The Motherhood in Motion series is a very special collaboration with ALN Images.
Often times, with the birth of babies, also comes the birth of new versions of ourselves. Sometimes we find new passions, new values, and new ideas. And sometimes what we find is the courage to bet on the dreams we already had. Christy Lepley was kind enough to share with us what delivering her second son in the midst of a pandemic was like, what working remotely looks like now, and how motherhood helped her find the confidence to create a business out of her passion for watching women succeed.
How are you, really?
I’m hanging in there. Things changed because I recently went back to work. I was on a contract and I worked up until the day that I had my second child. After COVID, they didn’t have a spot to bring me back in. I felt like it was probably for the best because I wanted to keep the kids home as much as possible through the pandemic. But now, I’m back and it’s been an adjustment.
Did staying home the way we have to this past year change the way you approached parenting?
I almost felt lucky in a way because at least I didn’t have a child in real school through all of this. But I did have a new baby and he didn’t get the one-on-one attention that I’d planned to be giving him because my oldest was supposed to be in preschool but instead he’s in the house.
He went from seeing friends, going to parks and playing to not being able to see Grandma. He’s three and doesn’t understand. When this first started we didn’t even go to parks or anything. When he was a baby we’d go to the library, or just to Target! Just to look at things! Now my youngest is freaked out by people and lights. It’s just an overstimulation for him.
What’s your favorite part of the day?
I really like to have my time in the morning so I try to get up before them and then have one-on-one time with the baby before my toddler gets up. That little bit of separation in attention really helps. I think that’s the hardest thing as a mom – your brain does not shut off. There’s 50 things you need to be doing at all times – multitasking, being pulled in all these different directions. So I love that calm time in the morning.
What’s your favorite age, so far?
My oldest just turned 4 and I’ve already seen a huge shift from three to four. I feel like people don’t warn you about three! Everyone talks about two, but three is two with sass. I’m really liking 4. He definitely has his own personality but he can do more on his own now and we can trust him with small things. And he’s funny! It’s been really sweet to watch him transition from toddler to little boy. I feel like with your second, you have a new appreciation for the baby phase because you really know how fast it goes. As a first time mom everything feels like such a big problem at the time because you don’t know how fast it’s going to go in the grand scheme of things and by your second there’s a different appreciation.
How was your experience with pregnancy and birth during the pandemic?
It was wild for someone who already has anxiety. No two births are the same. Towards the end your anxiety is already heightened, right? You don’t know when this is going to happen and you don’t know how this is going to happen. Your mind so much wants that control and you just don’t have it. I ended up having gestational diabetes towards the end so I had a lot of extra doctors appointments in March of 2020 when this was all very new. My OB appointments got pushed to virtual, my husband wasn’t allowed to come to anything, we just didn’t know what was going to happen when it came to being in the hospital. That was so hard for me. I just wanted it to be over.
I gave birth in June and it was like all the nesting stopped. I couldn’t shop for baby clothes, my shower was cancelled. When you’re in that last trimester, you’re looking towards those little things to be excited about and all of the sudden I was like, ‘I can’t even go to the grocery store?’ I was on a special diet for my gestational diabetes and I couldn’t find the foods I needed which was really debilitating for me mentally. And I was working full time, and now my toddler is in the house full time. It was just crazy.
The information was changing with every appointment about whether or not my husband could be there for the birth. I was able to have a scheduled induction but even then they made sure we were healthy and then sent us home as soon as possible because we were safer at home. No one else was allowed to be there. I just never thought that I’d be having a baby, which is like the top three major life events you can have, and my family couldn’t be there, no one can meet the baby. Having a new baby is isolating as it is already, and then to have anything you could do with the baby be taken away as well, and then a needy toddler on top of it – it was really tough.
You mentioned you were you planning on returning to your same position after your maternity leave and instead it was eliminated because of COVID?
It’s so crazy that we just came up on the sort of anniversary of all of this. I remember when everything was beginning in March of last year I was like “Oh okay, we all just need to stay home for two weeks and it’ll be back to normal” and now I’m still like, ‘What’s happening?” I would have liked to go back to my position, but I had to start something new, and learn it remotely.
There’s a learning curve there trying to learn systems and build a relationship with your management remotely. And having to just sort of promise I’m doing my job while there’s screaming in the background. I actually worked remotely in my last job but it wasn’t like it is now because everyone wants you to be on video and I’m trying to disguise what’s going on in the background. I’m a really driven person but it’s so hard to prove you’re doing a good job until you have results and juggling it with all the stuff in the background has been a huge learning curve. It’s interesting as a mom because I remember with my first I had a three month maternity leave and when I had to go back to work it was terrible. I was like “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to put him in daycare. I don’t want to go back.” I felt like I was trading time there with time with him and that’s sort of what started me on my entrepreneurial journey. But now after the second baby, I was ready to go back.
I’ve also been home with both of them in the house, just us. So it’s not normal stay-at-home-mom life, it’s not normal working mom life. You’re just trying to get through the day. You can’t be doing the things and activities with the kids that you’d normally be doing. And it’s just a lot. Being their everything. I don’t have my own personal outlets anymore that I’d normally have. Going to a gym class, mindlessly shopping at the mall, all of that stuff matters when you’re trying to live a balanced life. I deal with a lot of anxiety and it’s been heightened through all of this. There’s so much to do, the house is a mess, but we’re all in the house, I have to work, it’s just trying to get through the day.
What’s been the hardest part of parenting during this past year?
Losing all of the things I felt like were my own personal outlets. I’ve been beating myself up because I know I’m not the best mom I could be and I get frustrated quickly with them because there’s no break. Not having that reset for myself to fill myself back up in draining. When this all started we were just sort of in “anything goes” survival mode but you can’t be in that mode forever with kids. They’re both challenging in different ways. The baby is hard because, you know, there’s no sleeping. But then the toddler is mentally challenging. “I don’t want to put my shoes on. I liked that yesterday, but I don’t like it today.” Pre-pandemic I had a very balanced life and I worked hard to make it that way. And then I was sort of stripped of that reset that let me be even-keeled to them – it’s just the juggle of it all.
Has your relationship with your parents impacted the way you mother?
My parents live in North Carolina and my mother is a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed at the same time that I was a new, first time mom. She’s on the road to recovery now but then when the pandemic hit and some people weren’t taking it that seriously, it was hard for me as an adult child. And the distance is hard. I’ve seen them twice this entire year and I have a new baby! So that’s hard. My mom was a stay-at-home-mom and she stayed home with my sister and me. I always thought I wanted to be that and I tried to be a stay-at-home-mom but I needed an outlet that was just for me. Which is also where Ambitious Soul was sort of birthed from.
Yes, you have created your own business! Do you think you would have found the drive to begin Ambitious Soul had you not been a mother?
No, the real shift that happened for me after having my first son, was that I just cared a lot less about what other people thought. You just don’t really have the capacity. Your brain can only care about so much in a day. I was just done with the BS – my own BS, the self doubt. At the end of the day, I was faced with a lot of things at once. I was a new mom, which rocks your world. I had climbed the corporate ladder for 13 years and had worked myself up into a position that I wasn’t even really happy with. From the outside it was like, “You’re crazy! Why would you quit?” But I hated it. I felt like I had to choose between my career or my baby. Around the time my mother was diagnosed with cancer, my aunt passed away from ovarian cancer. It rocked my world, but it also really put in my face that life is short, why not live your life for yourself? You won’t know the outcome or the possibilities but stop putting yourself in this box of what you think you should be doing.
My life looked so great from the outside but I hated it. I just knew I was so unhappy that I had hired a life coach because I was like “What’s wrong with me? Why can’t this be good enough for me?” I’ll never forget this- she made me list out twenty ways I could make money. Not dream jobs; actual ways I could make money. Walking dogs, working at Starbucks, ways I could actually make money. And I looked at it and was like “Huh, I can do any of that. I don’t need the job I have. I can make money.” So if I know I can make money, what is it that I really want to do? That’s what led me to Ambitious Soul. I was walking my son around the neighborhood in the mornings and began to really get into podcasts. They were very motivational and uplifting but also fed my brain positivity first thing in the morning. I realized there was information that I wanted to share that I thought would help other women and I wanted a podcast to be my platform.
I felt like there are women out there that have ideas or an inkling to try something but don’t know how and I feel like if we see other people doing it, we see that it’s possible. I really wanted to dig into women building businesses. Not the normal “Oh, I was lucky!” How did you do it? What was your budget? What was your marketing plan? What did you outsource? So that other women could listen and realize it’s possible for them. So, on Ambitious Soul I interview female entrepreneurs and then also share tips and tricks for marketing and mindset.
We love that you share that knowledge with women, specifically!
Because I work in HR, I also saw that the salary gap between women and men is disgusting. And it’s because women don’t ask for the money. I’ve worked for really big companies with large salary bands and watch women as for such small numbers. The men push back, they will ask for it. But in today’s age, given all the opportunities we have, it’s really at our fingertips. That’s really something interesting about having an online business or being in the digital space – if you were to open a restaurant, you’d be in the hole at first. Everyone would expect you to be! But when you start something online people expect you to make six figures right out of the gate or you’re not successful. That’s just not true – I want to bust that myth. That’s not true for any business. “Six figures” is thrown around a lot online and I don’t like it when women see that and think “Oh, my business isn’t legitimate enough. I’m not successful enough.” If it’s making you happy, that’s it! You’re doing it!
I dabbled in direct sales for a little bit during the time I left my corporate job. It got my creative wheels turning but I felt a disconnect there. They weren’t teaching sales and marketing. They were just pushing to reach out to more people. If I were to say to a boss in the corporate world “I keep doing this thing and it keeps getting me here.” they wouldn’t tell me to keep doing the same thing, they’d tell me I need to do something different. I really saw the disconnect of why it wasn’t working for people who were determined to make it work. I’d see these people who were really trying and showing up but they’re not taught to show up and sell on social media. It’s just a skill you can learn. So seeing that need also birthed the coaching that I do and the masterclasses I run. So I also teach women entrepreneurs how to sell on social media in a way that makes them feel good. Because being authentic to you and showing up in a way that feels good to you is so important.
My background is in both HR and recruiting so I was constantly selling jobs to candidates, explaining benefits, negotiating high-level salaries. I’ve seen women shy away from talking about money because there’s this connotation like “Oh, she’s greedy. She’s bossy. She’s too much. Why’s she going after that?” So I wanted a way to show women that they can be making money on their own and here’s the actual figures for doing that. It’s so sad, because I’m seeing this from an HR position, the women in the workforce, the women who had to walk away from their jobs because of not being able to have childcare is unheard of compared to men. The kids are at home, and it automatically became the mom’s problem, regardless of if she was working or not. I think that’s across the board. There were a lot of women who were forced to leave the workforce and I hope that we can recognize that as a society and that they’re able to re-enter if they decide to; that they’re not frowned upon like, “Why is there a gap in your resume?” A lot of people loved their positions and this was out of their control.
What’s your advice to women who are considering beginning their own business?
I would say just start. And if you don’t know how to start, find what need in yourself you’re trying to fulfill. The financial reward is just the byproduct of the fulfilment. When I’m coaching women, I’m fulfilled. I had a call with a client the other day that I could have spent eight hours on. I was in the zone, I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Pay attention to those internal nudges that make you realize you could do what you’re doing for hours. Whether that’s gardening – whatever it is! And then find other people who are doing what you want to do and put yourself in their world. See what’s working for them and you’ll start to believe it’s possible for you, as well. Success leaves clues.
What could be next for Ambitious Soul?
One of the things I’ve always dreamed of for Ambitious Soul is a live event. I wanted to bring people to Annapolis and bring in local vendors, makers, and speakers. That is my vision and hopefully it will happen at some point.
Make sure to connect with Christy and Ambitious Soul so you don’t miss all that she’s up to!
Thank you, Alli, for the beautiful photography.