Great parenting is about leading with love, by Dr. Ely Weinschneider and Sara Gullickson

For me, I think a good parent is a lot of different things, but to put it simply, I think someone who leads with love and creates a loving environment in the home. It’s one of the main ingredients along with quality time, which we’ve talked about, and holding children accountable. This also means holding […]

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For me, I think a good parent is a lot of different things, but to put it simply, I think someone who leads with love and creates a loving environment in the home. It’s one of the main ingredients along with quality time, which we’ve talked about, and holding children accountable. This also means holding space for your children to be what they are and not what you want them to be.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Sara Gullickson. Sara is the CEO of Item 9 Labs Corp., a national publicly traded cannabis company specializing in the development and manufacturing of innovative cannabis products and proprietary delivery platforms. Gullickson is also the owner of Strive Wellness of Nevada LLC, a medical cannabis cultivation and processing facility with distribution rights, and dispensary Strive Life of North Dakota.

Prior to her executive level position at Item 9 Labs Corp., Gullickson served as the CEO and founder of Dispensary Permits, a nationally recognized cannabis consulting firm. Established in 2010, Dispensary Permits won multiple cannabis licenses across more than a dozen competitive state markets. In addition to application success, Gullickson has assisted in opening and operating cannabis facilities from the East to West Coast, helping multiple startups secure funding for new ventures.

Gullickson has received multiple accolades as a cannabis industry leader. She was named to Marijuana Business Magazine’s Women to Watch in 2019 list, Herb Magazine’s Top Ten Cannabis Entrepreneurs, Benzinga’s Top 20 Women to Dominate the International Cannabis Space, and Phoenix Business Journal’s Top Forty Under 40.

An industry spokesperson, Gullickson headlined cannabis tracks at the Real Estate Wealth Expos in Los Angeles and Toronto, and the XLive Conference in Las Vegas. Gullickson has also presented at MJBizCon, World Medical Cannabis Conference & Expo, Dispensary Next, Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo, MJAC Investorshub International Conference, Women Grow Leadership Summit, and other large-scale business events.

Gullickson believes it is her duty to help the industry evolve successfully. She has assisted in the development of regulatory frameworks and cannabis application processes in the United States, Canada, Europe, and New Zealand. She has also volunteered her time to advocacy efforts, attending multiple political gatherings to raise medical cannabis awareness, both at Lobby Days in Washington, D.C, and at the Phoenix Capitol.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

I was born in Minnesota and grew up in a decent size town in the suburbs. My parents were married while I was growing up. My sister and I were raised very conservatively, which meant I went to a private school. I had 14 people in my class from the time I was in kindergarten through eighth grade. I went to a public school from ninth to 12th grade, and I had 500 people in my graduating class. I went to a religious school — it was Seventh Day Adventist — which meant we were vegetarian growing up. My parents were also very strict. I wasn’t allowed to ride in cars with boys. But looking back on my childhood, what I find most important is that they held us very accountable. At a young age, I had to contribute and do chores. I started my first job when I was 13 or 14, and I started babysitting at 10. The neighborhood we grew up in was upper middle class and very communal, in the sense that everyone helped with each other’s kids. There was a community church and all of my best friends lived in my neighborhood, so I could go and play with them easily. It was a good time.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

I’d been toying around with selling my company for the past two years and everything I’ve done up to this point had brought the company to a fit position both financially and functionally. I think it took finding the right partners with a similar vision, mission and ethics within the cannabis industry. My motivation to do it became much stronger when I became pregnant. I have a great team and overall, I get to be part of a larger movement and share a responsibility with others instead of doing it on my own.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

I guess there isn’t a day-to-day schedule since we work nationally and internationally. But on any given week, I spend time with staff in the office, on conference calls or at partner meetings. The cannabis industry gives you enough curve balls that nothing is very typical. I know how to be flexible and fluent with this ever-evolving market. Since I was raised in the industry (I started my business at 26), most of my experience involved successful outcomes. Now, every day I go where I am needed in order to be successful. If that means taking out the garbage, flying to Canada or coaching staff members, it is basically what I have to do.

Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

I guess I have to refer back to my childhood. Both of my parents worked, and there was never a moment in my childhood that I felt like I couldn’t call on them. And so, I firmly believe in a work-life balance. In order for any person to be fulfilled, they have to do what’s right for them and for some women that means staying at home and for some women that means staying at work. For me personally, I will dedicate equal time to both because through this transition, the last thing I’d like to see is losing my identity and connection to what I’ve built in the last 35 years. Each day, parents have to be the best they can be on a daily basis and that looks different every single day.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is important to make time to spend with your children?

I think it’s absolutely essential because as parents we shape our children’s reality. If you want your children to value family and family structure, you have to not only preach but practice these values and show what it can do for them. For me, my childhood was very happy, and the happiest times were simple days when we were all together, whether it was my immediate family or extended family during holidays. I truly value family time and so does my partner. While we work, we will have to dedicate and mediate time with our extended families.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

Yes. I think routines are really important so when the baby is born, I’m planning on taking maternity leave to bond with my baby. I’ve also committed to going back to work only for certain hours so my evenings I can just dedicate to family. I’ve signed up for a parenting group that meets once a month (during work hours) where you bring your baby and bond with other women. We also have a family tradition where we spend the first two weeks of July in San Diego together as a family, including my partner’s family, which is something we will continue after our baby is born.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?

Yes, so coming from somebody that’s on a government timeline or deadline or crisis, I’ve implemented several best practices into my life, even more so in the past couple of months knowing that the baby is coming. A few things that keep me on task and out of panic mode are:

  1. Planning ahead with work and life. I’m not due for three months but my hospital bag is already packed and the nursery is already complete in case life gets in the way. I’ve dedicated time for when the baby is delivered.
  2. Another strategy that I have gotten good at later in my career is asking for help. In the beginning, it felt like a weakness to ask for assistance, but now it feels like a strength.
  3. Another thing I’ve learned to do very well in the past couple of years is setting boundaries, when working with others. My mantra is, “I can’t want it more than they do.”
  4. I also try to be very realistic. When I say things are going to get done or when I carve out a schedule, I do my best to space out enough time so I don’t run behind or get stressed.
  5. Lastly, being easy on yourself. Through all of this, you can feel guilty about traveling while you’re pregnant or working when everyone says you should be resting, or not walking the dogs, but at the end of the day, we have to do the best we can and show up each and every day. Even if that means getting 100 projects done or only three.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

For me, I think a good parent is a lot of different things, but to put it simply, I think someone who leads with love and creates a loving environment in the home. It’s one of the main ingredients along with quality time, which we’ve talked about, and holding children accountable. This also means holding space for your children to be what they are and not what you want them to be.

An example, as a child I was super dyslexic and not an excellent student at school. It wasn’t a lack of trying, it’s just I wasn’t good at it. My parents changed the parameters and put less focus on my grades and allowed me to really do things differently. Through college, my grades averaged out to Cs. I failed tests and aced papers. Instead of my parents getting upset with me, they understood it wasn’t my learning style. I can express myself more so in writing, so they celebrated that as long as I was still passing and not partying.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

Yes. Since I’ve created such a different path for myself and one that no one else could have probably predicted, my plan is to really nurture an environment that allows my son to be who he is, even if I don’t fully understand it and allow him to grow into somebody that he’s proud of instead of fulfilling my dreams. I think a lot of parents don’t understand their children and their reactions actually stunt their growth instead of nurturing them to feel safe and empowered to be whatever they want to be in life. I always joke that my mom instilled a false sense of confidence in me because though I’ve doubted myself at times in my journey, my mom’s voice has always been in the back of my head encouraging me that I can do anything I want to do.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

Happiness. I’ve had more money than less money in my life, and realistically, none of it really matters if you’re not happy. Happiness really infiltrates everything in your life. It allows you to be a good boss, a good leader, a good mother, a good partner, and so you really have to choose happiness and be grateful for all things, whether they feel good or bad at the time.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

Quite honestly, I’ve read a handful of books since getting pregnant and while they provide very good information, I go back to basics and I search for answers within myself through experience, work, yoga and through other mothers and their experiences to help me with situations that I don’t fully understand yet.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“It’s remarkable how far you’ll get in life with good work ethic, the ability to admit it when you make a mistake and a positive attitude along the way.”

It’s relevant in my life because I wasn’t always the smartest or the fastest, but I was always willing to put in the work and learn from my mistakes and dig deep when times got hard and to be grateful for each opportunity in life. I’ve spent the last nine years helping to build an industry that didn’t exist, and so I’ve always had to go back to basic ingredients when things got tough. This mentality has helped me get to where I am today.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve been lucky enough over the last nine years to be part of a movement, which is the prohibition of cannabis and reducing the negative stigmas encompassing it. My initial goal was to make history and I’ve repeatedly done that over the last nine years. My new cause or movement that I’m very passionate about is empowering other women is to do the same.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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