WRITTEN BY: Zoe Schmooz
Before the pandemic hit, I had some big goals for 2020. I wanted to build a more sustainable Schmooz – one that would allow me to step back from the company’s day to day and think bigger. I was imagining levelling up, hiring people who are smarter than me to take on the things I couldn’t figure out by myself. I wanted to have proper company KPIs and a workflow plan that made everyone in the company, whether internal or external, feel better communicated with. We had moved into our new office space, specially renovated for us, with our colours, a podcast room and film equipment, ready for content creation excellence and a new ease of team communication. After all, our (amazing and scrappy) office had previously been the group of us crammed into 2 rooms – one that served as our work room, and the other that served as our board room, kitchenette, event space and only way to get to the bathroom – and we achieved a lot while there. We had been there for 2.5 years, but as a team, we were ready for more space and more bathrooms. We moved in, had our Schmooz office warming party and then, boom, COVID hit.
The 6 months that followed March 2020 were some of the highest highs and lowest lows I’ve experienced in my time running a company. I thought becoming a new mom, while being a CEO was hard, but this experience found new ways to test me. When the pandemic first hit and lots of business came to a standstill, I wanted to be the CEO and give my team purpose and direction; I thought that being a CEO meant I had to do whatever it took to get us through. After the first 6 or so weeks, just when I thought I would have to lay off some staff, a wage subsidy and a few large inquiries came in. I went from being nervous I would have to lay people off to bringing on new team members. I had to think about how to hire people when I couldn’t meet them in person, how to describe jobs I had never hired for before and try to figure out what a performance review looked like in this new ecosystem. Watching my once in person team learn how to communicate with each other and with clients in this world of heightened anxiety and pressure was challenging. I found myself in “teacher” or “mom” mode, trying to fix everything, both at home and in the office. I was doing jobs I had let go of in the past because I was afraid. My financial patterns of the 6 years prior were not working and the systems or business models we had invested in no longer made sense. I’ll give an example: I found myself reviewing content calendars again. Yes- I had staff perfectly able to do this work, but I would stay up evenings and weekends reviewing things, quadruple checking them for sensitivity, relevance and timeliness. I don’t even think my team knows I was doing that. I was holding on that tightly.
I filled every moment of those first months with productivity. I was switching with my husband to care for and parent our 2 year old, I co-authored and published a children’s book called ABC Stay Home with Me, which is now sold at Indigo; I worked with a group of (mostly) female leaders to start The Home Front, an organization backed by charity to help frontline workers, I dreamed up a podcast and started working on it, we made a new website, my husband started a new business; I became pregnant for a second time; I did pro bono work and lowered my salary to myself.
I now realize I did this so that I didn’t have to think about everything else. Give an already busy person more to do and they’ll do it, with flying colours….right?
Sure, that statement has some truth to it, but only to a point. It was around 2 months ago, at around 15 weeks pregnant that I started to deeply feel the burn. I regretted that I had taken more things back on, I regretted not asking for help sooner and I had lost focus on what I wanted. I thought the second trimester was supposed to give me more energy, but everything was burning me out. Then, two big things happened.
1. I got my blood work done and found out something was wrong
Now, don’t worry. Nothing is majorly wrong. I’m healthy and the baby is healthy. Some of you may already know this because I am singing it from rooftops because I feel so much better. I have pregnancy anemia. Turns out that I was falling back into unhealthy patterns because of MANY things – the stresses of the pandemic, the anxiety physically and emotionally of being pregnant, the deep responsibility I feel for my teammates…but ALSO the challenge of not having enough oxygen in my bloodstream. I could no longer see clearly.
2. I got clarity and started making changes.
I didn’t have a choice and had to come clean with my team. I told some key people that I wasn’t doing okay, and they told me that they already knew. I told them I needed to take a step back, a self-assigned mental health break. I found myself thinking “Do I still want to be the CEO? What is a CEO? What is the best use of the energy I have between now and when baby #2 comes?”
As I gave myself some breathing room to watch movies and sleep in late, the doctor called and told me I was anemic. I started Iron supplements right away and spent a few days thinking, writing, not moving. It was a week or two – no more – and I started to feel better. I began to feel better enough that I could answer the question: Do I still want to be the CEO? I researched job descriptions for “CEO” jobs. I researched job descriptions for all the senior executive jobs and began thinking “Which activities and tasks can I ROCK at? What can I bring to Schmooz that no one else can?” I began reviewing our organizational chart with new eyes, having conversations with some new people and consultants to play with these questions out loud.
What is a CEO and am I one? I think I’ll always struggle with that question. Here’s what I know now, with clarity, that I didn’t feel brave enough to write down on paper before I started thinking about firing myself:
a. I am Zoe and I am a leader; moreover, I am the founder of Schmooz Media.
b. I am stronger in ideation and development than I am in implementation and execution
c. I do my best work when I have trusting relationships with the key people in my life and business
d. I have a voice that people want to hear. I have gifts to share with the world.
e. I do not have to do it all myself to achieve everything I want to achieve.
All in all, I am very grateful for the highs and lows I’ve experienced in the past few months. I am digging into those feelings and my own needs in a way that I never have before. I have learned that while Job Descriptions and clarity around roles and responsibilities are vital, I also cannot tie myself to what I believe a CEO is “supposed to be”. Ultimately, the most important thing is for every member of your team, yourself included, is being utilized for their strengths. If they’re not, it may be time to consider firing yourself (or them!). It could be the biggest gift to all parties involved.