Stories of Hope and Grace: Felicia Walker-Benson

June 17, 2016

One of the greatest events in many women’s lives is having a child, but nothing can adequately prepare you for the power of the event until it happens to you. Most women struggle with the balance of taking care of yourself along with caring for your new, beautiful baby. Motherhood is a beautiful life event, but it can — and does — require additional devotion to self-care on behalf of the mother. It’s something many women forget, but it’s incredibly important.

One of our dearest friends, Felicia Walker-Benson, Editor-in-Chief of This That Beauty, was kind enough to share the joys and lessons she’s learned as a relatively new mother, particularly when it comes to making the tough call to prioritize your life and family over your job. We’re inspired by Felicia, and we hope she will inspire you as well:

I started my site around 2006. During that time, I was working in Human Resources, so HR was my full-time job and my blog was a side platform for sharing my passion for beauty, skincare, and fashion. It was just a place for me to kind of purge all those ramblings that were happening in my mind along with similar conversations happening with girls in the office. I needed a place to put it all, and that’s how it began.

I actually just recently went full-time freelance actually again, but I’ve had to work hard to make the site what it is. Some people don’t really realize that I was full-time freelance from 2009 through 2011. I started my blog in 2006, around 2009 I left my full-time HR job to pursue my blog full-time for two years, which was a full-time, revenue-generating, real life, pay-my-bills-type situation. In 2011, I made the move to Bergdorf Goodman to oversee all of their beauty editorial and beauty social media. So, I had a full-time position while still running my blog and brand. For five years, I kind of balanced the two. It was during this time I discovered that my husband and I were expecting our first child.

Becoming a mother just felt like a natural extension of my life, and it wasn’t a surprise because it was something we’d always planned to happen. I’ve always wanted to be a working mom. I’ve worked since I was 14, so I’ve always liked the idea of working and being independent. I’ve always liked the idea of juggling many things. It’s part of who I am: I’m someone who likes managing different things, and having to multitask and figure it out.

I was really fortunate that I didn’t have a difficult pregnancy at all despite my quote, ‘advanced age’, I was 37. That’s definitely considered a geriatric pregnancy. Despite my advanced age, I had a very seamless pregnancy in terms of how it affected my body and my emotional health. I had a couple of little things happen (I once fainted from a lack of protein during my pregnancy,) but other than that it was a good pregnancy.

I’ve always wanted to be a working mom. As I’ve continued to go down the path of running my business from home, I’ve definitely cherished having more time with my daughter, Phoebe. But I definitely feel like being a working mom is who I am.

I have to say that one of the best discoveries for me has been acupuncture. I started getting into it even before I got pregnant. I’ve found it really helpful; it allows me to just relax and connect with my mind, body and spirit. Learning to give myself those little breaks, even if it was for an hour or so a week, was so helpful in my ability to be there for myself, my family, and for all that work.

Even though I’m organized and I love juggling a million details, taking time to care for myself while raising a child and continuing to build a brand is a process. I wish I could tell you I’m that person who does weekly yoga and that I still do acupuncture all the time, but I don’t. I just started going back to acupuncture when I realized was that I was starting to really, really, really stress out toward the end of the year last year. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel; just going, going, going. My blog has continued to grow so much over the years, and I kind of had one foot in the blog and one foot in Bergdorf, balancing the two.

It was at that time I was getting really stressed and feeling pulled in so many directions. Between being a mom and trying to find time to make everything work at home and managing the increasing needs at my full-time job along with my own brand, I was stretched thin. I started to realize most days allowed for only a very small amount of time at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day with my kid. I think a lot of working moms have that similar stress where a flexible working situation turns out to be less flexible than you thought. The reality was that I wasn’t really just working three days a week; I was working all the time.

At the end of last year, it really started to sink in how stressed I was. I remember Thanksgiving Eve I just felt like I was going to have a complete breakdown. I reached out to my acupuncturist with the intention to get in once a week, but what I started realizing was that I really needed to re-order my life. It just wasn’t working. It wasn’t possible for me to continue the job AND my site AND have the time I needed with Phoebe. Once I made that decision, it was literally like an overnight switch. I remember walking in on my birthday and resigning. The night before, I thought about delaying the decision, but I realized, “Nope, this is what needs to happen.” I needed to organize myself in a totally different way.

Now, I feel like I have much more balance, and I’m so happy with my decision. I’ve been able to make time for more exercise in my life. I have more time to build my business, and I have more time with my baby. I can create the kind of life that’s more about my top priorities (family, my own business, my health,) and take the steps to set that up for longevity. I feel like I saw the opportunity to set up the life I want to have long-term, and I took it. I’m not committed to an office, I’m working as much or as little as I want; I can eat ramen noodles or steak based on the amount of work I want to take on.

I’m 41, but I think even people that are much younger that I am are starting to realize the importance of having a better kind of life; I think people are burning out a lot sooner than my parents’ generation. I think burnout with our generation happens more often because we feel we have to be “on” all the time. Everyone’s doing so much; so much is constantly expected of you. I think many people are thinking creatively about how to structure their lives around the quality of living more than around money. There was no amount of money that could have gotten me to stay in my prior situation. No amount of cash would get me more time with my kid, time to get to the gym, to, get to acupuncture — it would have just gotten me more money.

I believe if you do what you love, you will be financially successful. It will come because you’re working towards something you’re really passionate about, and you’ll have a better quality of life. I think that’s really important, something people desire more than money. It’s about life on your own terms, and a lot of peace of mind comes from that.

My advice to women who find themselves in a similar situation to what happened to me would be to stop and care for yourself first, and then maybe think creatively about how you can potentially change your situation. It might not always be a financial trade-off; you might trade things that cause unnecessary stress for more sanity and peace of mind. It’s easier said than done, but it works. If your child has a godparent, lean on them one weekend a month or one weekend a quarter so you can take some time for yourself. Even carving out small patches of time can help you find moments of peace. We all deserve them, and we have to ask for them or find ways to make them happen.

I never want to give people this false sense of what it’s like to work for yourself and do your own thing. It’s really, really very hard. It’s a lot harder than working for someone else; I work so much harder now. You have to think about how to turn every introduction into an opportunity. You are the reason your business makes money. It’s about you, so you have to constantly be thinking about these things to keep it going. I’m always really transparent with people that it’s really, really hard work. But I’m so much happier. This is what has worked for me.”