A Son’s Snack-Filled Lesson: What Motherhood Taught Me About Leadership
By She Runs It
By Sara Eolin
Owner/Managing Director, Rocket Film
I’ve been a producer for 20 years. I first knew that’s what I wanted to do after attending a She Runs It Conference (back then, it was AWNY) when I was a junior in college, and saw a presentation about producing a Barilla pasta commercial. It was a job that was described as the “mom” of the project, which is so true. On the creative side, you are literally trying to make people’s dreams come to life. And on the more pedestrian side, you’re telling everyone when and where they need to be (Thankfully, without a 15-minute fight about putting on socks…usually).
When I started Rocket Film, my partners Ken Arlidge and Klaus Obermeyer and I said we wanted to run Rocket like a family, and I was to be mom, a role that I took on with full confidence and excitement – a counterpoint to when I actually became a mom to a tiny human.
My son was born almost 8 years ago (7 years and 11/12th’s he’ll proudly tell you). Like all new parents, I was excited and scared to death. I was the youngest in my family. I didn’t grow up babysitting. I’d never changed a diaper. But I had faith that instinct would kick in and I’d be A-Okay. But alas, that’s not quite what happened.
Having a newborn is pure insanity. It’s a balance of sleep deprivation, giving up most of your “me time” and the instant shift that you’re no longer the center of your universe. But at the same time, you’re told to put your mask on before helping others. Show me one mother that’s like, “Hold tight kid, Mama’s gotta put her mask on. Just watch a little Paw Patrol while I fiddle with these elastic bands. Just ignore the feeling of impending doom. Chase is on the case!” Now, almost 8 years in, the insanity has lessened, but I do feel the stakes are higher—he remembers things now. Shit.
But you know what, in between the insanity, the mom guilt, and the fights over socks, I’ve become much more resilient. I don’t sweat the small stuff. Motherhood will do that, but so will being a business leader. They’re both incredibly humbling. Most news that’s brought to you is bad. There’s not a lot of “thank you” and pats on the back when you’re the head honcho. You teach your kid to say thanks when you give them a locally sourced wholesome snack of dehydrated kale crisps (or Cheez-its) but do they ever say, “Mom! Thanks for paying the rent!! That’s super swell of you!!”
Because, yeah, the Cheez-Its are great, but how about the rent, the meals on the table, the running to school events, being on the PTA, haggling with the insurance company, researching summer camps. That’s the real work of parenting, and that gets no thank you. And when you’re good at your job and your fostering everyone to do well, there’s not a lot of thank you’s. Honestly, that’s perfectly okay. Their job isn’t to thank their leader, their job is to do the best they can, which is extremely rewarding and makes you look good. Hiring and surrounding yourself with good, smart people—that’s the best thing a leader can do. A leader isn’t intimidated to have smart people around them, just like a good mom is happy to see their kids thriving. A few, “MOM!!!!! I LOVE BROCCOLI!!” exclamations at Whole Foods can go a long way, too, kid.
My favorite mom lesson that I’ve brought to the business world is, don’t offer up an answer to a question that you don’t want people to choose. Don’t offer up jumping in muddy puddles in the park, if you really wanted them to read a book. Don’t offer a timing solution that will royally disrupt ten other things to make someone happy. Choices are good. Choices that set everyone up to win, are best. People may not be “winning” as much as they want, but they were involved in the decision, and it’s not going to have negative effects down the road.
Finally, give yourself a break. Not just having a Calgon Take Me Away moment, but don’t beat yourself up. That helps nothing. If you truly did something that makes you an asshole, well, beat yourself up a little and don’t do it again. But if things happen because you’re human and you don’t have a crystal ball? Don’t wallow in the self-flagellation. Learn from it. Move on. I tell my son that all the time. So, you lost. Why did you lose? No idea why? Well, that’s because sometime things just don’t go your way. Doesn’t mean they won’t again, but if you give up, you’ve definitely lost. Whether it’s a pitch meeting or a creeper blew up your house in Minecraft—sometimes bad things happen. But the great ones say, NOT NEXT TIME!(And build a fence around the house and don’t go out after dark when the creepers are out. Just saying.)
I’m proud to be a mom, and I’m proud to own my own business. I’m proud when my son sees a commercial on TV that I can say, “Remember when I went to LA? It was to shoot that!” He gets wide-eyed and looks at me like I’m a superhero. Then he says something profound like, “Do we have any more Cheez-its?” And you know what? We do. Way to go, Mom. Way to go.