The Working Mom: Angela O’Connor
Angela O’Connor is a mum of four and a winner of one of the JCI's 'Outstanding Young Person of the Year Awards', 2017. She's also CEO of Train Ability, a company that specialises in Disability Awareness. But it hasn’t been plain sailing in her personal life with her daughter’s cancer diagnosis. We chat to her about how she’s coped with it all and - come out the other side!
Tell me a bit about your background (education, career)
I grew up in Palmerstown, in Dublin. I am the youngest of three children. From a young age, I did lots of voluntary work with children and adults with disabilities. It was an area I knew, I would always work in. However, I didn't get enough points in my leaving cert for the course I wanted.
So, I worked three jobs and studied at night and then went on to qualify as a primary school teacher in 1998. I worked as a teacher with children with disabilities, it was always the area I wanted to work in. I went back to college in 2003, to study a Masters in Education, this sparked a change in career for me. I began teaching in colleges - which led me to establish Train Ability, in 2013. We work with companies on disability and accessibility.
I never thought about establishing my own business, it was not something I had ever considered and I jumped into it with my eyes closed! Thankfully, I actually did a business course in Year 2, which made a huge difference! We now work on module development and disability awareness workshops with a lot of well known businesses, for example, Aer Lingus. It is a very exciting time, for the business, we are expanding and as I am nominated for two different awards.
Did having children change how you felt about your career? How so?
I never really understood the word "juggle" until I had children! I have worked all of the different ways, full time, part-time, at home, whatever worked for us as a family. However, my biggest challenge, as a mum, was when our eight-year-old was diagnosed with cancer. She had major surgery and eighteen rounds of chemotherapy. Everything stopped, and everything changed.
What changes did you make to make your career work for you?
I work for myself now, for the first year. I was on the go a lot, but since Lucy got cancer, I have changed; I am a lot more focused on time management. I work around a lot of school and appointments, but it works. One big thing for me is making memories, I feel like I need to make up the time Lucy spent in hospital, if that makes sense!
How did you feel when making these changes?
You really need to be disciplined, which is something, I had struggled with. Also letting go, handing work over to others and other agencies when appropriate, sometimes, when it is your own business, you think you are the expert in everything. So I have learned I am not a graphic designer, printer, etc. I have learned where my strengths are and my weaknesses!
How did your partner support you through this time?
My husband is a company director, so he has a very busy schedule, but he has always supported me with work. When I went back to college, I was teaching full time, I had a one-year-old baby and I was in college two evenings a week! I knew I really wanted to get my Masters in Education so I put in the work and graduated three weeks before Lucy was born! I know he is very proud of how I have managed to keep everything going for all of us, especially over the past number of years. It changes everything in the family, when you have a seriously ill child.
What worked and what didn’t work along the way?
I personally feel, that I find it difficult to ask for help, but it is actually always there for you. Everyone wants to support each other, sometimes it is easy to focus on the negatives around working mothers, but actually all of us are just doing the best we can!. Staying at home with three children under five, did not work out very well for me! I definitely found it hard, there were many moments where I cried while pushing a double buggy and having a buggy board on the back! It was difficult, and we were under pressure financially - so I took an evening job teaching in a college, which worked out really well! That gave me focus and it was that job which led me on to lecturing in both public and private sector colleges.
Considering your happiness levels before making a switch to now – how have they improved / decreased?
I feel very grateful, that I get to be mum to my four children. They each are so different and have faced challenges no children should have. So I am incredibly happy, every moment, every memory, is so important to me. I actually feel, quite content as a mother, probably for the first time. Maybe it is with age, life experience, I think I questioned my role as a parent a lot, but getting through the past two years, while has been incredibly difficult, we are still here. I really struggled as a mother, after being told Lucy had cancer, I kept trying to go back to before she got cancer. That probably sounds strange, but it was all I could do to cope, I finally went to talk to someone, one year after she was diagnosed. Which essentially has saved me from falling apart completely! So yes, I am happy!
How do you rate your work / life balance?
I definitely feel now, I have a much better balance going on, I can drop the children to school, get to appointments, work and have lots of family time at the weekend. I love the outdoors, so we try to get out at the weekend and switch off the phones! Sometimes, it is a duvet day, blinds down, curtains drawn and movie on!
Three bits of advice for working mothers?
- Remember, you're doing the best, whatever way you are doing it, there is no right or wrong way, don’t let other people's opinions get you down. If you are feeling lonely, reach out, having children, while it is amazing, it can be a difficult time with a lot to adjust to, your life has completely changed, sometimes it can take a while to adjust to life after going back to work and then there is the guilt that we all feel from time to time! As much as I would love to wrap my children up in those old fashioned rolls of cotton wool, I can’t! So you have to try and let go of any guilt about working. You are doing it for you and for them!
- It's so important for you to have time, time for you, when you are busy working, then, raising children, you can forget to take time out to just be you. I am 100% guilty of this, I put myself last for a very long time and it is only now, I realise, how important it is for all of us to just have a break. Try, if you can to worry less, as my mam says to me, “What were you worried about this day last week?” It is of course easier said than done!
- Ask for help, this is so difficult for many women. I know it is not just me, who struggles with asking for help. My family and friends have always been an amazing support to me, however I definitely did not utilise the help when offered. I am stubborn and I want to do everything myself. But since life has changed for us all, I do actually accept help, most of the time! I read an article recently, and it ended with a quote, which went along the lines of, “Would you talk to someone else, the way you talk to yourself?” Of course you wouldn’t, we’re our worst critics sometimes, so lighten the load on yourself, you’re doing great!
Would you like to be featured on The Working Mom? 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.