Many will argue that being a mum and an entrepreneur do not exactly mix well. But for me, my family has been the driving force behind setting up my first company, and continues to be what propels me forward in my career.
My mother died when I was 23 and it really challenged my perspective on what is important in life, and the kind of life I wanted to have. I got a decent job out of university and was earning significant money, but I was not really taking good care of myself, as I was working extremely long hours. In addition to that, when my mum died, my employers at the time were largely unsympathetic to the loss—shockingly so—and so I wasn’t really given the opportunity or room to grieve and process the loss of my mother.
This experience made me realise that the only way I would truly have control over the life I wanted to have was by working for myself. So, at 24, I set myself up with a phone and a desk and started making connections that would help me build the businesses I have today.
Fast forward 21 years, I’m now the CEO and founder of several insurance businesses in the UK and Australia. I have over 200 staff and last year we had a collective turnover of over £23 million. It sounds impressive on paper, but the truth is that being a parent is by far the most challenging undertaking I’ve ever engaged in.
I decided to have children reasonably late in life, so having a seven- and a four-year-old at 45 definitely makes you appreciate the need to take care of yourself and get plenty of sleep. In some ways my life is probably a little more flexible time-wise, as I share custody of my children, splitting the child care.
Sam on a clay model-building project with daughter, Frankie, and son, Harry.
I love my work, and up until having kids I think it’s fair to say I was a workaholic, but I didn’t want that to be the case thereafter. When the children are with me, I cut my schedule down. But the biggest challenge by far for me is holding myself accountable to being present. There will always be more work, and the prevalence of smart phones and numerous communication channels means that it’s difficult not to get drawn into being distracted.
I’ve personally found it’s better for me to engage in specific activities with the kids that we both enjoy and have to concentrate on. During lockdown, I starting building clay models with them! This allowed us to engage in a shared project and took enough concentration that I wasn’t able to let work distract me.
Aside from juggling school pick-up and drop-offs, after-school activities and more, the hardest thing to deal with is mum guilt. It plagues us all and can be all-encompassing. When I’m at work, I worry that I’m neglecting my kids and vice versa when I’m at home. I’m still very much a work in progress but I’m trying really hard to give myself a break on this front. We can only do our best and I feel like as long as you are cognisant of the potential conflict, you can at least work to mitigate it.
In addition to taking care of everyone else (as many women do), I know that taking care of myself is critical. I do love the analogy of putting your oxygen mask on first on a plane before helping any infant or child. For me, particularly as I have become older, exercise has become critical to keeping my energy levels up. I prioritise it in my diary before the day begins. My kids often join in for a little bit, and this is also important to me. I know that our children tend to emulate us in what we do, not what we say, so I try my best to give them a template that helps them, not hinders them.
Harry attempting to lift weights like his mum.
No matter how much I love my work, I love my kids more. So for me, I have to fight to make sure that ratio of time and energy is reflective of that priority. It’s important to stay flexible and resist the temptation to say yes to everything. It’s hard, especially for me, but it has to be done. One of the most powerful words in the English language is “No”, and practising saying that when work runs the risk of conflicting with family has definitely been a learning curve for me.
Sam recently launched female centric car insurtech brand, Stella, underwritten by QBE, in Australia. Stella offers a unique range of benefits designed by women, including cover for damage to your car that arises from a deliberate act in a domestic violence situation, and $2000 of baby gear cover that’s in addition to the standard cover for child seats and personal effects.
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