“The common thread among everything, is that I see a ‘hole,’ and create that thing that I want to have,” said Christine Koh. The Neuroscientist turned Blogger, turned Consultant and Online Retailer, has become an entrepreneurial savant. Creating products, that satisfy her own unmet needs, has led to running 5 (yep FIVE) ventures simultaneously. She notes, “I haven’t been trained in any of them. In all cases, (before starting) I asked (myself) will other people find it useful?”
Popular wisdom says ‘stick to your strengths’ and ‘ruthlessly focus.’ It’s reasonable advice…but what if it’s not working? Sticking to the wrong thing can limit your growth…or lead to burnout. We become so invested in our chosen fields. Work that fits post-college, may feel restrictive later, as we try to ascend and raise kids. Change is hard. Career change, in an unstable economy, can feel reckless. Many Moms linger in professional roles that have become stale. Tenure can buy that fragile, yet oh-so-valuable benefit, flexibility.
What if we have the drive, inclination and talent, to do something very different? Can we build our own flexibility? Christine still enjoys the challenge, variety and freedom that a constellation of professional interests creates.
Learn How You Learn Best
“In neuroscience, I was studying the link between music and the brain. I was a psych major and a musician…and was fascinated by it. I dreamed of becoming a professor, but I was not a good student. People don’t believe that but it was true!” Christine said with a laugh. I didn’t believe it either. She said, “My middle school grades were not great and I had insecurity about my intellect. However, my intellectual curiosity woke up in college… I went to a small school, some classes had only 8 people in them, and I learned I did spectacularly in small classes!” Amazing!
Step Back & Question Your Motives
I had to ask…why pursue advanced studies in neuroscience? First, she joked, “I’m from a Korean family.” I laughed and we compared notes. My immigrant parents also (strongly) encouraged the pursuit of traditional careers. “I was doing post-doctorate work and my father said, ‘you’re a doctor but you can’t write prescriptions?’” Christine felt driven to excel in this specialty and achieved stellar results. “I received a triple appointment from top places – MIT, Harvard and Mass General Hospital. However, once I got to my post-doc work, I was basically becoming a grunt pushing forward someone else’s agenda,” She lamented. A tough transition for an ultra-creative thinker. She said, “During that time, I also became a Mom and my Dad died, which made me reevaluate… I decided, if I’m going to spend 40 to 60 hours a week away from my family… I’ve got to love it.”
Follow the Inspiration
Christine said, “As a new Mom, I was researching so many things, I wanted a place to put everything I was finding. I was thinking, why isn’t there a lifestyle editorial site for Boston? That’s what I wanted. A friend said, ‘you need to start a blog.’ I didn’t know what a blog was! That was in July 2006. All of a sudden, people were reading it, by the time I finished my post doc I was done. I saw a hole (in the market.) The academic situation wasn’t working for me and I needed to get out. I didn’t have anything money-making lined up, but I knew I could do hard things, and I’d figure it out.” She acknowledged, “It’s difficult to make a creative change, without the space to do that. My husband encouraged me to make the leap. I’d always had a formal job before then.”
Trust Your Gut & Ability to Learn
Christine said, “My next business was a design company. I had a very specific graphic in mind, a pregnant woman — very stylish with cute heels on — I couldn’t find it anywhere. I downloaded Adobe’s 30-day free trial and created my own. I realized I had fun and was good at making vector graphics!” Once again, she trusted her instincts and ability to learn something entirely new. She joked, “I’m a multi-business person with no business plan.” Are you familiar with the enneagram?” It’s a framework for understanding personality types. She said, “I’m a gut person. Even without a plan I’ll follow my gut.” Breaking away from a credentialed background is a common worry for Moms considering a shift. Christine’s businesses, however, have sustained the momentum. She said, “The ebb and flow of projects has been pretty organic.”
Play to Your…Weaknesses?
Most people are drawn to using their strengths… as much as possible! However, it’s trickier to internalize and then augment weaknesses. Christine said, “One of my downfalls is that I don’t really capacity plan for myself. Over the years I’ve learned to hire help. I always tell other entrepreneurs, if you’re the creative force, don’t do the $15 – $20 per hour jobs.” Wise! She added, “It also helps me contribute to the women-centric economy.” Bravo! She’s developed organizational processes that work for her personal style. “Every single day I have 5 businesses I have to touch. I have to break everything way down,” She explained. What? Details please! She laughed and said, “I have a ton of recurring tasks on my to-do list… each one has it’s own color. I love to-do-ist!” She added, “There are 60 to 80 things… if you’re a checklist person it’s great to go through and check them off throughout the day.” Noted. There is nothing quite like checking off to-do’s! Christine said, “(I even have) kid tasks, like send my daughter to the library with her book, so I don’t have to think about it.” Brilliant.
Try Little Daily Doses of Self-Care
A dynamic schedule is one of the (many) challenges to making self-care a routine. Self-care critics, perceive the need to make it happen, as another source of stress! Christine’s approach, carves the time, yet keeps her commitment manageable. Christine said, “All of my self-care is on the calendar. (Such as) ‘do your 5-minute mid-day meditation.’” Nice! Although scheduling in small increments doesn’t work for everyone, it’s working beautifully for Christine. She said, “It keeps me on task and reminds me it doesn’t take much time to do something for myself.” Yes! She has an artistic eye, evidenced by her beautiful websites, and loves to doodle. She said, “I was interested in bullet journaling. Even though I’m typically a curmudgeon, if everyone out there is doing it, I usually want no part of it!” I laughed. “It didn’t work for me as a to-do (vehicle) but I like the doodling part. I doodle for creative self-care.” A worthy goal to build creative renewal into each day.
Stay Organized & Nimble. The Best Plans Change
We talked about how she optimizes work for 5 businesses. Christine said, “It has to be pretty fluid. The nature of my client work is very time sensitive. The deadline stuff happens first… and it’s a moving target.” How does she keep it together? She said, “It’s important to self-reflect and understand how you work best. (Know when is) your most productive time. I know 1,000 unread emails will stress me out… It makes me highly anxious. I know that for me to feel calm, I have to make space to triage my inbox.” Nothing quite haunts like email. She added, “I also bucket my meetings, so 1 or 2 days a week, are completely meeting free. It doesn’t always work out, but when it does it’s awesome.”
Build-In What Grounds You
I asked what kind of self-care matters to her the most. Christine didn’t hesitate, “Movement is really important to me. I used to be a runner, now my husband and I play tennis. The movement is crucial… specific exercise is not.” She’s also intentional about presence. “With the kids…it’s just being with them (that’s important.) I don’t like to be a distracted person. We draw cats. We take quiet, focused time together, no devices. It’s crucial to feeling leveled out,” she said.
Many thanks to the talented and entrepreneurial renaissance woman, Christine Koh!
Christine Koh is a music and brain scientist turned multimedia creative. She spent a decade in academia, during which time she was awarded prestigious fellowships from the National Institutes of Health to fund her Ph.D. research at Queen’s University and joint-appointment postdoctoral fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and the Massachusetts Institutes of Technology. Christine was about to become a professor when she decided to hang up her academic spurs in favor of more flexible and independent ventures.
Since leaving academia in 2006, Christine has forged a new career focused on creating content to help people live better, happier, and with elevated purpose and intention.
- Founder/editor of Boston Mamas, a pioneer in the hyperlocal lifestyle niche
- Co-host of the Edit Your Life Show, a podcast devoted to helping people edit their lives to make room for awesome
- Co-author of Minimalist Parenting, a book to help parents enjoy family life more by doing less
- Designer/co-owner of Brave New World Designs, a stylish, advocacy-oriented design collection
- Creative Director at Women Online, a communications firm that specializes in using social media for good)