“How DO you do it?”
This question requires an answer. It’s the missing piece of a puzzle that strikes the mind of many women I meet, especially when they learn I’m a mother of ten as well as an entrepreneur. I meet hundreds, possibly thousands as I speak all over.
The answers I could give identify my choices, how I see myself and therefore how the world might see me. And I don’t know how often I am asked this question, but I do know if I had a £1 for every time I’d be a wealthy woman, for sure.
The One Woman Conference: Taking off the mask
At the One of many One Woman Conference I was asked that question maybe 30 times in one music pumping, celebratory wisdom-fuelled, central London half-day. I didn’t attend the whole two day affair but I suspect those who did walked on air because of the high octane input.
The One of many panel discussion I took part in moved all of us in the room that day. Tears were shed as Meenal Sachdev shared about sickening child trafficking and slavery.
We were stirred by Dr Eve Hepburn and Elaine Wilkin’s mental health struggles that birthed incredible projects to support young women and those suffering with ME and Fibromyalgia. So when it came to me, in a way, all I felt I could offer was myself.
My voice, fully human, with frailties, brimming with belief for us all as we forge forward.
That’s not to suggest I don’t acknowledge the impact of my consulting work at C-suite level. It also doesn’t mean that I’m somehow shying from visibility or self-appreciation. It’s the very opposite.
It’s because I know my worth that I’m willing to be myself and show up as a remarkable-ordinary-accomplished-messy woman. It’s crucial for those of us invited onto panels and keynote giving sessions, to crack the myth of seamless life: That we wake up glossed and groomed, embodying serenity.
Breaking the myth of perfection
Let me give you a live example of my route to the conference to demonstrate this.
Having driven from the Brighton coast more than half an hour away to avoid the weekend replacement bus system I discovered the train station car park was closed. The guy at the car park was disinterested in sharing where cars could park. I mentioned I hadn’t a clue about the area and couldn’t miss my train. Gesticulating across a maddeningly complex road system he smiled and said, “Good luck, love”.
I called my eldest daughter and had what can only be described as a mini meltdown. Drama isn’t one of my life’s side dishes, yet somehow I leant full into histrionics. Did I mention the torrential rain?
As I made my way back to the station, my carefully chosen conference outfit – ankle boots, bare legs, backpack and flashy dress – proved quite the combo, as it garnered white van driver beeps. I was not amused. The trek to the train left my dress sodden, and composure deserted me.
From Victoria I had one last mission to accomplish before taking my place on the One of many stage. It was allegedly an easy task but one I managed to make an almighty ‘cock-up’ of. My assignment was to locate House of Fraser and present myself to a make-up whizz at the Mac counter. I’ve forgotten to mention my face was cleansed bare.
Being a navi-guesser rather than a navigator (despite using my iPhone with map) I circled around the station in several directions. Cue another meltdown and accompanying wobbly lower lip.
The superb assistant at Mac declared me a woman of great joie-de-vivre energetically, while slapping on far more product than I ever would have chosen. Internally I was almost beside myself as she slowly tried out strobe creams, blushers and the like. I all but ran from the shop, accosted a postman for directions and made the hotel with about 3 minutes to spare. A swift throw on of tights in a cramped loo by reception left me stage ready. Just.
The minor tribulations of my morning served to test me. They also allowed me to sit before an audience of 500 amazing women with humility uppermost in my soul. I can take my mission and purpose in life seriously, but certainly not myself.
How do I do it? 3 tips
When women ask me how I do it, truthfully I can tell them. Along the way, I’ve learned a thing or two about how I can make the difference I am here to make without finding myself swallowed up in logistics, doubts or trying to do it all.
Three of my most treasured tried-and-tested tactics are:
1. Ask for help.
I’m never too proud to admit when I need extra support so I can direct my energy where it’s most needed. From childcare to helpful postmen, I wouldn’t have been made it to the One of many stage were it not for the people I asked to support me along the way. We can do anything we want to – but we can’t do it all ourselves.
2. Let go of perfection
My face might not have been how I wanted it. I could have done with catching an earlier train. There are countless things, every day, I could do differently. But none of the women in the audience were there to judge my makeup skills, and showing up matters more to me than conforming to a timetable. I choose to focus on what matters, forgive myself for the mistakes I make along the way, and let go of the rest.
3. Go with the flow
Life’s too short to spend time wishing reality was different. “If only…” is a dangerous phrase – and it can stop women in their tracks, who tell themselves they’d love to make a real impact… but they have kids, or they’ve been out of the workplace too long, or a myriad of other reasons. I’ve longed for a simple life as much as the next woman, but the truth is I wouldn’t really exchange the glorious complexity of balancing family life – while trusting I can still have an impact – for the world.
In part that’s why I’ve founded School for Mothers (SFM). Because I DO know how mothers can retain and grow themselves as women of great talent and impact, while at the same time raising happy families.
Sadly though we’ve a global epidemic of exhausted overwhelmed mothers with many (often secret) wishes and ambitions for themselves. These same women are struggling to navigate selfhood and motherhood without monumental tension. We’ve all been fed lies that it’s either our children, or ourselves that can flourish.
So I’m calling time on archaic outgrown models of motherhood and instead heading a movement to modernise this. It’s exciting, it’s needed, and mothers are joining together for ourselves, and future generations.
Go ahead, ask me again how I do it because I’ll tell you it’s messy. I’ll tell you it’s only make-up deep and always about a daily emotional surf ride. And I’ll also tell you things are on the change for Mothers.
If you’d like to hear more about this, our first one-day event, SFM Live, lands in London on 17th November. Click here to find out more. Because one thing’s for sure, we’re in this together. It would be so good to share this day with you.
About Danusia Malina-Derben
The Straight-talking Consultant and Mother Of Ten!
Danusia Malina-Derben is a serial entrepreneur and straight-talking consultant advising Boards and C suite clients on their Strategic leadership.
She is also founder of School For Mothers – an inspirational movement modernising motherhood one ambitious mother at a time.
She is mother of ten children including ‘her last baby’, triplets of five years old. Find out more at www.schoolformothers.com.