In 2003, as a single mother with a young son, I sold my house to start JBK Associates International, a business that has since become a multimillion-dollar firm. On my path to success as a single working mother, I’ve made thousands of mistakes. Here are three principles that should make your path easier.
1. Set boundaries
Single working mothers either prioritize or get dragged around by conflicting demands. There is no such thing as working 24/7. You have to sleep. You have to recharge. You have to spend time with your family.
Strengthen your boundaries by managing expectations. My dad told me that, in a marriage, whoever takes out the garbage first takes it out forever.
That principle applies to business, too. If you respond to every client within five seconds, you’re setting an expectation. You may want that; I’ve chosen to respond to all client queries within one to two hours, but I also tell clients that response times will be slower on weekends.
Your boundaries need to include time for yourself, too. Initially, I allocated time for my business and time for my son, answering emails each morning from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and getting help so that I had family time each night free of chores or distractions. But I didn’t set aside the time I needed for myself.
Then, the recession seriously threatened my business at the same time my son went through his teenage years. Had I not started going to the gym, I think I might have lost my mind. Those workouts gave me the energy I needed to stay positive and focused. As a result, my business avoided layoffs and went on to record-breaking growth, my son made the transition to college and I lost a few extra pounds.
2. Look for options
I use the job title of “chief possibilities officer” because I’ve found that, the more options I generate, the more successful I become. In business, you can always come up with possibilities if you look at a situation objectively. You might lose a key staff member and find you can outsource the work more effectively. Or you might lose a major piece of business and find an even more profitable alternative.
The same applies to other parts of life. Hiring a nanny may not work for you, but you might be able to lean on a family member or friend or redirect some of your finances to get at least some child-care help. Everyone has different circumstances and nothing works for every individual, but you almost always have options.
Read more: Do Working Moms Negatively Impact Kids?
3. Never give up
I truly believe the secret to success is never giving up. No matter how bad the day is, no matter how discouraged you get, keep going. I’m not the smartest person or the most talented, but I am tenacious. During the recession, I gave myself a daily morning pep talk. Sometimes that was as simple as saying, “Yesterday stunk—let’s see what today brings.” When things go wrong, you have two choices: Stay still and crash and burn, or keep going. Sometimes, when it’s hard to keep going, I find it helps to think about why I’m doing what I’m doing. Connecting with my purpose always helps me stay on track.
The truth is that it’s hard to be a single mother with a big career. You’ll be pulled too many ways, you’ll make bad decisions and sometimes you’ll want to give up. But you’ll also have the chance to use your best talents both out in the world and at home. For me, that’s worth everything.
Julie B. Kampf is CEO and chief possibilities officer at JBK Associates International.