Emilie Jacob, 37, is a French interior stylist, mum of two (Stella, 5 and Teddy, 1) and the founder of Dubai-based interior design studio Stella + the Stars, which she runs with her business partner and interior designer Sameera Ameer. Emilie moved to Dubai in 2016 with her husband and lives in Umm Suqeim.
Stella + the Stars is Dubai’s most colourful and fun home styling service, and an award-winning blog, helping clients to make their home unique - no matter how deep their pockets are.
I am no expert in time or career management but running my own business from home for five years with two kids under five in tow has taught me a lot about this working mum malarkey. So here are my tips on how to manage a career and a family and feel great at both!
That could be my only tip to be honest. Balance is a utopia and I don’t think it’s achievable. You’ll have pockets of balance between family and work at times and feel on top of the world but it’s rare that these last for very long. I found, as a rule of thumb, that when success comes in my professional life, my ‘mum’ life suffers, and vice versa. There are weeks where everything runs smoothly at home, vaccination schedules are up to date, the fridge is full, meals are pre-prepared, kids are healthy and happy, I haven’t forgotten a school event or presents for a birthday party. These are usually times where I feel a bit uninspired or stuck at work, with projects not progressing as smoothly as I’d wish. The key is to simply accept it and move on as this will invariably swap around after a period of time. I learned how to ride the waves of unbalanced moments and just enjoy the ‘now’.
Your parameters of success will be completely different to anyone else. For me, having healthy kids and happy marriage and doing a job I am happy to get up for in the morning tick more boxes that I could ever wish to on my ‘success’ list. And everything else is just a bonus. I know other mums who are much more ambitious and want to excel at their job and I know others who revel in staying at home with their little ones. Success means something completely different to all of us so when I see other designers, for example, accomplishing what looks unattainable to me, I try to remind myself how far I have come and that where I am at right now is enough.
I started being intrigued by the power of manifesting earlier this year thanks to my business partner who’s converted me. It’s helped me set realistic and clear goals in every aspect of my life, from family to my husband to my business. It’s so easy to just forget all the amazing things we do and instead get bogged down by the handful of negatives and hurdles. So every three months, I send myself an email (to open three months later) where I list everything I want to happen (in the present tense) in various areas of my life. Usually 95% materialise within the timeframe I set myself and it’s amazing to look back at how overwhelming it felt then and the sense of achievement of the ‘now’.
When I retrained as an interior stylist and launched Stella + the Stars a few years ago, Stella was just 10-months old and I was looking after her full time. I fitted my studies and the launch of the blog and interiors business between naps, evenings and weekends. It worked at the beginning but as she grew it became completely overwhelming physically and emotionally. It was the most draining time of my life. I decided to be more frugal in some areas of my life and in return invest in some ad hoc childcare while I started my first projects and it was the best decision. Whatever the type of help; nanny, ad hoc babysitter, nursery or just family and friends; getting the right support to look after your little people while you focus on work is key to success in my opinion.
This is obviously much easier said than done and an ongoing effort to apply but one that will potentially save your sanity. Got that dreaded phonecall that you child is sick while in the middle of a meeting? Arrived at the school gate late for drop-off to realise you forgot the lunchbox? Try not to feel bad and just switch to problem-solving mode. It doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job, just that one of the balls dropped and you just need to get it back in the air without losing your mind. Focus on the bigger picture.
This has been a total revelation in particular at work. I used to say yes to everything: every opportunity, every project or client that came my way. For fear of missing out or because of the risk of that opportunity to be the last one, I suppose. Knowing our worth now and the feeling of being overwhelmed when committing to too many projects at the same time has taught us to be more meticulous and picky and say no to a lot of opportunities that arise. Because we know that if it doesn’t feel right from the beginning it never will. And that leaves space for the right client/project/opportunity down the line.
I really notice that when I am overwhelmed, anxious, or stressed, and I have too much going on, I make everyone around me feel the same which is then a vicious circle of overwhelm, anxiety and stress! When I get the early signs of negative feelings or overwhelm taking over, instead of staring at my to-do list feeling helpless (which ends up with an hour of procrastination) I usually drop whatever I am doing (obviously unless I am in a middle of a client meeting!) and take 45 minutes of ‘me time’ (or self care - whatever you prefer to call it). It could be as superficial as getting a quick manicure without my phone, or simply sit in a café and listen to a podcast, or go for a class at the gym. Whatever is feasible on that particular day. It always work and I feel so much better for it afterwards and usually end up being more productive for the rest of the day.
I wasn’t going to include this as it’s so cliché but it’s been life changing for me. I gained so much weight with my second baby and really struggled for months to get back to myself. It’s so hard when you are trying to do everything from ‘mummy-ing’, working, keeping a household running and a social life to find time for yourself on a daily basis but incorporating exercise into my weekly routine is literally the best investment I have ever made. I now book my gym classes like I book meetings. I don’t negotiate with myself and unless I am ill and bed bound, I don’t cancel it. It’s really hard at the beginning because I am very good at finding excuses to avoid going but it is one of the few things in my week that keep me sane.