Jess Levin Conroy | Another Mother Her Way
Before "work that works" and "women supporting women" became trending hashtags, Jess Levin Conroy was a quiet advocate for both. I met Jess for the first time at Buvette in the West Village when we were collaborating on a project (you can still see it here) with her much admired wedding tech business, Carats & Cake. She started the business after an MBA from NYU and following a career in venture capital. It's easy to be fast friends because she's warm, open-minded and super sharp. Later, she would become my first client when I began consulting. Without flinching, Jess hired a pregnant woman and later re-hired me as a new mother, and made work, work for me. Now she's a new mother to her own little boy, Charlie. I had no doubt in Jess that she would make room for motherhood while staying committed to the success of her growing team and business. Here are her personal thoughts on how being a founder and 9 months of pregnancy both prepared her for creating headspace, time and a village for this chapter in her life.
Q HOW DID YOU CHANGE AFTER BECOMING A MOTHER?
It’s still early days for me but I am definitely less excitable and worried about anything that isn’t important, mostly because I don’t have time for it. If I am not spending time with the baby then I am working (while still thinking about him and our little family) and vice versa. Naturally, your priorities shift and everybody tells you this, but for me, it’s bigger than that. I am much more conscious of keeping myself centered and focused on things that matter so things that are disruptive to my inner peace are getting shelved. In some ways I think building a company was my first exercise in this discipline of being really protective of not only my time but also my headspace and right now I am doing my best to reserve both for our family of 3. As crazy as it sounds I feel like the more relaxed I am, the happier and more content Charlie is.
Q WHAT CHOICES DID YOU MAKE TO ACCOMMODATE MOTHERHOOD? WOULD YOU MAKE THEM AGAIN?
My company will always be my first baby and I was definitely concerned about how a real baby would fit into this equation. The beauty of motherhood is you have 9+ months to prepare and Mother Nature helps push some of the required adjustment along. I was lucky to have a blissfully uneventful pregnancy, the only real side effects being that I was more tired than I was used to and as a result no longer able to work the hours I was accustomed to. So I learned to lean more heavily on my team and give more responsibility to people who had more than earned it while making time on the weekends to get things done that got shoved to the bottom of the weekly to-do list. I was forced to delegate. I also had to prioritize my focus on the tasks that were essential to our success and that I could perform better and more efficiently than someone else. Anything that someone else could do just as well (even if they didn’t do it my way) needed to be handed off. I also applied some of this logic to my personal life and outsourced as much as I could from Amazon subscriptions to real paid help. Now my days are jammed with the things that really matter to our life and our business and my time is much better spent. At the same time cutting out some of the fluff I used to take on has allowed for more flexibility whether it’s quality time in the early mornings before I head to work and the early evenings when I come home or being able to run out for something important in between.
Q DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A MOTHER IN 3 WORDS. WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE?
Again, it’s still early but strong, compassionate and fun.
Q HOW DO YOU TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF MOTHERHOOD?
Because I am juggling motherhood and my business, finding time for myself has definitely been the biggest challenge to date although I do view working on the business as taking care of myself because it fuels me. I have also learned to multi-task on a whole new level so I'll get manicures in the office while I am on a conference call, go to Pilates with a girlfriend so I can work out while catching up etc. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do it all so the more things I can combine the easier it is.
Q EVERY MOTHER NEEDS HELP TO FIND BALANCE. WHAT DOES YOUR VILLAGE LOOK LIKE?
It really does take a village and I have learned quickly that you can’t be afraid to ask for help, at least at this stage. I am lucky to have an incredibly supportive husband and to be surrounded by family and friends that pitch in alongside our nanny. I work from home on Fridays so I can have that day to enjoy classes and start to set up a regular routine with the baby. My team will even come over and takes meetings in our living room to allow this to happen!
Q WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON IMPROVING ABOUT YOURSELF AS A WOMAN & A MOTHER?
I'm figuring out what my personal definition of perfection is as both, a mother and a woman. It’s a lesson I learned in business and now live by. We are so inundated by everyone else’s thoughts and now more than ever there seems to be this celebrated ideal of motherhood whether you stay at home or you work and I think the key is what works for someone else doesn’t mean it’s right for you. On a good day, we are all confident in our own decisions and on a bad day, it’s easy to get lost in the hallows of the digital world self-shaming. With Charlie, I find myself struggling from time to time and looking outward at what everybody else is doing versus looking inward to see what matters and allowing myself the flexibility to know that it will change over and over.