Friday, May 31, 2013

The Having It All Project: Emma Samuels

Emma made her way here through my friend Nanette, my favorite connector. Got a friend who inspires you with all they accomplish? Please send them my way! Here's how Emma is having it all.

Briefly describe your life and what you think makes it unique.
I am lucky in that I have a very busy and full life. I am a mom to three little boys, a registered dietitian, a philanthropist, and serial volunteer. I am also a wife, daughter, room parent, yoga fanatic, tennis lover, cook, and entrepreneur.  People constantly ask me "how do you do all of this?!" My answer is always the same. "I just do." I am passionate about many things, from cooking dinner for my boys to writing a weight loss curriculum, and sometimes make things work even though it can throw me, or my family, off balance for a while. 

Years ago, when I changed careers and transitioned out of marketing and into the field of nutrition, I decided to grow my family life while also pursuing my career. I watched some friends wait to have kids, or others prioritize family over careers. I wanted to do both at the same time. As a result I entered graduate school engaged to be married, and graduated four years later married and with a one year old. While I never questioned my ability to make all this work, finding balance in my busy life was, and continues to be, a challenge. Especially since, for me, slowing down isn't an option.  

While everyone is busy (or at least everyone that I hang around with), I never complain or apologize for all that I choose to juggle in my life.  I love everything I choose to do and feel as though I am in the right place in my life today, which gives me a calming sense of purpose. I am constantly learning, growing, and thinking about how to improve myself. I embrace each day as a new adventure and a fresh opportunity to make it better than the day before. I believe that anything is possible, and that’s a really exciting and beautiful thing.

What are some of your favorite tips and strategies for coping with the chaos?
1. My mantra for overwhelming moments is this: create space. I remind myself to “create space” and time between the chaos or stress and my (usually) charged reaction. While challenging for me to do in the moment, when I am able to create space I better address and handle intense moments. This valuable technique is true for parenting, marriage, work, traffic, bad days, you name it.  At a parents’ meeting at my son's school, I learned that students may press the "pause" button of a pretend remote control, to slow down an interaction or heated conversation. This allows them to pause, breathe, and then ask a question as needed. To create space. In my life, when I slow down a situation, I am able to recognize my feelings at that moment and then choose to respond, rather than to react.    

2. Exercise. Regular exercise for me is like an good friend who permits me to let off steam, keeping me mentally and emotionally organized. I exercise anywhere from 4-6 days a week, a mixture of hot power vinyasa yoga and basic gym efforts (elliptical and push ups). Keeping my body active gives me energy and allows me to focus. Through yoga, I can actually turn my brain off from the many to-dos, errands, and important life details for a little while. This is intensely invigorating and transformative, while also being an amazing work out. 

3. Friends and family. I'm not an island! I am fortunate to have many trusted people around me who can act as my sounding board when necessary. So when life gets crazy, I can benefit from, and appreciate, their insight and a different perspective. When I verbalize a problem to someone who knows me well, I gain comfort, clarity and support that helps me get back on track.

Please share a moment where it all broke down, and how you got through it.
Which time?!  I have had MANY moments when it felt like the walls were crashing down. Recently, I had a stressful work situation where I didn't know what to do or how to handle myself. I realized that not having clarity about, or control over, the outcome was very scary for me. I am usually the optimistic one who likes to weed through options for success, and here I was feeling totally stuck. I followed my own path of creating space, exercising, and calling up my close friends and family. And while in the moment I felt the pain of the situation, I never lost sight of who I was and what was important in my life. Even today, it is not the work that I do, but rather the person that I am that matters most, and the people with whom I share my time. It was powerful to realize that even when I was feeling stuck at work, I was not stuck as a person. I learned that I always have choices to make, am never a victim, and always have the ability to move forward.

Do you have any balance role models? Anything you try to avoid because it wouldn't work for you?
There is no one specific role model that I have, but I will say that I am proud that I surround myself with people who inspire me and help me grow as an individual. Since I am a very visual person, I need to see and hear how others achieve balance in their life, before I ultimately adopt their tips and techniques. I also gravitate to calm and confident individuals, as they impress me tremendously. Being calm is not my forte.  So I appreciate the natural talents of someone who can be effective and remain calm in challenging situations.  

(Sadly) I have learned to avoid caffeine, as I found myself greatly affected by the ups and downs of that drug. I also try and avoid situations that are highly disorganized, since they seem to wind me up like a top, even without caffeine. Lastly, I avoid situations where I do not have permission to tap into my creative energy and spirit. That energy is what excites me and is a key part of MY balance.  

Think back to your 18th birthday. How is your life different from how you expected it to be then? 
As an 18 year old, I had blind ambition to do and be everything. In that regard I have not changed too much!  I did, however lack focus, discipline, and confidence. At 18 I could have gone in ANY direction, such as my passions for dance, choreography and theater. Yet I was so unsure of myself, I'm surprised I made it out of high school alive. Perhaps my boundless excitement and energy served me well, as life always felt enormous and new, even as I worried about failing.   
Through the years I have had a lot of learning to do. Staying focused is still challenging for me, which I did not necessarily expect would still be the case. Still, I now understand myself and my strengths and weaknesses better than I did then. I am better equipped to slow down and discern between something that is exciting in the abstract versus something worthy of my actual expertise, energy and time. I am still me, just a lot smarter, more confident, and a heck of a lot happier.   

Relate to what Emma is saying? Leave her some love in the comments. Read other posts from The Having It All Project here. Want to participate? Send me an email at!

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