I pride myself on adapting to cities and cultures; I've lived in several including two international cities. My latest move took me from the center of everything, NYC, to the center of the United States, Omaha, Nebraska. My move spurred by the crashing economy in 2009 and loss of my dream job as the Creative Director of a Turkish fashion-denim brand, I landed smack in the middle of the country.
After losing my job on Fashion Avenue I was going into debt keeping up with rental payments of $2,500 a month for my 350 square foot apartment on the Upper East Side and car payments for a vehicle parked at my grandparents in Queens. Like so many others who couldn’t get work, I too decided I had to leave “my” city. My choices were to move back home with my mother in Charlotte, North Carolina or trek out to Omaha, Nebraska to pursue a budding relationship with someone I went to high school with while growing up in Iowa. I chose love over location and have never regretted it.
I always remark how this city has taken care of me when I really needed the help. It's allowed me to dig myself out of a financial and emotional black hole. Except, I really had to put myself out there in my new city to meet people – doing everything from volunteering in the community to fight child hunger, and joining the board of a national design organization to feeding my design addiction. But for all the years proudly displayed on my resume as a highly recommended design creative, I could not get hired for one of the many full-time jobs I interviewed for. I guess the interviewers could see through my enthusiastic nods and positive attitude to know I wouldn't have been happy working in advertising on agriculture or insurance. I was trying too hard to “fit in”, to conform. It’s something I’m very conscious of no matter where I’ve lived – not to lose myself, but to continue to find new experiences that provide personal and professional growth.
In 2013, before my son was born, I was working 10-12 hours a day as a set designer for a film production company and as a photo stylist for an e-commerce site headquartered in Omaha. I was grateful for the consistent freelance work and loved the flexibility. In the span of my creative career, I have lost three jobs due to company shutdowns or downsizing so I don’t see stability in a full-time corporate job as a career motivator. I’m also one of those who thrives on change and the challenges of the unknown.
After becoming a mom I wanted that same flexibility in my work to be home to raise my son. Having him at the age of 40, this was my one chance to be a mom and I wanted to experience it to the max. At the same time, I didn’t want to lose my professional edge and connections with the design community, so I started applying my skill set to residential interiors.
My projects were successful and I had happy clients. Then one evening after preparing digital design files to email a client I thought, “Maybe I could do this for others across the country?” I could work while my son napped during the day and in the evenings when my husband was home. But left the idea there. While entrepreneurship was in my DNA, with both parents building their own businesses, I saw their failures and I already had one failed business of my own. I was also finally recovered financially since leaving NYC and I was not comfortable putting my family in a position of risk.
A few months later after a trip to San Francisco and a heart-to-heart with a couple of college girlfriends, I felt my hair on fire. These ladies knew me well, my strong work ethic, talents and tenacity. They not only encouraged me to “do my thing,” but kinda gave me permission to apply my creative talents to something exciting of my own creation. By that point, I had been living in Omaha for several years, and it was clear that it was up to me to pave my own professional path in order to have the lifestyle I wanted. My very supportive husband agreed. And that’s when YouthfulNest was born.
Lisa Janvrin. Photo Courtesy of Ashley Wisdom
YouthfulNest is an online virtual interior design experience and the most convenient way for modern parents to design a stylish room for their baby or child. Millions of Millennials are already taking advantage of similar eDesign sites, but there is not one like YouthfulNest, dedicated to native tech-savvy parents. Since the beginning, I have been the sole founder, creator and operator of YouthfulNest. I invested $3,000 of my own savings to start the company. I work from a home studio with direct access to the living room where my son plays most of the time while I’m feverishly working away.
Working from home and being a team of one often feels like I’m working in a bubble. It’s also hard to feel connected when your big idea isn’t in a big city that gets all that entrepreneurial fanfare and attention that it might if it were in say NYC or LA. So I’ve learned to embrace the advantages I do have of starting-up YouthfulNest in Omaha.
Lisa Janvrin and son. Photo Courtesy of Ashley Wisdom
With significantly lower costs of living and business development compared to big cities, I do so much more with less. It affords me the luxury of time, where I’m not freaking out about making money and being profitable this week or month or even year. I’m able to enjoy the process of honing my brand and product without the stressors of profitability. Part of that is having low overhead, working out of a home studio with a monthly mortgage costing about half that of my tiny abode in NYC. My advisors and cohorts living in these big cities are blown away by the rates I get for experts services like technology development and talent. Whenever I talk to someone on the coast and they offer a reference for an amazing expert with low pricing I stop them right there with a, "Thank you, but I can do better with local resources".
Living in a smaller Metropolitan city is not completely advantageous. I pretty much knew from the inception of YouthfulNest that Omaha was not the right product-market fit. With just a cluster of fashion retail and home interior companies here I've had to be nimble and persistent in my pursuit to build relationships all over the country, aligning myself with other trendsetters and visionaries. Fortunately, we've been well received by top-tier brands and trending newbie’s like myself in the baby and interior’s industries who live in those bigger cities. It was also completely intentional that I established a tech company focused on national reach, versus local. Of course, I loved the kind of flexibility that an online company allowed me – working wherever and whenever. More importantly, my brand has proven to appeal more to a target audience who’s constantly surrounded and influenced by design and latest lifestyle trends – the goal is to reach those eating in the Brooklyn Heights or shopping on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. In fact, our analytics confirm that our largest site users live in those two trend conscious cities, NYC and LA.
As a result of my experience living in big cities and small cities, I have built a tech brand that is a combination of both types of places I’ve lived – it is on trend and savvy. Every location has pros and cons, but embracing your location’s strengths and looking beyond it for others is key to the success of any business.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.