CEO of Sarah Wells Bags tells her daughters how she got to where she is today, and the lessons she’s learned.
By Sarah Wells
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.
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.
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”.
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.