Written by: Karen Thomas, CNP
Reading Time: 5 minutes

I am a 21st Century working mom. I am juggling the responsibilities of a high-pressure job in philanthropy and marketing, constantly creating and implementing new fundraising strategies for an organization that has not traditionally spoken to or thanked donors. All the while I am a mom – picking up and dropping off kids, helping with homework, acting as a chauffeur to after-school activities EVERY NIGHT during the week. And I am still responsible for all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and managing schedules. It’s exhausting and a mental drain. I often find myself shaving time off my workday and then to meet deadlines and communicate to my leadership, team, vendors and most importantly donors. I get back online at night to work my 2nd shift at my job, sacrificing sleep, to meet the demands of my life in and out of the office. I feel like if I want to get ahead and move up within our industry, I must put in 50-60 hours to meet these demands and can’t turn off my job – ever!

I am reminded of the quote – “Working moms are supposed to work like you don’t have kids but parent like you don’t have a career.” How is this even possible? This is the struggle for me every day and I often feel I am not doing anything well.

Now I know everyone is not a parent. Even if you’re not a mom, we live in a world with ever increasing responsibility outside of the office – caring for aging parents, being a parent to fur babies, volunteering, managing the upkeep of a home, working multiple jobs – the list is endless!

So, what do you do?

  • Learn to say no! No one can do it all – especially me! I am trying to focus on what’s most important, but I can’t sign my kids up for every activity, attend all events I’m invited to, nor go to every work happy hour or accept every request to volunteer.
  • Prioritize – no one can accomplish everything. For me, I must build timelines and manage projects to accomplish top priorities. I am learning to say no at work too. All projects aren’t a high priority and sometimes I have to push back and say there is too much on my plate to manage another project.
  • Make a to do list! I list everything – my day at work, tactics for projects with deadlines, grocery lists, errands, scheduling appointments – and keep one calendar with EVERYTHING on it.
  • And then I turn off work – silence your phone and messages – be present in your life – with kids, with partners, with friends, with activities. No one can do it all or be perfect.If your employer doesn’t value your time, especially away from the office, it’s time to re-evaluate if it’s the right job for you. I did it – I left my last position before PetSmart Charities® because I felt like I was being taken advantage of, especially during the pandemic. I was expected to do more, raise more money, increase our presence in our market, find alternative income streams for organizational growth and sustainability. More, More, More! I finally had to look inward and face the truth – I can’t keep up this pace. I’m tired, irritable, zoned out and I wasn’t being a good partner or parent at home. I couldn’t be a good employee feeling this way either. So, I quit. I took time to find my next work “home” and asked the questions that I needed to ask in the beginning – can I leave every day to pick-up my kids and then finish my workday at home? Can I flex my time so I can be a Girl Scout troop leader for my daughter? Can I really have the flexibility to take care of myself – see my therapist or just take a break when I am feeling fried? The overwhelming response during my interview process was YES! My leadership was transparent and is committed to fostering a culture of self-care. They know if their

associates take the needed time for themselves, their team will be committed to their jobs and produce better results. I knew then that I had found the right place for me and 16 months in, I love where I am and what I am doing.

Now I am trying to find time for myself. I am reminded by friends, family, even my therapist that I need to take care of myself first, otherwise I am not good for anyone.

A few years ago, a former CEO had our team read the book, One Word. This was a positive exercise for me. I came up with the word JOY – it resonated with me. What brings me JOY? How do I outwardly present JOY? How do I feel JOY in my life? I had to do a lot of soul searching. Sure, there are things that create JOY in my life but how could I ever fit any of these in my schedule? I am lucky – my work brings me immense JOY. But I knew deep down inside that I needed other things in my life that bring me JOY –cooking, baking, taking a yoga class, going for a walk, spending time with my family and friends – I needed to make these a priority. So, I started scheduling everything! I know, you should have the element of spontaneity in one’s life, but that’s not my reality. I make sure to schedule time to see friends, I commit to having dinner with my family every night around the kitchen table. Some nights we might be having cereal for dinner but being together, talking about our day, laughing, is what’s important. I registered for a yoga class. I’ve committed to prioritize me, making a list of what I WANT to do, not just what I NEED to do. I’ve found this incredibly beneficial and increasing the amount of JOY inmy life.

I hope this strategy is useful for others. This is what is working for me. I am putting myself first. It’s demanding work but I’ve come to realize that if I don’t prioritize me, both at work and at home, I will lose myself. I don’t want to wake up one day in the distant future angry and miserable. I want, I need JOY.

I hope you find your JOY too…

About the Author: Karen Nikoloudakis Thomas is a seasoned nonprofit fundraising and marketing professional with more than 25 years’ experience in the industry. A generalist who specializes with all aspects of fundraising, Karen has raised more than $100M in revenue for organizations like Make-A-Wish, Ronald McDonald House Charities and most recently PetSmart Charities. When not working on an annual fund piece or talking with a donor, Karen can be found hanging with her family and two fur babies, cooking, reading, exploring new restaurants, or taking a yoga class. To relax Karen has become an avid baker and canner – the one good lasting effect of the pandemic.