My youngest daughter just turned 1. Knock on wood, I think I’m leaving the fog. I’ve read such fog lasts for the “fourth trimester”, “when your kid sleeps through the night”, or “when crawling starts”. Mine lasted longer than any of those definitions. Regardless, I’m starting to re-connect with the world and re-figure out the person I used to be.
While the birth of my first child brought a feeling of purpose and joy, the birth of my second came with an unexpected wave of postpartum anxiety and depression. Suddenly I had to navigate mothering with my maternal instincts clouded by exhaustion and self-doubt. I don’t like doing things poorly (does anyone?) and I set high expectations for myself as a parent. Accordingly, my confidence took a nose dive.
To restore it, I looked to outside sources for validation. My business was an obvious target – it had historically provided a sense of accomplishment, and I had relatively more control over it than other parts of my life at the time. In my post-partum mind, if my clients liked (i.e. hired) me, then I was a likeable person again. If I successfully got them art (I’m an art advisor), then I was a successful person. Linking my self-esteem to my work would give me the boost that I needed to get a grip – so I thought.
This plan crashed, burned, and ultimately provided a useful education that frankly would have been handy when I started being an adult. But regardless, there were a few lessons: First, “business” is hardly under your control. Your business choices are in your hands (service offerings, marketing languages, client service), but the mentality of your target clients is not; in fact, it is heavily influenced by the social, economic, and political landscape that is entirely out of your control. My emotional struggles, for example, coincided with the 2016 election, and anyone remotely interested in life as we know it could not have cared less about art on their wall. Second, as a small business-owner, you are your brand (and your brand ambassador). If you’re linking self-esteem to business, then your sour mood translates to a sour brand. These days, people aren’t begging to do business with a brand they don’t love…there’s too much competition with too many distractions, so a deflated business owner should not expect an inbox overflowing with inquiries. The company that I built and loved was accordingly not providing the validation I needed.
I made MANY subsequent efforts to find my way out of PPD (I make it sound like a trap, but that’s actually how it felt), and I am attempting to write a semi-humorous book about those antics– but the relevant and noteworthy game changer for me was the discovery of “SMART goals”. This acronym may be wildly popular, and though I’ve heard it before, it wasn’t front of mind when I first needed it. A business success coach (a magical person who helps you look forward at goals rather than backwards at apparent traumas) reminded me by spelling out the acronym:
The objective here is to make goals that are all of the above… that are essentially entirely within your control. When you make goals related to items outside of your control, you can perceive yourself a failure for not doing anything that has actually failed. This was an intriguing realization, and so I started to practice. My un-SMART (stupid?) goal of “get new clients” changed to “call 3 referral sources from X.com”. “Figure out Instagram” became “read article on IG followings”. I LOVE checking items off a TO DO list so I started writing items down, crossing them off, and found it so fulfilling that I expanded my scope: “get baby to nap X hrs” became “put baby to nap at 9”. “Get in shape” was changed to “jog 2 miles”. My days became organized and manageable and my sense of accomplishment heightened. I even started to have SOME spare me time, which was initially confusing and then blissful. I got a haircut, bought some clothes, and took a bath with my new scented candle.
The SMART goals became a distraction from the self-loathing that had consumed me for months. My anxiety and depression faded, and I started to laugh more, be present, and remember what makes me tick — when alone and when with my family. Not surprisingly, business started to pick up. That was good news, but I proudly realized that it wasn’t driving my confidence… it was a bi-product of the choices I was making – the choices that were in my control and not at the mercy of outside world happenings. This knowledge was empowering, and it gave me stronger faith in what I could accomplish personally and professionally. My brand felt more defined, and like my personality, it became more secure, appealing, and something people proactively wanted a part of.
This past year was incredibly inspiring and challenging. I literally tear up when I pause to think about how grateful I am for my girls, my husband, my parents, and the opportunities we have every day. And while I still have sporadic irrational break downs, I’m generally able to navigate those by accepting (or eventually remembering) my own definition of success – one that involves setting and making an effort to achieve real goals, taking control of what I can, and embracing what’s left to chance. In this second year of my baby girl’s life, I choose to make good choices.