Photo Credit: KLiK Concepts
Robyn Downs knows all about the juggle between motherhood, work and life – and she’s figured out ways to manage it so she can be both a present mom to her 4-year-old daughter Elle and a woman doing work that matters to her. By day, she’s the VP of her parents’ educational consulting company; in her fringe hours, she’s the voice and visionary behind Real Food Whole Life, a website and brand that helps women simplify their lives and enjoy real food and whole living.
Robyn joined me to talk about balance, business, motherhood, self care and so much more. Read on to learn what drives her to continue growing her brand in her fringe hours and how you can create similar opportunities to explore a creative path in your own life.
Why did you decide to become a mom? Was it a hard or easy decision?
I’ve always known I wanted to be a mom. I actually got married pretty young at the age of 22. My husband Andrew and I decided that we wanted to be married, invest in our careers and travel before we dove into parenthood, so we waited about 5 years to start trying for a family. Once we started trying, I experienced two pregnancy losses, which was quite unexpected and incredibly difficult. It wasn’t the motherhood story I had imagined, and it was so painful.
We ended up having Elle the year of our 10-year anniversary. It felt so wonderful to welcome her into our family after waiting so long. It was also quite an adjustment after living together, just the two, of us for more than 10 years.
At what point after you became a mom did you decide to start building your own business?
I was working a 60-hour per week job at a research non-profit and enrolled in a full-time doctoral program when Elle was born. I tried to juggle it, but after about 9 months I decided something had to give. Eventually I quit my job and started working for my parents, which was still demanding, yet had more flexible hours. I also quit my doctoral program. Quitting was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my professional life, but I knew it was what I needed to do for my own well-being as well as for my family’s.
About a year later, when Elle was two, I decided I had the energy to invest again and so I launched Real Food Whole Life. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I joke now that if I had known how much work it was going to be, I never would have done it!
Why did you decide to pursue your passion or purpose outside of motherhood?
This is such an interesting question. I guess it never seemed like becoming a mom meant that I wouldn’t continue to pursue my professional and personal interests. I’m so compelled by the motivation to explore how to make real food and whole living more accessible that I knew I had to find a way to weave it back into my life as soon as possible.
It was a natural transition at that point, too, since I was struggling with my own health and well-being as a new mom. I wanted to solve my own problem and help other moms do the same.
What changed for me when I became a mother was mainly pursuing these interests in a way that fit within our family’s routine and schedule, which Real Food Whole Life does.
What drives you to continue giving to your business, even when it’s hard to juggle it all? Put another way: what’s the motivation behind what you do?
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about pursuing interests until they turn into passions in her book Big Magic. That’s what Real Food Whole Life is to me. It’s a burning, compelling question that I’ve always had: how to make real food and whole living possible in the everyday. Everything I do is related to exploring and answering that question.
What challenges did you face – real or self-imposed – when you decided you wanted to be a mom AND a woman doing inspiring work in the world?
Letting go of the need for anything to be done or completed exactly the way I want it to be. Before I had Elle, I could stay at the office an extra hour to clear out my inbox or spend a few hours on the weekend working out, cleaning and getting prepped for the week. Now I’m trying to pack everything into a finite amount of time, and there’s just not enough of it to do things perfectly.
How did you overcome those challenges?
I’m learning to let go of the perfectionism and lean into the “done is better than perfect” mantra. It’s not easy, though.
What strategies do you use to make space and time to define yourself outside of motherhood through your work or otherwise?
I schedule my fringe hours pretty diligently, so that when I do have a pocket of time I don’t waste any of it figuring out where to start or what needs to be done. I batch a lot of tasks, too, so that I can most efficiently get things done.
I also involve Elle in my work, when it’s feasible. She’s old enough now to help prepare recipes and assist with a photo shoot. Sometimes blending motherhood and the business works, too.
What advice do you have for moms who want to start prioritizing themselves and exploring a creative calling or business of their own but don’t know where to start?
Don’t let the overwhelm stop you from starting. If you want to blog, start writing. You don’t need a perfect logo or design. Especially since, most likely, no one will be reading it right away. Use that space and freedom to explore without the pressure of getting it perfect right out of the gate.
Take a little time to plan, then backtrack and lay out the first four baby steps you can take. Try not to get stuck in the research and planning stage forever, though. Set a deadline for starting, and then do it.
Let’s talk about balance. Is it possible? And if so, how have you created a better balance in your life?
Balance isn’t exactly the right way to describe what I’m going for at the moment. I’m mainly trying to focus on the things that are most important to me, and then clearing space to make them a priority.
The health and happiness of my family are my priorities. Doing a decent job at my day job is my priority. Moving my blog and business forward is my priority. Taking care of myself, mentally and physically, is my priority. And a small handful of friends and family are my priority. Then it’s a matter of blending these priorities together so they all get what they need and none dominates.
How do you define self care and what does it look like in your day-to- day life?
To me, self care means doing what I need to do to take care of myself so that I can function at a high level and get everything done. On a daily basis, that means eating a real breakfast, getting in a barre workout or walk, eating a real lunch, drinking plenty of water, eating a real dinner and getting to bed at a reasonable hour.
I think a lot of moms put a lot of thought into what they feed their kids, but when it comes to their own diet they settle for skipping breakfast or eating leftover chicken nuggets for lunch. When I don’t eat well or workout, everything else starts to suffer around me, including my ability to mother. So self care means prioritizing real food, movement and rest, even if other things have to go to make those possible.
If you could change one thing about the way our culture approaches motherhood, what would it be?
Less judgment and shame of individual choices moms make. Acknowledging that the vast majority of us are really doing the best we can. We don’t all have to mother the same way to be mothering the best for our own child or children. We can lift each other up and still make very different mothering choices.
Where can we connect with you Robyn to learn more about Real Food Whole Life?
I love connecting with other mamas who are interested in real food and whole living – especially if you are struggling to figure out real food in your real life and how to feed resistant husbands and kids. Each week on Real Food Whole Life, I share quick, simple real food recipes and tips for modifying or adapting the recipes for resistant eaters. I also send out a free weekly meal plan to email subscribers. Once you subscribe, you can also download my free Quick Start Guide to Streamlined Slow Cooking and Real Food Whole Life Kick Start Guide.
I hope you enjoyed this interview with Robyn and explore the work she’s doing through Real Food Whole Life.
To believing your time is now,
P.S. THE WOMEN IN MY FREE FACEBOOK COMMUNITY, YOUR BOLD, BALANCED LIFE, ARE HAVING CONVERSATIONS ABOUT DOING PURPOSEFUL WORK WITHOUT SACRIFICING THE THINGS WE VALUE MOST IN THE WORLD EVERY DAY. WILL YOU JOIN US?