Women in Uganda confided in me, and it changed my life. After college, I moved overseas because I wanted to be a journalist. 25 of Uganda’s brightest, most courageous women quickly became my community. I heard their stories and listened to their dreams for the future. They opened my eyes to the conditions women and girls face across the globe. It inspired me to create Sseko Designs, an ethical fashion brand that makes premium leather goods, apparel and footwear. I wanted to help these women realize their dreams, so I promised to send them to college.
Bold words for a journalist with no business background. We started out as three women making shoes under a mango tree. Today, Sseko hires high potential women in Uganda to make premium apparel, handbags, footwear and accessories, which enables them to earn a salary and matching scholarship that goes directly toward their college educations. In addition to our full-time staff, we’ve enabled 106 women to continue on to university and become leaders in their communities so far.
Our core mission is to create community and opportunity for women. So, in 2016, we launched the Sseko Fellows program, which creates opportunity for both American serial entrepreneurs who are looking to build their next 7-figure business and full-time moms who crave a passionate sisterhood and a side income. (And everyone in between!) Sseko has grown exponentially to become a 7-figure global company, creating a legacy of empowerment for women worldwide.
But when I had my son, in addition to running a global company that spans two continents and four countries, I also became a “full-time” mom. It changed everything about how I run my business to how I prioritize my time. I confronted deep-seated societal pressures that had been easy to ignore as a young, unencumbered social entrepreneur. What I was pleasantly surprised to learn is that motherhood is not nearly as “costly” to being an ambitious business owner as many had prepared me for. In fact, it has improved my ability to run a global company, not detract from it.
The women of Uganda shared their struggles and story with me and it changed my life. Here are my key struggles and the shifts I took to run a global company…with a toddler.
1. Let go of the myth of perfection.
The myth of being the “perfect mom” who has the perfect work/life balance still exists. This leaves a lot of women feeling discouraged and guilty. I realized early on that a thriving work life and family are not zero sum. In fact, they can be very complimentary. For example, my company forces me to take risks, travel, solve problems, and inspire creativity and confidence in others. This is a gift to my son, not a detriment. It makes me proud to imagine my son growing up and seeing me build something I believe in.
2. Integrate and align.
My son inspires me to foster more patience, fresh ways of thinking, laughter and an awe-inducing amount of creative hacks to increase my efficiency and productivity. These qualities also make me a better leader, CEO and colleague. Considering that the majority of both my sellers and customers are mothers, motherhood has given me incredible consumer and employee insight. Instead of pursuing “balance,” I foster integration and alignment.
3. Choose curiosity over criticism.
When I take a risk and feel vulnerable, it is easy to fall into a defensive state. It is a common problem, right? We criticize the people who don’t say yes. We blame the process or tool that is failing us; often, we criticise ourselves. Instead, I see the challenge as an invitation to solve an interesting problem. When I experience a failure, unmet goal, or child’s mood swing, I choose curiosity over criticism. It makes the entire process infinitely more fun (and more likely to be successful).
4. Failure is not fatal.
As an entrepreneur and a mother, I must be rooted in my identity. I have to remind myself that a botched birthday party, vacation, or field trip does not mean I am a failure as a mother. It means I am trying and stretching and will continue to show up.
Here is wisdom that propels me forward: You cannot fail at the job you were created to do.The same applies to entrepreneurship. Failing is part of the game. It doesn’t mean you are a failure. In fact, it is probably a great sign that you are growing.