Letting Go of Perfect


Earlier this year, I went to an event in Los Angeles with a panel of high-profile female entrepreneurs speaking. These women all happened to have children, so naturally the conversation turned to how they manage their families and business lives. On the question of juggling, none of them honestly acknowledged their own situations. On the question of balance, they made it appear effortless.

I left the event feeling deflated and not good enough, because none of these women really let us into their lives, including the type of help they get and the mistakes they’ve made as they navigate the parenting journey.

The truth is, even though those women on the stage would have you think otherwise, I can guarantee you they don’t have it all sorted. The truth is, none of us do.

The most common question I get asked is how I do it all. People see I have six kids and a global business, and they want to know how I fit it all in. There has never been an easier question to answer: I don’t. I have a bunch of kids, but I consider myself the most unprofessional mother you are ever likely to meet. While I researched birth, I barely researched parenting (thinking I’d figure it out somehow) and as a result, I’m winging it 95 percent of the time.

It took me three children to figure out that the markings on diapers changed from yellow to blue when they got wet. I’ve never been able to put up or collapse a stroller; I’ve always just made sure I had a car big enough to throw it in the trunk completely intact (hey, it saves time!). I go to IKEA with no real purpose just so I can get an hour’s free babysitting at their play center, my kids have never had a Santa photo taken, and I call my friends every time those two lines appear on the pregnancy test: “But they’re really, really faint, so I’m fine, right?”

Many a time, I have been late to the childcare pick-up and copped a bunch of five-dollar fines for each minute I neglected them. I’m also partial to moving the kids’ birthdays to when it’s more convenient for me, and on a recent flight, traveling alone with my three-month-old baby girl, I managed to spray the businessman beside me with breastmilk as I was feeding her. Neither of us really knew what to do, but there was this sort of silent agreement not to make eye contact after that.

I’m guilty of all these parenting fails, and yet they don’t matter at all. I’ve never been out to impress anyone other than my kids. I know I’m good at the stuff that matters—being there for endless cuddles, listening intently to their woes, gently encouraging and guiding, and trying to instill the values that I hope are going to best get them through life.

Now that I’ve got a few years of parenting under my belt, I feel it’s my responsibility to tell the truth, and paint an honest picture of what it’s like to have a big family and take on what I do with my businesses.

Too many of us waste time worrying about what others are up to and stressing about what they’ll do next. There’s a temptation to obsess over people’s social media accounts, studying the lives that appear easier and more glamorous than ours, wondering if we’re doing it right.

No matter how much it might look like someone has it sorted, the truth is that no parent really does, even the so-called experts who always carry spare diapers and know how their stroller works. For every good Facebook picture, I can guarantee you there would have been thirty tantrums, bouts of sickness, and sleepless nights. I know you know this. I know it too, but every now and then, we can get sucked into believing that we’re the only ones who don’t know what we’re doing.

I don’t want to be seen as the person who has it all together. I live in a permanent state of roll call with my kids, checking their names off in my head to make sure I haven’t lost one. Some weeks I drink kale smoothies every day and take my make up off at night and make sure the kids are online for their Zoom calls, but equally there are lots of weeks when I work my tail off, the kids haven’t brushed their hair in days, and the only food I’ve eaten are the crusts off of their grilled cheese sandwiches.

It ebbs and flows, and instead of trying to control it all, to balance it out, I just try and bring an awareness to it and be ok with the fact that sometimes I fail at work and sometimes I fail as a parent. There’s not this perfect equilibrium where the two co-exist, and I’ve come to be ok with that. And I also know that it won’t always be this way – I’m in an intense period right now where my kids are young and my business is growing and I know that balance can’t always happen if you want to live a big, fulfilled life.

There’s an idea called the Four Burners Theory, where you imagine your life as a four-burner stove. Each burner represents friends, family, health, and work. It’s been said that if you want to be successful, you have to turn off at least one of your burners. And if you want to be super-successful, you need to turn off at least two.

For the past few years, my work and family burners have been turned up to the point you’d experience third-degree burns if you got close. My friends and health burners are simmering, if not completely turned off.

My health burner used to run hot. I had a personal trainer five mornings a week, squeezed in a few yoga and aerobics classes, played on the work netball team, and consulted with a Reiki master and a kinesiologist.

These days, I’m lucky to sleep through the night or wake in the same bed I started in. Occasionally I’ll lift the odd kettlebell, usually when I trip over it in the closet and am reminded it’s there. I turn down most social engagements, choosing instead a small handful of friends who understand I’m not a Saturday-morning-long-brunch-and-coffee friend anymore, but more a ten-minute-quality-conversation-on-the-fly-between-meetings-in-the-back-of-an-Uber kind of friend.

Because my work and family burners are turned up so high, I find that what works at the moment is to be gentle with myself. I focus on my mental health over my physical health. I prioritize how I’m feeling, how I manage stress, and my mindset. I also know that where I’m at right now is just a moment in time and I’ll be able to turn those other burners back up soon enough.

And that’s my brand of doing it all right there—I don’t. I do work and family really well, have a bunch of forgiving friends, and take the stairs when I can.

This is an adapted extract from Winging It: Stop Thinking, Start Doing, republished with permission from the publisher.

This excerpt was featured in the October 11, 2020 edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper publishes News and Views that Rise Above the Noise and Inspires Hearts and Minds. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.


Emma Isaacs is the Founder and Global CEO of Business Chicks. Originally from Australia but now living in Los Angeles, Emma is the author of Winging It: Stop Thinking and Start Doing. Why Action Beats Planning Every Time (Sounds True, September 2020), and mom to six children aged under eleven. Emma and Business Chicks have raised over $13 million for various non-profits. Each year her team produces events and content that reaches over 500,000 women with past speakers including Brené Brown, Nicole Kidman, Arianna Huffington, Diane von Furstenberg, and Gloria Steinem, to name a few. For more, visit: emmaisaacs.com.

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