for people all around the world, there's good happening out there. Mothers are making things happen for their kids every day despite a lack of support from society—and there are people seeing the pressure society is pushing on new moms and saying "no, this is not okay."

And to prove that, here are the stories that went viral this week:

This mama perfectly sums up what everyone gets wrong about maternity leave

I took four and a half months away from work after I gave birth to my twins. And yes, those days were full of sweatpants and dirty hair and Netflix and couch cuddles—but make no mistake: They were grueling. They were mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. And they were certainly not a vacation.

Of course, that didn't stop the comments about how I must be "getting so bored" or questions about how I was "passing the time." Because we have this weird societal idea that parental leave is a vacation. And newsflash: It's not.

That's why we're applauding Anna Whitehouse, the founder of Mama Pukka, for posting about this very idea. "A reminder to businesses: Maternity/ paternity leave is not 'a holiday'. It's not 'a nice break' and it is not time off," Anna writes in a LinkedIn post.

"It's a heady cocktail of anticipation, expectation, arrival and survival. It's stripping yourself back to a primal state and nakedly navigating blocked milk ducts, torn stitches, bloody sheets, broken minds, manically Googling blackout blinds," the mother continues. "You are needed. Every second you are needed—if not in person, in mind. It is a job. Without sick days. Without fair remuneration. It is the most privileged position in the world but it takes balls, guts (often with no glory), boobs and any other extremity you can put to work."

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Maternity leave is the perfect representation of motherhood's demands: You're in pain, recovering from serious physical trauma, dealing with an unfathomable hormonal shift—but you can't really stop to take care of or even check in with yourself because there's a little person (or a few little people) who depend on you for survival. And the weight of that? It can feel crushing.

Maternity leave is a perfect exercise in selflessness and tenacity. It's certainly not the stuff vacations are made of, that's for sure.

So thank you to this mama for making a truly important point. Because there is this unfair idea that mothers have a few weeks or months to simply check out...when in reality, that's simply not the case. Maternity leave is demanding. It's hard. It's isolating. It's essential. It is so many things happening all at once...and none of them feel anything like a break.

This viral video shows a mama helping her baby walk for the first time 

A beautiful 4-year-old girl named Kinley and her mama are inspiring people everywhere with an incredible viral video in which Kinley learns to walk. Kinley was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a disorder that affects motor skills, at age 2.

Kinley's mom, Shanell Jones, shared the footage of her daughter walking in January of 2019 and another video a year later—and the progress is remarkable. The post has been viewed nearly 3 million times.

"It brings joy to my heart that my daughter is bringing hope to people," Shanell tells Good Morning America. "People reached out saying, 'I didn't feel like my child was ever going to walk, but this video helped me have faith.'"

It's not just the progress the little girl is making that inspires. It's also her mother's constant encouragement. We love listening to this mama cheer on her beautiful daughter. What an amazing, inspirational duo!

This viral hospital sign shames parents for phone use when we really need empathy

Think back to when you first welcomed your baby. Do you remember how you felt? How exhausted, how dazed, how vulnerable you were in those early days? If you've been through it, you know that the last thing a new parent needs is to feel shamed...especially a new parent who is still at the hospital.

Unfortunately, parents at one hospital likely did feel shame...and it's thanks to a very questionable sign posted on its wall. British parent Dr. Ash Cottrell posted a photo of the sign Twitter...and let's just say it's rubbing users the wrong way.

"I'm on SCBU [special care baby unit] with my 5 day old. This poster makes me sad…," he writes alongside the photo of the sign.

The printed sign essentially shames new parents for looking at their phones.

"Mummy & Daddy . . . Please look at ME when I am feeding, I am much more interesting than your phone!!! Thank you," the signs reads.

The special care baby unit is for babies who don't need the NICU but still aren't well enough to go home. A baby may go to the SCBU to be put on oxygen or a feeding tube or to treat low blood sugar or jaundice. It's a stressful time for parents who might want to send updates to family or just check their feed for a moment of relief.

"When your baby is in SCBU you have no option than to sit and look at your baby. All day. For hours. You can't take them home & cuddle & snuggle & be mum. If, for some of those hours, you look at your phone to relieve the tedium of hours on the ward, nobody should tell you off." one Twitter user replies.

This sign is SO not what a new parent needs to see—especially a hormonal mom who is likely putting immense pressure on herself already. So mama, take it from us: You're allowed to look at your phone. Because you're human.

News

Perhaps because I've been an entrepreneur since the age of 25, or maybe because I'm now a mom and I work grueling hours, I've been asked this loaded question more times than I can count:

"How do you manage it all?"

The good news is, I have an emphatic answer. It's a rule I've been inadvertently testing for two decades throughout every phase of my life and career. I've watched it hold true for my friends who have big, high-pressure careers, as well as my friends who are incredible, wildly busy full-time mothers. And yes, even for men (not that anyone's asking them).

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The not-so-good: It isn't something people always want to hear.

Because, truthfully, I "manage it all" by ruthlessly editing my life into what I call three baskets. And stopping myself when I'm tempted to see what happens when I try carrying four.

Here's how the theory works: Everyone has a set of priorities, or baskets, that require our time and energy. The first catch? There are four major basket categories—Work, Relationship, Kids, and Self—but if we want to operate at the highest level, we cannot carry more than three of these baskets at once.

Your baskets may be different from mine, except for one: We all have a Self basket. This contains anything that fuels your mind, body and soul. It's the first and easiest one to put down when we have too many baskets, but it's actually non-negotiable. We have to care for ourselves—whether it's with sleep, exercise, meditation, worship, or dinner with friends—or we will eventually, inevitably burn out.

And that's the other catch. Because if you accept that you must put the oxygen mask on yourself, at regular intervals, you're really only left with two baskets. This means that if you have a basket for Self, Work, and Kids…then you may not be able to be the perfect partner, all of the time. If you have baskets for Relationship, Kids, and Self…you may not be able to go full-throttle in your career, right now.

Skeptical? Think about the periods in your life when you've felt the most frazzled or out of control. For me, it's always when I'm sneaking an extra basket—trying to go all in at work, and as a mom, and as a partner, and to somehow also look the part of a CEO in the fashion business and consistently get enough sleep to function.

The hard (and also freeing) truth is that we simply cannot do all of these things, all of the time. But we can pace ourselves and deliberately and strategically carry different baskets throughout different phases of life.

For example, you might decide that for the window while your kids are young, going big as a mom is your top priority, and another basket may have to wait. Or you might be like me, who for many, many years, was deep in the throes of building a business, and has relied on a small village of Amazon, Postmates nannies, and housekeepers so I could devote two whole baskets to Work. Or you may decide that just for the summer, you'll dial it back at the office to be fully present with your partner and on family vacations and know that come fall, you'll shift into high gear again.

Choosing just three baskets isn't easy. In fact, it's really hard. And It's blatantly counterintuitive to a culture that tells women, especially, that we should be the picture of perfection in every domain.

But there are a million ways to arrange your baskets, and a million ways to define success. For me, accepting the limitations of my time and energy forces me to get incredibly clear about what I value most.

Which, if you ask me, is a much better question to ask women we admire.

[This article was previously published on 'Mother.']

Work + Money

Here I go again, wearing my troubles on my brow. Troubles and worries this furrow cannot hide—at least not from you, my love.

You know me all too well.

You know the one thing I need when I'm sad isn't a girl's night out, but instead, a good hard cry in your arms and for you to tell me I'm enough. Not enough because of my motherhood, my job, or my cooking, but simply because I'm enough.

You know that even though you've told me I'm sexy a million times in one evening, I'll need to hear it again in a few days when I'm in my sweat pants, no makeup on, eating a tub of freezer burnt ice cream, feeling real grumpy from PMS.

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You know that when I get anxious and afraid, I don't need you to coddle me or become a codependent accomplice to my fears, but instead I need you to give me a gentle nudge back to reality.

You know me all too well.

You know how embarrassed I was about you witnessing me poop myself during labor, so you still deny that you saw it to this day.

You know that when I say, "I'm fine," it really means "No, I'm not fine, but I'm too stubborn to say so."

You know that me not wanting sexy time after the kids have gone to bed has nothing to do with motherhood fatigue, but rather how much I hated my body today.

You know that when you tell me to do something, I won't do it out of pure rebellion, but if we're honest, that's one of the reasons you love me so much.

You know that when I get all dolled up, ready to hit the town, the more makeup I put on, the more insecure I'm feeling about myself.

You know how guilty I felt after yelling at our 8-year-old for being an 8-year-old, so you made sure you told me what an amazing mother I was for the mere fact of feeling guilty and apologizing for it.

You know that when I'm feeling off, you need to fill in the gaps in household work, so I don't completely get overwhelmed with tasks.

You know that me dieting is never a good idea, so you tell me even more times than usual that I'm beautiful and perfect just the way I am.

You know that my laughter comes out most when it's ignited by you—you never stop trying to be funny, just so you can hear me laugh again.

You know that when you look at me that way, it still gives me butterflies, so you make sure you do it at least once a day.

You know that loving me is a choice, but it's never felt like a choice—more so like the reason you live.

You know that after a fight, it's harder for me to forget than for you, so you hold me extra tight for as long as it takes to get back to us.

You know that I wished I had more friends, but hesitate to make an effort because I'm afraid of rejection.

You know me enough to know that I never want you to stop knowing me more deeply, so you keep discovering and learning more about who I am, even after 10 years together.

You know me all too well, my love.

So much so, that I can no longer hide my sorrows, my laughter, my insecurities, my flaws or failures. You've seen it all; you know it all. And despite it all—despite knowing everything about me, you still love me.

Thank you for loving even the darkest parts of me.

Thank you for being loyal to even the worst of me.

Thank you for being exactly who you are. I love you.

Life

Dear past me,

This is future you writing. The one who has been through the full nine months of pregnancy. The one who gave birth and breastfed and stayed up all night with a baby full of gas and sore gums. This isn't you, yet.

But it will be.

It's hard for you to fathom that you will become me. You look at other mothers, mothers with squirming 1-year-olds or rampaging toddlers, but all that seems so far away. You can't marry it together, your bump with those giggling, giddy kids. It seems miraculous that one will become the other. It's too hard to believe.

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But it will happen.

Right now you hold the baby inside of you. You are the only one who feels every kick as he wiggles and wriggles around. How can you begin to imagine how it will feel to pass that baby, that baby that inhabits you, that lives because you live, to someone else?

Sometimes it will be hard, to watch your precious little one getting passed around. He'll seem so vulnerable out there without your stretched skin protecting him inside the cocoon of your stomach. But it will also be wonderful.

Just wait. Just wait until your mother meets him for the first time, the little quiver in her voice as she tells you he's beautiful. It will remind you of the first time you brought your husband home to meet her, your boyfriend as he was then, and you knew that she knew that this man was special.

I know you dream of it, your husband holding his child, the child you brought into the world, for the first time. You imagine how it will feel to see them together. Will there be pride? Or worry? Will you feel happy? Will you feel put out?

Let me tell you.

You will feel all of those things, like watching a film in 3D high resolution with surround sound. Every emotion is more intense than ever before, so intense it is overwhelming. You'll apologize to your husband for taking the baby back because he's screaming and he probably needs feeding. You'll feel like your intruding on their life-affirming moment, when you ask your husband to pass him to you so you can try, again, to get him to latch on. The midwife will tell you not to apologize, that it's your responsibility to feed him and that's the priority. She's so sure and confident, even in the way she handles your precious newborn. That doesn't live inside you yet.

But it will.

Time will race away from you and, before you know it, you'll be spoon-feeding puréed vegetables from little Tupperware pots. You'll be tired. More tired than you are now when the baby kicks every time you get comfortable enough to fall asleep.

But time flies by.

And someday soon you will be me, the mother of a 2-year-old. It's the same baby you carried in your stomach, that made your belly wobble when he hiccupped and that kicked you when you drank orange juice. It's the same one you gave birth to, the one you brought home from the hospital and placed in the crib next to your bed on that first night in the house.

Yet, he's different now. He's more whole somehow, a proper little person. He doesn't know all the names for the parts of a face so when you call him a cheeky monkey, he strokes his chin and giggles. He loves wearing hats—bobble hats, summer hats, it doesn't matter which—and he pulls them off better than you ever could.

He's so perfect and wonderful and some days you'll feel like you're not good enough for him. You'll be utterly convinced that any moment he'll figure you out. "Mommy," you imagine him saying, "you're not that funny after all. And the activities you do with us aren't very exciting, no matter how hard you try and make buying bananas fun. Can I get a different mommy?" Of course, he'll never actually say this.

Because he loves you.

It was obvious from the start, in the way he used to look for you when someone else was holding him, searching you out in the room, making sure you were close by. He loved you when he gave you his first smile, his first giggle, his first step. I know you're worried you'll miss it because you have to go back to work, but he'll save it for you, the stumbling toddle across the room from mommy to daddy and back again. It will be your reward for making it through the first year of parenting. By the time he's two he'll treat you by telling you he loves you, stroking your face and smiling because that's what you do to him. He knows it means love.

All of this will come. Take my word for it; I'm the future you and I've lived it. But right now, enjoy these precious pregnancy moments because, even though it feels like it will never end, you won't be pregnant forever. Breathe every second of it in.

But also know this: the best is yet to come.



Love,

The future you

Life
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