“You create your own glass ceiling. Break through it just like in Willy Wonka. People told me my book idea was silly, my shows wouldn’t work… Nothing has fallen in my lap I have had to fight for every bit of what I have.”
Alison Canavan is an international model, a parenting, health and wellbeing specialist, a columnist, and now an author – her book, Minding Mum, is out in March. Here she talks about juggling self-employment with single motherhood, and ignoring the naysayers to break through her own glass ceiling.
Thank you Alison for taking part in this interview series for Office Mum – so let’s start with the basics – could you tell me how many children you have and their ages?
And now could you tell me a little about your career – what do you do and for how long have you been working at this?
My career has been very mixed and varied. I started modelling when I was 15 and travelled the world for 18 years living in London, New York, Paris, Australia and South Africa just to name a few places. I did everything from commercials, runway, film, TV, presenting and voiceovers. During that time I was always in college studying and trying to figure out what I would like to do next as I knew modelling wouldn’t last forever. I studied marketing, PR, sales management, acting, meditation, business and more recently nutrition, wellness and coaching. I’m an avid reader and researcher and I believe in spending time reading something new each day.
I returned home to Ireland from my home in New York six years ago, and since then my career has diversified into writing, broadcasting, shows, and I just launched my wellness website last November, called becomplete.ie which aims to show people how to join the dots with their health and wellbeing. I have also just written my first book called “Minding Mum” which is out on March 4th
That’s a lot! What kind of hours do you work?
I work all the time when I’m not with my son at the moment as I’m self-employed and trying to get a business off the ground. I’ve also just finished college and am currently doing a couple of other courses to increase my skill level in coaching and healing.
I have a rule though – when I am with my son he gets my full attention. This can be really hard at times but I’m getting better at it. As they get older they demand your attention more and need your presence. My son is my greatest teacher.
And can you do some of your work from home?
I work from an office at home but I’m always out and about at meetings, shoots and events. It’s very varied. And every day is different.
Do you have to travel for work?
I have to travel abroad sometimes for modelling jobs and around the country with my shows and events.
What kind of childcare do you use?
I have James in Tigers Afterschool and then I’m very lucky that my mum and friends help out too. My support system of friends and family is essential and very much appreciated.
And is your childcare solution working well for you?
This is the best for me at the moment. I had an au pair, which was great, but I don’t really have the space in my current home for an au pair as I only have two bedrooms.
With your son in school, has that made balancing work and home easier or more difficult?
Far more difficult with school holidays. As a single working mum it’s incredibly expensive for camps and afterschool plus I have to deal with James asking why other mums stay at home and his mum is always working. He maintains I should just go to the bank and take out money and stay home! I wish I could!
On a practical level, what do you find most difficult about balancing work and home?
It’s a daily balancing act as every day is different for me. Holidays are a big problem and I rely heavily on my friends and my mum but that is how it is for me right now. I’m hoping through hard work that I can afford to take more time off with James as my business grows.
Do you think that working for yourself makes it easier or more difficult to balance work and home?
Much more difficult. If I worked for someone else I would be done at 5 and could head home. When you work for yourself you are responsible for everything from accounts to books to updates on the site to answering mails. Sometimes there is flexibility but if I am booked for a job to host something or model there is absolutely no flexibility in that. James was sick a few weeks ago in school and I had to host an event but as I was the host I couldn’t go and get him. Luckily my friend was able to get him which was great but I felt really guilty and he was upset that I couldn’t get him and I was upset too. But that’s just the way it is sometimes!
And psychologically, do you find it challenging or stressful to work outside the home – do you suffer from working-mother guilt?
I suffer from guilt when I have to miss something as my bookings are not flexible and I have to take work when it comes in and can’t afford to be picky but I am a worker and working keeps me happy. If I’m at home for long I get very down, I need to be up, out and about working. I will always work as my job feeds my soul but the aim is to work less. The trick is to do what makes you happy as we are all so different. But I do believe that all mums are working mums whether you stay at home or work!
Do you think there’s an optimal solution out there – a perfect balance that enables a mother to have a fulfilling career while being there for her children?
No I don’t, as every single family situation is different, so what works for one will not work for another, no matter how similar they seem. I’m often asked can women or mums have it all, and I do believe we can, just not at the same time. Choices not sacrifices need to be made at different times in our lives and be careful how you view them! I choose to work really hard and study right now to give my son a better life with the aim of making a good living so that I can give him a good education and we can travel together and have a secure future. I have lots of plans, dreams, hopes and ambitions for the future. Just because you are a mum does not mean you can’t fulfil your own dreams
If you could do any job, what would it be?
The one I’m doing which is wellness. We are all capable of so much more than we imagine for ourselves and we are the authors of our own health and lifestyle book. I spent twenty years suffering from depression and anxiety. I have cleaned up my life and I feel great. I get very excited when I share what I have learned with other people because I now know its possible to feel great naturally through living well and treating myself well with food, exercise and self-care.
Do you think there’s a glass ceiling for women, or is it a perception based on the fact that mothers often look for flexibility or part-time hours, which in turn limits their opportunities?
You create your own glass ceiling. Break through it just like in Willy Wonka. People told me my book idea was silly, my shows wouldn’t work and many other things. I have had far more no’s than I have had yes’s these past few years. I have had many emails go unanswered but every day I get up and start again. Nothing has fallen in my lap I have had to fight for every bit of what I have but because of that I’m stronger and more grateful than ever for what I have achieved. If it was easy everyone would do it! You need to push yourself every day to be the best you can.
Do you have three top tips that you could give any mother returning to work, to make her life easier?
- Yes get a really good routine in place. A basic structure that starts the day off well and in the evening get everything ready like lunches, uniforms and everything you need like clothes laid out etc., so that even if something happens in the morning you are prepared. Leave spare everything with your childcare of choice so: clothes, nappies, wipes, food and toys as necessary. I used to buy inexpensive clothes and leave them there in case of emergency.
- Before you start to beat yourself up and feel guilty about the decisions you make, know that there is no right or wrong way to live. There is only the way that you want to live and hopefully that is a way that helps you to feel content.
- Get organised: You need to create lists and make them your best friend. Whether you have lists on the wall or in your phone they will help to keep you focused and there is nothing more satisfying that checking off a list. Set alarms on your phone if you are busy and tend to forget things (perfectly normal for mums!) Pre plan your meals for the week too and make friends with your freezer!
Any other comments?
The most important thing you can do is practise self-care. It is not selfish to mind yourself, in fact it is the most selfless thing you can do. When you are fit and healthy you will have more of yourself to give in every way.
Watch how you talk to yourself and my golden rule is if you wouldn’t say it to your best friend DON’T say it to yourself.
Follow your dreams and push through your fears. My life really began the day I gave birth to my son. He reminded me of the simple everyday things that are so important. His presence forced me to be present. The greatest gift you have is now so use it wisely.
Thank you Alison for taking part! I love how honest you’ve been in this interview, particularly what you said about unanswered emails and fighting for everything you have. I think that’s something everyone can relate to, whether self-employed or not, and it’s always reassuring to know that everyone has ups and downs. I like the idea of the glass ceiling being something we create for ourselves and something we can choose to break through.
I was also very interested in what you said about having it all but at different times, and in particular, making choices not sacrifices. It’s a great way to look at it. I think women often find it frustrating to have to choose, but in the end, we tend to choose well, and are mostly happy with the outcomes.
I found myself very inspired by what you’ve done and what you’re doing, and how resolved you are to work hard now in order to provide a good education and secure future for James – your determination is palpable, and very admirable. Best of luck with Minding Mum and I look forward to seeing what else you do in the future!
Alison will be touring the country with a brand new health, beauty and wellness show called “The Full 360”
There will be beauty demos on stage, a fitness fashion show, talks on detox, healthy eating habits (including a healthy lunch), essential oils and much more.
Keep an eye on Alison’s website for tickets and announcements: AlisonCanavan.com