Meet Regan Walsh, an executive and life coach who helps women shed the “shoulds” and live their best lives. She shared one key exercise she uses to help clients bring their priorities into perspective and opened up about lessons she learned through her own personal experience.
Through your work, you help other women identify their priorities. How did you learn to align yours? Was there one moment that jump started your own learning process?
Regan: I’ve been learning my whole life how to identify—and then continually reassess—my priorities. I once took a job that my gut told me wasn’t for me. But it was a sexy position at a nationally respected marketing agency working with high-profile clients. Plus, it was 2009, in the heart of the recession. Opportunities like this were rare. I started the gig on a Monday. By Wednesday, I felt physically ill. And by Friday—on a perfectly stunning fall afternoon—I was stuck in a windowless conference room on a four-hour call. If I survived the week, I feared the golden handcuffs would be locked too tightly for me to ever conjure the nerve to leave. A quick break gave me the chance to turn to my boss. “I’m sorry,” I said. “This just isn’t for me.” It was perhaps the first time in my life that instead of doing what I should do, I did what I was called to do. I listened to myself and pursued joy—and my life story would have unfolded completely differently had I not. I started encouraging others to shed their “shoulds” long before I became a professional coach. I just wanted, and still want, everyone to experience the absolute freedom that comes with that.
You mentioned that you continually reassess your priorities. How so?
Regan: I use the same life wheel for myself that I use with clients to prioritize my time and energy. The wheel includes eight buckets: family, work, money, personal growth, health and wellness, spirituality, community, and living environment. Each year, I decide which three are most important to me, and then plan my time—and ultimately my life—accordingly. I reevaluate those priorities every year. After prioritizing family for the last few years, for example, last year I decided to prioritize work, personal growth, and health and wellness. I also let go of any associated guilt. Funny thing is, by focusing on those three priorities, I not only found myself thriving personally and professionally, but I was also able to show up for my family and friends in a completely different way.
How does identifying priorities help us lead our most joyful and fulfilling lives?
Regan: If we never define what we want, we’re just chasing elusive dreams, and running ourselves ragged doing it. If we know what we want—what will ultimately bring that joy and fulfillment—then we can focus on getting it.
What are the most common challenges women come to you with?
Regan: So many women come to me and say, “Is this it?” They’re C-suite executives with beautiful homes and beautiful families. But they’re on a hamster wheel, and they’re exhausted. One explanation—or at least one place to start— is by recognizing that many of us suffer from the disease to please. We make should-based decisions because we don’t want to let other people down. But we pay the price. We would rather be exhausted than risk disappointing a colleague, family member, friend, or even a stranger. When we stop asking ourselves what we should do and start asking ourselves what we want to do, we reclaim our lives.
In other words, it’s only a yes if it’s a hell yes.
Your favorite word is “no.” Why?
Regan: This goes back to our disease to please. We want to say yes—yes to climbing the career ladder, yes to chairing the nonprofit board, yes to joining the PTO, yes to coffee with the friend of a friend, yes to baking Pinterest-worthy cupcakes for our kid’s birthday party. The thing is, every time we say yes to one thing, we’re saying no to something else. So I applaud no’s. For most working moms, our most precious asset is time. We owe it to ourselves to budget it carefully. I encourage everyone to take a beat before giving a yes. We need to first understand what we’re saying no to if we say yes to any given thing. Then we can truly make our yeses count.
How do you know if something is a yes?
Regan: I love the Greg McKeown approach. He suggests ranking your opportunities on a scale from 1 to 100. If the invite or request ranks below a 90, move it to a 0 and politely decline. In other words, it’s only a yes if it’s a hell yes.
As an entrepreneurial mom, what does the whole concept of “balance” mean to you?
Regan: I think balance is bunk. Unattainable. And you know what? That’s totally fine. Be on tilt about what you’re prioritizing, and when you get it, celebrate it—without wishing you had it all, whatever that means. I don’t think anyone has it all, at least not all at once. We need to stop pretending balance is a thing, because it’s a unicorn. And it’s making working moms the world over feel like they’re failing when they’re not.
No mama is an island. Who’s on your support team?
Regan: My biggest supporter is also my forever crush. Nick, who I’m lucky enough to be married to, who is thriving in his career while fully supporting and encouraging mine, too. There are times he’ll come straight off a week of travel and dive directly into solo parenthood so I can jet off next, always with a smile. He’s my number 1, and we invest time with each other accordingly. We prioritize date nights and vacations alone. We put the girls to bed early and sit on the porch and drink wine. We never stop dating. Learning how to nurture a good relationship didn’t come easily, by the way. I was actually married before, and it was all wrong, and we subsequently divorced. One lesson I learned was that we never carved out moments for each other. We spent a lot of time with his family or my family or with couple friends, but not as a unit. I actually learned that lesson on a bigger scale, too: When I didn’t prioritize meaningful relationships, I didn’t have them. I prioritize them now—with Nick, with family, with friends. And aside from Nick, I have a group of girlfriends all over the country who are like my personal board of directors—my cheerleaders, my truth tellers, my advisors. I’m so grateful.
Shed your shoulds.
Embrace your “nos” and makes your yeses count.
My third piece of advice seems simple, but it’s really quite effective when you’re unsure what to do in any given situation, be it work or parenting or relationships. And that is this: Just take the next best step. Sometimes, we want to get from Point A to Point Z, and it can feel daunting and confusing and even paralyzing. You don’t even have to get from Point A to Point B in one move. Just take the next best step. I’ll be rooting for you.