Author Sohee Jun has a stacked resume as a sought-after executive coach, keynote speaker, and leadership development facilitator. Most notably, she’s also a mom. She writes about the myth of mommy work-life balance and how to create an authentic life around your own values in her new book, Mommytracked: How to Take Authentic Risks and Find Success On Your Own Terms.
In our conversation, Sohee describes the downfalls of the cultural conversations we have around being a professional working mom, how we can embrace more authentic ways of living across the different seasons of our lives, and how we model motherhood to each other. I gained so much insight from Sohee’s vulnerability and I know you will too.
Emily Gindlesparger: Today, I’m joined by Sohee Jun who has written the book Mommytracked: How to Take Authentic Risks and Find Success On Your Own Terms. Sohee, it’s so great to talk to you today.
Sohee Jun, Ph.D.: My gosh, thank you for having me, I’m so excited to be here.
Emily Gindlesparger: I’m so excited to share all the wisdom that’s in your book, which is for a demographic of people that need it so much. You’re speaking directly to moms who are really struggling with the myth of work-life balance. I’m curious, how did you arrive at this as a book topic? When did you know that this was so important to share?
Sohee Jun, Ph.D.: You know, it’s really funny, that story. It came about, I want to say about two and a half years ago. I was in my corporate world and having a one-on-one sit down with one of my employees. We got to talking about our passions and what we care about and what lights us up on the inside. As I was sharing my story with her, she reflected back to me. She said, “Well, that sounds like a story you should tell.” I said, “My gosh, you’re absolutely right.”
Being a working mom and trying to balance–what does that even mean and is this even the path that I want to be on? I feel like there’s something else. We were talking about all of those things and she said that’s what I should share, and that’s really what prompted me to put my story together, which is really woven around the risks and trials that I took.
Emily Gindlesparger: That’s beautiful and of such great service to help moms, not only see what skills and attributes they already have in themselves that can help them figure that out but also to see a model for how it is done, really on a big scale. I mean, you have done consulting in the corporate world for many years, correct?
Sohee Jun, Ph.D.: Yes, my career spans 20 years and as I love to say, I have the honor of working with and for really great companies in entertainment, engineering, financial, and startups. I’ve spent my decades doing consulting, coaching, and organization development work within companies.
I started my own firm to be of service in a different way, in a way that felt authentic to me. That’s the path I’m on now in terms of owning my own firm and being a leadership coach and working with high performing women. That’s where I am today.
What changed for me is really the stuff that I write about in the book, which is that I had this yearning, pretty early on in my career that the traditional path just didn’t feel right for me, it felt very confining. That became so much more amplified and so much bigger in my head and in my heart when I had kids.
I have three wonderful children and having gone through that experience, I knew I wanted a different way of living that incorporated both my family life and my work life and the work that I love to do.
It was really about finding that path, which led me to starting my own consulting firm and really helping other high-performing women. Also, going into organizations where I knew that women want coaches and want support, either to do more in their corporate life or to figure something else out or everything in between.
It was when I had kids that I really questioned everything.
The Mommy Balance Myth
Emily Gindlesparger: Chapter one of your book is debunking the mommy balance myth. How did you come to think of that as a myth?
Sohee Jun, Ph.D.: Gosh, I could go forever on this topic. I think I’ll start by saying that I think we all do it to ourselves. We women perpetuate the myth that is out there in terms of what we’re told by others, in terms of how we speak about being a mom and a working mom and everything that we do.
One of the things that I point out loud and clear as an example is, I would go to a lot of conferences for the companies that I work for. Anytime there was a really successful woman on a panel, sure enough, the question that always gets asked is, how do you do it all?
I really started to question that–how do you do it all? That just sat with me through the years and it made me question how am I perpetuating that in my life? Is it serving me, is it really what I want to be doing in my life, and living authentically, and how am I being a role model to others in that way? Is it a service or a disservice to working women?
In thinking through all that, I started to see how many messages through social media, through mommy networks, or working women in the corporate world that we get, about gosh, we just have to do it all. We have to be the great mom that packs all of the perfect lunches, and we’re there at drop off and pick up, and we also have to spend time with our partners, and we also need to look great, and we also need to achieve high levels of success in our work world and the work that we do.
I got finely attuned to that and saw how much we talked about it and tried to chase this goal. It made me question, is there an end to that? What is the achievement on that, what does that look like? It really made me question if that even is realistic.
You know, I dare say that it’s not, it’s not in a realistic, achievable goal because it keeps you going and forever chasing this elusive balance.
Emily Gindlesparger: What have you replaced that myth with? What’s the picture of what looks and feels authentic to you now in your life?
Sohee Jun, Ph.D.: Yeah, how I define that is with the word integration. What integration really means is, looking at the values of our life, what do we value the most, what are those top things that we want to prioritize, and how does that fit in our lives now for the season of life that we’re in? Keeping in mind that everything is fluid. I think that’s one of the traps that we women and people get into in terms of thinking things are not changeable and they are concrete. But if you look at the span of anyone’s life, things change and evolve over time, and that’s okay and that’s expected and that’s normal.
For the milestone and the phase of life that you’re in, what are your values, and how are you integrating that into your life, how is it showing up? If it’s not, how do we adjust to make that be at the forefront so that you feel much more integrated with your values and priorities, and that you’re living your life in that way versus through all the shoulds? That’s another big thing I have to tell you Emily, is that we walk around with a lot of shoulds.
A lot of things that we think we should be doing and/or what we tell each other about what we should be doing as working moms or just as highly ambitious women.
It’s about taking that noise out of our heads for a moment and reflecting on okay, for this season of my life, if I have three young children, what do I value most, what’s a priority to me and how can I make that integrated into my life now?
Burning the Candle at Both Ends
Emily Gindlesparger: I’m wondering if you’d be willing to paint a picture for us about a time in your life when the way you were operating actually didn’t align with your values?
Sohee Jun, Ph.D.: I would have to say that it started out when my kids were really young. Right now, they’re 10, nine and six and I’m talking when they’re just born, when they were one or two, three. The early years. I was working at a big corporate company at the time and I was grinding. What that looks like is, burning the candle on both ends, trying to be everything at home, and trying to not miss any milestones at home and also, trying to overachieve at work.
That meant, taking on as many projects as I could, that meant trying to stay late but also feeling guilty about staying late and wanting to be at home, but when I was at home, feeling guilty about being at home and not working.
Emily Gindlesparger: It’s a vicious cycle there.
Sohee Jun, Ph.D.: It is very vicious. They say, you’re not a mom until you feel that guilt. You definitely do walk around with that, and so that was a cycle I was on. I really had to pause, but I didn’t pause, I have to tell you honestly, I didn’t pause until my body told me to pause. Often times, that happens as well with really ambitious women. If you are not going to take a step back and reflect, the body will tell you by getting sick or whatever ailments come up as a result of really burning the candle on every which end as possible.
I was always over exhausted. I was not getting enough sleep and, as I mentioned, in constant guilt and I had to really stop. My body told me and I couldn’t function, I was just too tired. So, I took a step back and said okay, well, in this season of my life, what’s important, what does integration look like, what would it look like if I tried something different?
I thought about it and took the risk of working out a different schedule at work. At that time, this was not a common thing. Not a lot of women were asking for part-time, or job share, or a four-day workweek, or reduced workweek.
For me, it looked like a reduced workweek, and I took the risk of asking for that and took some steps to make that happen.
Emily Gindlesparger: What did it feel like to take that risk?
Sohee Jun, Ph.D.: That is such a good question. Because it is scary, it is absolutely scary, and I have to say, even to this day, taking a risk, you get the butterflies, you question, is this the right thing, should I be doing it? It gets easier over time, but especially the first big risk, the one that you know you should do that feels super scary and you’re sweating it out and you don’t know how you’ll be perceived.
Really, that’s what came out for me is when I was thinking about taking a risk like that, how would I be perceived at work? Will I be looked at as not professional, or not up for the challenge, or not ambitious, as lazy? How will I be looked at by my coworkers? All of these things came up for me that really made me challenge the thoughts in terms of does that matter for my life and what takes priority? Also guilt and a lot of fear about if this is the right thing, given my career up to that point and having achieved a Ph.D. and all of that stuff. It all gets big and really amplified in your head and especially your heart as you think about taking risks that are scary to you.
Emily Gindlesparger: What was the moment when you knew that risk was the right one to take?
Sohee Jun, Ph.D.: Yeah, I mean, for me, it felt much more natural. By that, I mean I felt less pressure all around. First of all, having asked for it and being able to do it, that was a big win in and of itself. And being able to communicate to my boss at the time and saying, “Listen, I still want to be here at the company, I’m still very committed and I want to be a part of the big exciting projects, and I also want to be more present at home.” Really speaking my truth and asking for it, just lightened my load.
It was almost as though, this big 30-pound bag of potatoes that you’re carrying around with you because it feels so scary, and then once you speak your truth, it becomes so much lighter. After that, it felt much freer and much more authentic and I felt less pressured on both ends. I was able to be present more at home in a way that was important to me, and also, to focus at work in a different way because now that I had a reduced workweek, I was really much more focused at work.
That is not to say that people who have a normal schedule are not focused but you become uber focused.
Emily Gindlesparger: Yeah, it seems like what I’m hearing is that one of the big benefits of speaking the truth in this way too is then you actually know that you have support on both ends of that. You know that your employer is signing on for how you want to manage this. It sounds like that just totally takes a load off.
Sohee Jun: It really does. Then about the ability to really home in on okay, what do I need? You start with, “Okay, what do I value? What are my priorities? And then from that, what do I need in this current situation?” Being able to articulate that to someone is very freeing and it gives you energy to then know that you are definitely on the right path.
Emily Gindlesparger: You have spoken so far about it feeling risky to go to your work and say, “I need more family time.” Were there also risks that you took in the other direction where you realized you wanted to or that you needed to step away from some aspect from your family life in order to accomplish what you wanted professionally?
Give and Take
Sohee Jun: Yeah, you know there is always give and take. So, for me, it was about, “Okay, how can I shift things around at home so that I have the support there when I need it to be able to show up at work in a way that I need it?” I was fortunate, they say raising kids takes a village, it really does.
It is the same with the book too. Writing a book takes a village and it is about being able to ask for support. I think that women oftentimes feel like we need to do it all, especially in today’s world where getting a lot of support or asking for that is really hard. That is an interesting thing to look at in it of itself, but being able to say, “Hey, I need you, partner, to be there from six to nine PM because I have to be at a work event in the evening.”
It is about that give and take. It is never going to look perfect and in fact I talk about that in the book, which is there is no perfectionism. It is really about anchoring yourself to the priorities and then shifting things as you need to, both at home and in your work life, to make it more integrated. So, for me, it was asking my partner, “Hey you know I am at work at these hours,” or, “I have an offsite that I need to be at for three days. It means I have to be there at night to do the team building events.” Those things will take me away from my kids and home, but he was there to support me at that time. So, it is about asking for support in the ways that are important.
Emily Gindlesparger: It sounds like a real paradigm shift too from putting the center of your life at what you do for other people, whether that is at work or with your family, and shifting that center to inside yourself and checking in with your values first.
Sohee Jun: I think that when you do that, it benefits others. Because there is that saying, happy mom means happy children and happy home. I think there is some truth to that when women feel like they’re living very inauthentically or grinding at work or really so kilter from what they value and what they want their life to look like, they’re not really present at home and they are not giving their best output at work either, Whatever that work looks like.
It is really a disservice all the way around if we feel we’re so off-center from what is important and what matters in this season of our life.
Emily Gindlesparger: And within all of that, one thing I love about your book is you have an entire chapter devoted to self-care. How did you learn how important that was on this journey?
Sohee Jun: Self-care is such a topic these days. For me, it was really through two huge monumental things in my life. One back in 2007 when my dad passed, and it was very sudden. There was a car accident and that for me really kind of shook me to the core, and I was 30 at the time.
I went back to work probably three days after and that was driven by what I thought should happen. I am a good employee. I need to go back to work, I’m needed there. I want to show my dedication and loyalty to my role, and to the company. That was at a total disservice to me and my health, and my mental and emotional wellbeing at the time. I was in between meetings crying, I was trying to get myself together throughout the day and trying to grieve at the same time. I was unleashing at home and I was leaking all over the place and it was not healthy at all.
It wasn’t until three or four weeks, maybe a month or two later when I started getting stomach pains because I was still grinding at work and not taking care of myself. It wasn’t until the doctor said, “Have you had any major stress in your life?” and I said, “Well, my dad just passed,” and he said, “Well, this is why you are probably having stomach pains. Your body is telling you.” This is why I say in the book there is so much wisdom in our bodies.
If we don’t listen to our bodies, if we don’t take care of them and take care of ourselves, things will not keep running the way that we want them to. I look at self-care from five different aspects. It is not just about what we see on social media. For example, “Have you done the pedicure, and have you done the massage?” Those things serve a purpose, but I am really talking about the emotional self-care, the psychological self-care, the spiritual self-care, and of course the physical self-care.
All of those things that make us whole human beings. Really attending to that and figuring out, “Okay, where are there gaps?” For me at that time was really allowing the emotional-spiritual care, allowing time for that, and really allowing myself to grieve.
Emily Gindlesparger: Did it ever feel like a risk to practice self-care when you needed it?
Sohee Jun: Oh yes, absolutely. I would say that occurred. It felt like a risk and really talking to other moms about it. Sometimes we can be united, and I probably have been judgmental at times as well. I am not immune to that, for example, “Oh wow, it must be a luxury to care for yourself.” There are what I call toxic conversations that we do to ourselves, in our mommy communities or professional working mom communities.
It does a disservice because we all need to do self-care, especially around this time when the world has gone a little bit crazy and we’re in some uncharted territory. Self-care should be at the top of our list.
At the beginning, as I was a new mom trying to figure out how I could go outside for a walk and feeling guilty for doing that and leaving my baby. And then saying to other moms, “Oh I don’t have help,” or I don’t have time to do self-care and then you feel guilty for even thinking about it.
There are a lot of things going on that added guilt to what should be something that is natural and should be a priority.
Emily Gindlesparger: I especially appreciate what you are saying about how we talk to each other about what we do and really how we model to each other the kind of lives that we want to live. You spoke earlier about all of the should’s, you know all of the should come from what we have seen others do and then how we are reflecting on what we think we should do. I so appreciate the central message of yours that it really is about tapping into your own values and figuring out how you want to live your life and that becomes the model for all the people around you.
Sohee Jun: Absolutely and I hope that I am serving as a model in some way. Women who take those risk, we need to amplify that, and we need to share that a lot more to highlight how it isn’t one track, it doesn’t look one way, and in order to follow ambition doesn’t mean that you just climb the corporate ladder. If you do want to do that authentically, and it is what your passion is about, I think that is fantastic, and we should amplify that.
It is in sharing stories that are positive about women that take risks and really hone in on, “Okay, this is what I desire for my life.” It may not look like the traditional path or what my friends are doing but this is what feels genuine to me. Honoring that and I think that we need to share more of those stories.
Seasons of Life
Emily Gindlesparger: I also love how throughout the book you talk about the ways that we’re conscious of how we are living through all the seasons of our lives. I am curious what kind of seasons have you seen come and go in your own life?
Sohee Jun: I think certainly I recall being in my 20’s and really wanting to get as much experience as I could, having just obtained my Ph.D. in organizational psychology–I wanted to work in a lot of different companies and get exposure to different cultures, in terms of companies, and wanting to climb and get the promotions. That was a specific season in my life, when I didn’t mind working all the time around the clock.
I made time for fun and hung out with my partner and my friends, but really my career was at the forefront. I was happy to do that because there was no other competing priority.
Then when we decided to have children, and that for me marked entering into a different season of my life, in which things started to shift in terms of priorities. So, it took a little bit of time as you will see in the book.
What it eventually did in terms of allowing me to spend a little bit more time with my kids, and allowing me to still work and do what I love, I felt much more integrated. Even within that season, I have hit different milestones in terms of when my kids were little. That looked a little bit different than when my kids were not at the age they are now. My schedule in life looks a little bit different too. So, within big milestones, there could be shifts within that.
It is about allowing ourselves to feel okay in changing courses and moving fluidly throughout our lives. I think that where we get stuck in the thinking of, “I’ve had this career and I’ve obtained this kind of level or role or position or whatever that looks like and I can’t move.” There are a lot of women that feel that way–that they can’t make changes for whatever reason. So, what I ask is that they really slow down. I challenge that in terms of okay, well, what are the things that you can do to feel much more integrated, even if it is not about changing your job?
It doesn’t have to be that. If one person says, “You know, I like my life the way it is but I want to infuse a little bit more creativity because I am a creative person.” It is really looking at, “Okay, how do we make those shifts to make more room for the creative stuff that really lights you up?” It doesn’t have to be big things. It could be little things. It could be little things that make a big impact.
Emily Gindlesparger: I love that. Well, Sohee, so as you said writing a book takes a village. I am so grateful that you have decided to be the leader of that village and follow through on this book to be able to share your message and share your model to the world. If there were one to two things you wanted people to take away from your book, what are they?
Sohee Jun: So, I think one big thing is that it’s okay to take risks and that risk should align to what’s priority for you in that season. It doesn’t have to look like jumping off your career. It could be as I mentioned, as small as starting a new workout because it is important for you to take care of your physical health. Whatever that risks looks like, identify that, and then take the micro-actions to do that and integrate that into your life.
It is all about that. The more that we practice taking risks that are aligned to our values, the happier and more energized will be, and the easier it will be to keep doing that. That is one big message.
Then the second big message is that there is no one way. There really isn’t. We shouldn’t confine ourselves to what one path we think we’re on or what that looks like. There is no right path. The path is what feels authentic to you and what gives you energy. It is really about tuning in to that.
Emily Gindlesparger: Well, thank you, Sohee. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you. I am so excited about what you’re doing and so excited your book is out in the world. Again, the book is called Mommytracked and besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Sohee Jun: Well, they can find me on my website,or I am on LinkedIn as well, with my first and last name. I am on Instagram as well. Thank you.
Emily Gindlesparger: Great, thank you.
Sohee Jun: This has been wonderful, thanks.