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CEO Mom Real Talk: How I Reconcile My Personal and Professional Identities

Courtney Klein August 7, 2018

All moms are working moms.

There is no score for being a mom, a CEO, or an entrepreneur — just as there is no score for being a whole person. There is just life, and the choices we make about how we integrate our identities into life are what defines us.

Nevertheless, a commonly-held view persists: Life has two sides, separate and compartmentalized. Professional life is work, and mom life is home.

I reject the separation of identity between mom, entrepreneur, and CEO. It doesn’t line up with reality. We are all whole people.

When I was pregnant with my first child, a mentor said, “The best thing you can do for your daughter is be the best version of yourself.” For me, that means all of my identities live together — not separately.

How about this case study: As of writing this, I just got off my third call of the day with a large philanthropic donor, led a series of internal meetings, and crushed some board member communications. All the while, I had the work-from-home equivalent of a mullet: I wore makeup and professional clothing from the waist up, with pajama pants and a blanket below. I am seven months pregnant, so my feet were up on a daybed. I encouraged my daughter to interrupt a meeting with a company I’m on the board of, which she did, to show off her ballet dress. I’ll leave my computer shortly to become immersed in Play-Doh and the land of pink spinny skirts before taking a final conference call with a toddler on my lap — never once apologizing for any giggles others hear through the headset.

So, how do I reconcile professional Courtney with personal Courtney?

I don’t.

They are the same person. I work and I parent. My mom worked and she parented. Hunter-gatherer nomadic women worked, and generations of “homemakers” worked, too, but just didn’t get the credit for it. Women all around the world — across every culture — are working and parenting. But, somehow, we have come to expect a scenario in which we are “not working” if we are parenting and we are “working” — and not parenting — if we are on email or Slack. In that framework, we assume we must force these opposing identities together, while keeping them separate. We have to find “work-life balance.” We have to do it all — and do a lot of it with drool on our shoulders.

I reject that premise wholeheartedly. All moms are working moms, and all of our identities should be treated as one.

I have met dozens of women who are terrified of starting a family for fear of losing or not being able to integrate their identities. While I am still learning myself, now on my second pregnancy, I thought I could share some tactical tips to help new moms or those considering parenthood, beginning with what I learned after more than 100 flights while pregnant.

The bottom line

Is working motherhood messy? Yes. Is it hard? Absolutely. But there is so much joy, beauty, and humor in all of it, too.

As moms who are also working professionals, let’s stop frantically changing the proverbial hats that represent work life and home life, creativity and leadership, family self and office self. Let’s bring our identities together into one whole, happy person, because we’ll do our best parenting — and our best work — when we’re the best version of ourselves, whoever that may be.

Social Entrepreneurship / Stakeholder Capitalism
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