“Having kids made me remind myself why I got into this (field) in the first place. I love to travel. And thought this would be a great place to be a communicator, learn languages and connect with people. One day, I woke up and thought, am I doing any of that? That’s when I started to do entrepreneurial things that helped me feel connected to my original purpose. Because as I moved up the ladder at work, I was getting farther away from the creative space. So, for a lot of reasons, it brought me back into alignment,” said Dr. Nafeesah Allen, Communications Expert and Migration Scholar.
Most of us were trained to do one job at a time. So, whether it’s to increase your income or impact, making space for growth roles like side gigs or board seats, requires new methods. In most fields, as you rise, the full-time work will always want more from you. So, when we can’t throw extra hours at opportunities, how do we evolve to a more expansive definition of career?
Choose Not to Let Work Consume You
Nafeesah’s spent most of her professional life working in different parts of the world. “When I had a project, I used to see it to fruition and then find a new challenge. And that worked well, until I had kids. Now, I’ve got to leave space for home and that forced changes in my life.”
After kids our relationship to work changes. She added, “Then I thought, what do I define as a challenge now? And how do I find the right balance? Because I can’t let work, whatever it is, consume all my time and idea space.”
Consider Your Professional Portfolio
“I’ve reimagined and reinvented myself after having kids. And now, I’m starting to wear the entrepreneur hat as well,” Nafeesah explained. Independent work is on the rise. And technology makes it easy to freelance, consult or develop a portfolio of flexible career interests.
Work On Your Mindset
How we think governs how we feel. Nafeesah said, “I do a lot of mindset work. Some of it is meditation, some of it is prayer, but a lot of it is around crafting a new identity for myself. If you don’t, one day you’re going to be in whatever the C-Suite is of the organization, thinking who is this person?”
Yes! You decide where your career goes. She added, “In entrepreneurship you’re constantly rewriting your bio. And thinking, ‘who am I for these people today?’ And it’s been wonderfully freeing to feel like I am not weird for having three parallel careers. Yes, I’m a migration scholar and I’m very decorated in that space, because that is a part of who I am.”
Build Your Support Infrastructure
Nafeesah said, “I staff up and have no ambition to do everything myself. I mean, we were just talking about the robot vacuuming my floor, okay? Because I’m not going to do it. There are other higher value things for me to do.” I laughed.
“So, I am all about delegating and finding the right ways to get things off my plate. And I learned that from being so ridiculously overwhelmed in a job that had no end.” Whether you plan to build your platform, launch a product or book, there are countless ways to outsource. Some sites even feature women and Mom owned businesses to hire.
Delegate and Eliminate
Nafeesah said, “It created this fortitude in me. I had to say to myself, ‘take some stuff off your plate because you’ve got to leave at the end of the day. They don’t pay you enough to stay here until 10:00 o’clock at night!’ I had to figure out how to triage things. So, I started to do that a lot even at home, with productivity hacks.”
Set Boundaries with Your Time
Nafeesah, like many of us, has a conflicted relationship with her calendar. “I’m still working on it because I’m almost like a teenager sometimes – defiant about my own schedule. But time boundaries have been important for me. Anybody who’s in knowledge work or a creative space knows, you don’t just get to clock in on creativity, and then clock out. Something can spark in the middle of the day, bedtime or in the middle of the night.” It’s one of many reasons work/life balance is a myth. Can you learn to compartmentalize problem solving?
To Create Space for Creativity
Probably not. The good news is that you don’t have to. Nafeesah explains, “I’ve tried to create a lot of space in my schedule to not feel guilty about answering that call when it comes. I had heard all these people say, ‘…I write fifteen minutes every day. Or I wake up at 5:00 AM.’ And I decided, I’m not doing any of that.”
You don’t need to devote every moment or adhere to a rigid structure. She added, “When I was pregnant with my son, I had pregnancy insomnia and was still trying to finish my PhD thesis. So, I decided if this kid is sitting on my bladder and I’m up at 2:00 o’clock in the morning, I’m going write and not feel guilty about it.”
Guilt consumes a lot of mental energy. So, why not free yourself? Nafeesah said, “I’m not going to sit in bed thinking I should be asleep. It’s like who cares? I’m just going to work until I’m tired.” She’s given herself the permission to do what is best for her style.
“I’m not judging myself about it and try to give myself space. There are so many things about my writing that are counterintuitive. I am a binge writer so, I will write for a whole weekend, and then not touch it again for two weeks. And I’ve been able to produce. So, not being self-critical has been super helpful.”
Set Time Limits on Your Day Job
“In a two-week span, I am writing about the same amount as somebody who does every day. I also put big time boundaries around my day job, because I was giving it so much space. But again, it’s knowledge work and you can’t turn it off.” Sigh.
How can you handle your brain comingling work and home? “I started to use a lot of the Getting Things Done method. It sounds so simple to ‘write everything down and get it out of your head’ but it’s a practice,” Nafeesah said.
And Manage Mental Load
Indeed, Allen’s tomb Getting Things Done is really about managing the mental load, using a productivity system. One of the rules is to always capture action items so they don’t weigh on our minds. Nafeesah said, “I don’t always do it well. But if you’re ever in my office, there are a billion lists everywhere, and I’ve got a whiteboard. I always have a notebook with me because I can’t keep the mental space of trying to remember ‘the thing’ about the thing.”
She added, “So, I’m just going to write it down. And that’s been super helpful to not walk around with the guilt that I have thought of something I need to do, and I can’t do it right now.”
By Capturing Your To-Dos
“And similarly, if you think about the Getting Things Done method, a lot of it’s about grouping things for when you can get to them. So, when I’m at home, some things are going to pop in my head about stuff I have to do in the office. But I have a notebook for that. Or I use notes on my phone,” Nafeesah said. Brilliant!
She added, “And when lightning strikes in the middle of lunch at work, I’ve got another pad for my writing and freelance work. And when I’m at home I’ll pull that out. So, I try to get it out of my head and put it in a space where I can actually take action on it. And I try not feel guilty about when it happens, but I let it come as it comes.”
Find Your Through Line
Many of us with multiple careers, lines of business or roles, feel fragmented. Nafeesah said, “There has to be some overarching continuity. It took me a very long time to see these are not completely disjointed things. There are through lines.”
Your gifts shine through your work expression. She said, “That took years of therapy, life coaching and mindset coaching to see. Nobody else can do these things in the ways that I can do them, because I bring it together. And that’s my value! It’s not like the book that I created or the blog post, it’s the way I organize the thoughts.”
And Your Unique Contribution
Nafeesah said, “In communications, we often think about ourselves as playing this background role. We just make sure things don’t fall apart. And it’s almost like the non-action, is the benefit. Think, not being on the front page for the wrong reasons.”
“But I’ve started to value myself. Because that’s not nothing, it’s a lot of something! And I can use that in a transferable way for other people, who don’t even understand the art of that work.” Beautiful!
So, remember, if you have the desire to expand your professional footprint with other leadership roles, it’s doable. Multiple streams of income and impact bolster your personal brand. And can help you, amplify your brilliance. Or return to work you love.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Nafeesah Allen!
Follow Nafeesah’s great adventure on her website!
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Dr. Nafeesah Allen is a migration scholar and multicultural communications expert, who transformed her trauma from pregnancy discrimination into a new relationship with parenting, wealth, and serial entrepreneurship.
In just two years, she scaled her freelance writing hobby to a 6-figure editorial content and strategy company, complete with bilingual children’s books, a number of successful blogs (like Preggy Finance