Tiny little hands would furiously slap aside the phone, turn it upside down, recalls Dr Sarah Rasmi, founder of UAE-based psychological consultancy Thrive Wellbeing Centre. “My daughter being young, she used to come over sometimes and like turn my phone over. Like, she didn't [know what she was doing, she just knew that this stupid contraption is keeping my mum from engaging with me right now. And she would turn it over. And so what I would do in those moments is really check in with myself and say, ‘Is what I'm doing urgent? Do I need to do it right now?’”
The Swiss expat’s journey into entrepreneurhood began in 2018 with a slim operation (two people) and two young kids. Her daughter was two-and-a-half-years old at the time.
Doing your own thing runs in the family. Dr Rasmi, who grew up in a family of four, explains her father is an entrepreneur. “Watching him develop his business really helped me when I made the journey into entrepreneurship myself, because I was able to sort of witness first-hand what it entails,” she explains. “And because I kind of saw him travelling, and I saw him working such intense hours and managing so many different things. I think I had much more realistic expectations. And so I was able to prepare myself a little bit more than I might have been if I had grown up in sort of a different context or circumstance.”
However, she explains to Gulf News in an interview, as a business mum, one must look out for more things than the average entrepreneur. Besides logistics such as space, time and finance, one must navigate the landmines of motherhood, including crippling mum guilt.
The psychologist, whose business has grown to a 20-member team in three-and-a-half years, explains how time – or the lack of it – could turn into an overwhelming wave of guilt: “When we would open a new office, when we would on-board a bunch of new people, I would be working 12-hour days at the office, and it was hard. And it would be hard for me and for the kids, because let's say I work 12-hour days, five days a week. Friday is the only day where you don't really hear from anybody because the office is closed, and everybody's doing their own thing. But then you're so exhausted from that 60 hours of being in the office, in addition to all of the other hours thinking about the office. And so you know, you're exhausted, but then you feel guilty that you haven't spent as much time with them as you might have liked. There's just this constant battle.”
But being a trained therapist comes with a bandwidth to rationalise; to introspect and to analyse a situation. “It was always something that I sort of took day by day and did the best that I possibly could, sometimes I was able to spend more time with them and sometimes I wasn't able to. And the way that I would reassure myself is that, you know, they know that I'm there for them. And at the same time, I'm modelling for them a lot of really important things,” she says.
She explains that she’s demonstrating:
- the importance of doing something that you love and that you're passionate about,
- hard work,
- diligence, and
- “For my little girl, I'm modelling for her, that you can be whatever you want, and do whatever you want, regardless of your gender,” she says.
That doesn’t mean that the kids didn’t ever exhibit resentment – sometimes the disapproval was implicit, sometimes explicit, she explains. But the way to manage is to check in with yourself, says Dr Rasmi. “[When something was urgent], then I would try to explain to her or to him [son or daughter] that I really want to spend time with you, I really want to give you the energy and attention that you deserve, but I need to deal with this. I will be back in five minutes, half an hour, one hour, whatever it is. Then, I would give myself permission to check out and take care of what I would need to do. And then I would do my best to keep the device or the distraction as far away as possible. Obviously, that worked. Sometimes it didn't work. Sometimes they were open to it. Sometimes they were not open to it. But again, there is no foolproof solution, you just kind of have to try your best. So that's what I would do.”
Taking care of the family, the business and everyone else meant Dr Rasmi has suffered burnout a couple of times, until she learned to delegate, to slow down – and take some time out to focus on herself. “For me, I have a tendency to strive towards excellence, and to always be thinking about what the next step is … one of the things I've been really actively trying to do, and COVID-19 really kind of helped me start to re-evaluate my priorities and put different things in place is to slow down. I don't always need to be five steps ahead, I don't always need to be planning and moving towards this goal. Sometimes it's okay to just take a break and to savour where things are. So it took me a few years to get to that point. I wish I had gotten to that point earlier. But now I'm here. And it's definitely a much more comfortable way to live,” she explains.
• feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
• increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
• reduced professional efficacy.”
COVID-19 and its impositions, she said taught her that she needed time … for herself. “I do take time for myself,” she explains. “I've given myself permission to do it [exercise] for my own health and my own well-being. It's something that I've been able to kind of commit to over time, and it's made, it was the game changer… I do sometimes my workouts at home and my kids will sometimes even join in with me, which is really probably not so great for the actual outcome of the workout. But again, it's like a nice experience bonding experience. And I know that I'm modelling healthy habits for them. And I hope they take that into their own adult lives as well.”
• Talking walks
• Going for a meal by yourself
• Giving yourself a few minutes in the car before you enter a crowed space
Calling herself an introvert, Dr Rasmi explains, she needs ‘me-time’. “I need that time to myself to process and just be quiet. And so I also give myself permission to do things on my own,” she explains. “Sometimes that's like taking walks completely by myself. Sometimes I'll go for a meal at a restaurant completely by myself, sometimes I'll sit in the car, before I go into the house, just by myself, to give myself a little bit of space to just process everything that's going on and to just connect with me. Because you can't forget yourself.”
It's okay to not be perfect
And that’s her message to other working mums too. “I think my main advice would be to manage expectations that I know it's very difficult, but it is impossible to do it all to have it all. And rather than pursuing this perfect balance and managing everything perfectly, which a lot of us sort of strive towards, we have to recognise that at any given time, something is going to give - it's a recalibration, and a balancing act. The other thing is that for a lot of us, we don't like to or we don't feel comfortable asking for support and expressing our needs.
“Many of us have this idea that we need to be responsible for things. And that means that we take on and we shoulder the lion's share of responsibility both at home and at work. But, it's okay to ask for help. It's okay to say no, it's okay to take breaks. In fact, not doing these things pretty much guarantees that you're going to find yourself in a state of burnout and recovering from a state of burnout is much more difficult than proactively preventing it,” she says.
Give yourself permission to be the best you – even if that means taking some time out.
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