Moms Doing It For Themselves: Georgina McKenna
Loneliness comes in all forms. When she started her family Georgina McKenna felt a little isolated, but she was also an entrepreneurial spirit who could see an opportunity in providing a service for helping mums to meet up and get back ‘out there’. So, she invented countherin.com
Tell me a bit about your background (education, career)
It’s very colourful! I have worked since the age of 13 in part- time roles until I left school at 16. I went to college and studied psychology, sociology and law, but got I gave up after a year – I knew my mum would go mad, so I went to the armed forces office and joined the Navy!
As expected, my mum was not happy, but it was okay; I had a plan I was going to be in the Navy, complete my education there and so off I went to complete my basic training at age 17 – I lasted seven weeks, I hated every minute of being away from home I cried every night. When I got back home my family told me it was not meant to be; I was a home bird and needed to be around my family and friends. Little did we know I would meet my now husband six months later and move to Ireland less than 18 months after leaving the navy.
Once I moved to Ireland, I began working for a large multinational, it was an entry level role but within six months I was promoted – I went on to be promoted six times over the 12 years I was working there, and my final role was as Global procurement operations manager. I was responsible for managing the company’s multi-billion dollar spend and had a team in Dublin as well as Prague, and the US. I went back to college during my time working at the company studying business studies, marketing and then gaining my project management qualification.
Did having children change how you felt about your career? How so?
I had my first son, Keelan, at the age of 25, I loved my job and knew I had a great career in front of me – I was so used to working I wondered what I would do with all my free time when I was on maternity leave so I signed up to study project management while I was off (I had no idea how busy I would be with a newborn). But, somehow I managed to complete my studies and gained my qualification. I went back to work just as ambitious as before. Then the guilt set in – I went on to have another child, a little girl, Ava Rose, three years later. Going back to work this time was a struggle - but being at home was tough too.
I felt out of my depth at home, I didn’t really know what I was doing. Some days it felt like everything I did was wrong. I had very few friends locally and most of them were at work while I was on maternity leave. Approaching the end of my maternity leave I was ready to go back to work, ready to go back to the job I knew I could do – I would be able to drink coffee while it was still hot and go the bathroom on my own again. But back in the office, I felt pulled in every direction – I was still very ambitious; I wanted to continue moving up the career ladder but I struggled to juggle it all. I began managing projects but with this came travel, European at first but then the US. When my two children both got chicken pox I was in Oklahoma City on a week-long work trip. It was torture I felt like the worst mammy in the world and the worst employee as I got nothing done that week worrying about what was happening at home.
Despite the struggle I found having children had a huge benefit on my career – I was more relaxed in terms of when things were going wrong, I knew it wasn’t the end of the world and we would find a solution. I had better negotiation and persuasion skills – what better practice than battling with a toddler and a 5-year-old?
What changes did you make to make your career work for you?
I was lucky I had a very understanding and flexible Boss so I began working 4 days a week (doing longer days to have a Friday off), that was until I was almost due my 3rd baby, Rían, and he left the company just as I went on maternity leave. I knew going back this time was going to be very different and I was unsure how I would manage my career and the travel with three children under 6, while also trying to impress a new Boss and fit in with a changed company. When I went back it was clear the changes in the company were not going to suit my circumstances, it was time to make a decision. I had thought I would remain in the company for many more years but it wasn’t to be – I couldn’t do it all, and so when the opportunity to take redundancy came up I knew that was the best option for me and my family.
How did you feel when making these changes?
Lost! I no longer knew where my place in the world was. How could I start all again in a company and have to prove myself, working long hours, what about the commute? I just couldn’t do it. And so, I made a decision that I needed to find something that would allow me to fulfil my own dreams and ambitions but that would also fit in with our very busy family life I did a Start Your Own Business Course and in May 2016 I launched my company Count Her In – an online and offline social community for women – we provide a way for women to make friends in their area and then encourage and facilitate meet ups and events.
I used my own experiences from relocating, and then being on maternity leave – I wondered if the isolation I had felt was unique to me. I found out very quickly it wasn’t! We now have over 14,818 members of our communities across Ireland and have recently launched in UK and US – No woman should be isolated regardless of age, circumstance, location – Having friendships and connections locally is so very important.
How did your partner support you through this time?
My husband has always been very supportive – although I don’t think he always fully understood the guilt I experienced when I was working or the constant fear of doing nothing right. I would be at work thinking about the children and how I shouldn’t be away from them, and then I would be home with the children worrying about all the things I didn’t get done that day in the office. Since I launched my own business John, my husband, has been my rock. There have been so many times I was going to look for a “real” job and he would remind me how far I had come and the reasons why I was doing what I was doing. Yes, some days were tough, I didn’t have the same salary (in fact for 12 months I had no salary!) But I was so much happier, the stresses from before where I was constantly running, dragging the children out of bed to ensure they were dressed by 6.30am to get to the creche on time, the times I missed important occasions because I was travelling – I no longer had to deal with any of these I was able to schedule and control my own days and I had the huge fulfilment that came with knowing what we were doing was making a real difference in other women’s lives.
What worked and what didn’t work along the way?
I was blessed when it came to childcare - my next door neighbour / best friend minded my children for numerous years until we made the decision to move and then I moved my sister over from England to become our temporary live in Au Pair until we found a suitable creche. Childcare was the most important thing to me. It meant I knew when my babies weren’t with me I didn’t have to worry (in theory anyway.)
Some things that didn’t work would be the simple everyday things which if not handled can cause you to get overwhelmed. I am not one to ask for help most (most women/mothers) aren’t, but I learnt I have to ask for help and I have to accept help when offered. Another thing I never did was give myself time for me, I was always busy with work, the children the house – There was no time left for me (I made sure there wasn’t) I have only recently realised how much of a mistake I was making – I need some time for me whether that’s to go for a swim, a walk or even going the cinema with friends – We need to make time for ourselves even when you think you can’t. We need to learn to look after ourselves so we can continue looking after others.
Considering your happiness levels before making a switch to now - how have they improved/decreased?
Drastically – When I was in my previous job I didn’t consider myself unhappy. But I was stressed, I had a lot of headaches, I was anxious – I hated leaving my husband and babies behind to go off on work trips. Now, I get to determine my schedule, I have the best of both worlds I am doing something I love but fitting it in around my children. 2 days a week I work until 5 pm and then the other 3 days I finish at 3 pm so I am there when they come home from school – having the opportunity to do homework with my children was something I never did before it was always done in the creche or by the childminder. Life is still busy, still hectic but I feel so much more in control. I don’t worry if the children are sick who can I get to mind them. Instead, I tuck them up on the sofa and if I need to do an hours work whilst they sleep I can.
How do you rate your work/life balance?
Getting there! I have a personality type where I thrive on being busy, I still take on too much both from a work perspective and a social perspective – My children are now 8, 5 and 2 – life is busy. I think work/life balance is something always to be worked on – I am not sure there is a perfect balance that can be achieved. But I now have a very good understanding of what is important in life, and I try and make sure we fit in everything else around that.
3 bits of advice for working mothers?
- Look out for yourself – You need help, you need support, you need time for yourself and you need to make sure you do things just for you.
- Ask your boss/employer – if there are any options available to you that would make life easier - (Can you work longer hours a few days to have a Friday off, can you job share, can you work from home, parental leave what options are available).
- Best thing I've ever come across, which I think is so true – You can have 2 of the following but not all 3…. happy children / your sanity / clean house – Which two will you pick?
Would you like to be featured on this series? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little bit about your career, how you manage to balance your work and life balance and let us know if you've made any drastic changes to facilitate your family and career.