Emily Ley on Redefining the Work-Life Balance

Entrepreneurship and motherhood are amazing life ventures that can seem complicated to combine. Between the late nights and early mornings, we live in a society that exalts the existence of countless meetings, demanding jobs and hectic schedules. Although diligence is an admirable quality in our DNA as women, becoming an overachieving workaholic can quickly allow for us to compromise on what matters the most.

CEO and founder of the Simplified Planner, Emily Ley runs one of the most up-and-coming design and stationery companies in the world. However, her secret to success is not what the majority of business leaders adhere to. As a proactive mother of three, Emily inspires women everywhere to remain faithfully invested in relationships over numbers.

Darling Magazine: What does a typical day look like for you?

Emily: It’s different every day. It definitely looks a lot different than it did a year ago. The kids are getting older, so that helps. In the past, I would claim too much in the name of doing it all. Towards the beginning of my career, my level of busyness began to negatively affect both my level of creativity and my family relationships. I finally realized I had to start saying no — even to the great opportunities. Since then, I’ve made a continuous decision to slow down and be present with my family.

I went from working seven days a week to 2-3 days a week. During the week, I volunteer in my kindergarten son’s classroom. I make an effort to go to the gym almost every day; it’s helped my energy levels. I get the kids ready for school and my toddler twins and I eat morning brunch together routinely. My schedule works around my home life and not the other way around. Since I work from home, it can be challenging, but it’s nice. My days start around 9:30am and end around 2:30pm. By 4pm, all three kids are home and we start to prepare for dinnertime. During the evenings, I’ll squeeze in some work if needed to stay caught up.

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DM: How do you balance your professional career without compromising your relationships?

Emily: Joanna Gaines once said she has “ebbed and flowed” out of being a business and being a mom. Ultimately, I try to listen to the needs of my family, my body/heart and my company. The needs change on a weekly basis. But it’s all about understanding that balance isn’t something achieved like a degree on a wall. It’s something you have to fight for every day. After a day’s hard work, I find no guilt in turning off my computer. I also have no guilt in having to take business trips. For every woman, it’s essential to do what works best for her day by day.

My company had just started its gradual build in 2008. Once I threw myself into my goal, I worked like a dog until I got there. However, when my son was born, it completely changed my life. I realized that I couldn’t do it all. I also realized that I didn’t want to waste these precious years with him. I ebbed and flowed out of the structure. Once my twins were born, things got a lot more complicated. Eventually, I was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases. I was hitting a brick wall. At the time, we were distributing to 800 stores. Finally, it was time to take a step back and reevaluate my lack of valuing my personal health. We then decided to reduce our distributors to five places in the world. It was the best decision of my life because it allowed for me to place value on my health; it also allowed for me to be a better steward of my family and my business.

… it’s all about understanding that balance isn’t something achieved like a degree on a wall. It’s something you have to fight for every day.

DM: What has been your favorite part about motherhood?

Emily: I would say being entrusted with these perfect little balls of everything that is good in the world. It’s an honor to know that my husband and I get to fill up their hearts and steward them well. Watching them learn and discover is the most precious gift. We love knowing that we’re building their childhood to turn them into great adults. I don’t want to miss a single second; motherhood is truly my most important job on earth.

The word simplify has always been important to our brand. I’m learning what it means to really strip away the busyness. In retrospect, I said yes to everything and now realize how exhausted I was. The most important thing I’m doing is within the walls of my own house.

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DM: What do you think is the biggest enemy of creativity?

Emily: I believe it is exhaustion and burn out. After my first book, Grace Not Perfection, was released, I found myself in the phase of asking, “What’s next?” I would sit down at my computer to ideate new products. However, my creativity had been drained out from all the hard work. We need to learn how to consistently fill our wells. A good start can be by taking care of our bodies and minds; it’s necessary to get outside and away from the Internet for a bit to reenergize. If we fail to nurture ourselves, we leave no room for creativity.

Instead of trying to do the next big thing, I let my mind run away with itself as I perused the pages of my favorite fiction novel. Sometimes you just need to lie on the floor and read a good book. In doing so, we start to take control of our creativity again. We always tell ourselves if we are not constantly pushing, we are not getting things done. However, we need to be doing the things that give us life. It’s also known as the anti-way of doing things, but it’s worth every second.

… we need to be doing the things that give us life. It’s also known as the anti-way of doing things, but it’s worth every second.

DM: Where do you think the line is between creating a product for a customer (ie: something that sells) but also staying true to your own preferences as an artist?

Emily: We constantly have to check ourselves with this question. When we first started, I designed wedding invites, company branding and personalized products. The Simplified Planner became the first product that was birthed out of a need from my own life. I was a really busy, overwhelmed mom and I couldn’t find something that worked for me. I developed that product out of heartache in my heart that wanted to spend time with my children while also making time for my career ambitions. This planner took off like wildfire. There continue to be women in the world who feel just like me and are able to connect with the product’s value.

Since then, we have made other cool products. We have made cute accessory products that may not sell as well as the planner. The reason why is because people desire to connect with a meaning, a mission and a voice. With this in mind, we constantly have to check ourselves and ask — is this who we are as a brand? If it’s both minimal and meaningful, that means it will most likely be a resounding product that our customers will enjoy.

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DM: What would we be surprised to know about you?

Emily: I have a Master’s Degree in Non-Profit Management from the University of West Florida. Also, I was a dancer for 15 years. Oh, and I’m a terrible cook. Really — I could burn water. Ironically, I come from a family of amazing cooks.

DM: If you could go back to your twenty-something self in college, what advice would you give?

Emily: If you are looking for the perfect answer or solution, it probably doesn’t exist. You are going to have to carve it for yourself. When I graduated college, I was dating someone for quite some time, prior to meeting my husband. I thought I had everything planned out. I was going to complete my Master’s, get engaged, buy a house and get married. Within all of these plans, maybe two things actually happened. I accepted a job opportunity and everything fell apart.

I thought I knew exactly what was going to happen with my life after college, but it didn’t. I thought I had to have my whole life figured out, but I didn’t. And it’s okay … it’s okay to not know. It’s okay to put your toe in different waters. As women, men in college can choose anything and don’t necessarily have to worry. For us, it’s different. We desire marriage, motherhood and a successful career on top of it. It tends to get messier. However, use innovation to curate your own job. With determination and grace, create your own reality based on the life you have.

Stay updated on Emily via her shop, on her blog and over on Instagram @EmilyLey.

Images via Gina Zeidler

Victoria is a freelance editor, photographer and writer currently residing in her home state of Florida. She completed her Bachelors of Science in Public Relations/Journalism at Southeastern University. She is an avid traveller with a love for community, culture and culinary finds.

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