Sarah Beach: “This crisis has created such a unique opportunity to reevaluate our lives”

This crisis has created such a unique opportunity to reevaluate our lives. For a lot of us, everything we knew about work, school, family, and parenting has flipped on its head. In what seemed to be an instant, we were working and learning from home. Work and family life became so intertwined that they were […]

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This crisis has created such a unique opportunity to reevaluate our lives. For a lot of us, everything we knew about work, school, family, and parenting has flipped on its head. In what seemed to be an instant, we were working and learning from home. Work and family life became so intertwined that they were almost indistinguishable, and during all this drastic change, we were forced into isolation, practically dismantling our support systems (whether friends, family, or schools) overnight. We had no choice but to make some difficult choices to try and make it all work. Although painful, this time has certainly forced some introspection about what is important. I had to distinguish between my essentials and non-essentials.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Beach.

Sarah Beach is the founder and owner of Sarah Beach Consulting LLC, where she serves as a Leadership Consultant. Sarah Beach Consulting was created from a passion for leadership and a vision to develop a new generation of leaders who are self-aware and focused on the needs of the individuals they serve. Sarah offers programs to help organizations identify and close leadership gaps, as well as provide training to develop new and existing leaders. Sarah is passionate about helping people become the most effective and sought-after leaders possible.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

People generally scratch their heads when they find out my background is in research and often wonder how a scientist became a leadership consultant. First, I have always loved leading people. Whether it was running for president of a school club, being the captain of my sports teams, mentoring students, or leading a large research department, I have always felt most at home when leading. More importantly, I have immersed myself in the study of leadership, and I continually strive to improve myself as a leader, with the goal of being the best leader possible for my team. I went to school to study biology and biochemistry, and I currently serve as a Deputy Chief of a research department. Throughout my educational and professional journey, leadership has always been a common theme, and I have sought to continue leadership development throughout those experiences. For the last decade, I have worked in areas where there was frequent leadership changeover and restructuring. In a previous position, over the course of one year, I experienced five different supervisors. To say I have worked with, and for, a lot of leaders in my career would be an understatement. Through working in these types of environments, I have witnessed numerous leadership styles, and I have seen firsthand how the success of an organization can hinge on the quality of leadership. As a result, I’m incredibly passionate about helping people lead well and be the types of leaders people are seeking. Sarah Beach Consulting was born out of this passion and desire. In addition to a fulfilling career, I am incredibly blessed to be the mom to two wonderful boys, 3 and 6 years old, and the wife of an amazingly supportive and loving husband.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

While I was consulting with a client, I was observing the organization from the bottom up. Typically, I look for things like team dynamics, potential new leaders, and trust in the current leadership team. However, in this particular case, I ended up observing something I didn’t expect, which was a culture of sexual harassment that needed to be addressed. Even with the best leaders in place, if you don’t address an environment of sexual harassment, then the success of your organization will suffer. I go into organizations to address leadership gaps, but sometimes I observe other things that could serve as barriers to the success of even the best leaders. It’s interesting and important to see what may be lurking under the surface within teams or organizations. This demonstrates just one of the reasons why I believe it is so important to immerse myself in an organization as a critical part of my consulting process.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m currently working on creating short videos for my YouTube Channel that will be full of helpful leadership tips. I’m hopeful they will serve as a valuable resource, and their concise nature will allow them to fit well into people’s busy schedules. My goal is to focus on content that will be accessible and applicable to any leader, regardless of where they fall in their leadership experience.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am thankful for so many people along my journey. It is difficult to just pick one, but my mom has had one of the most incredible and essential impacts on my life. She taught me the values of hard work, resiliency, selflessness, compassion, and countless other life lessons that I carry with me every day. As a single mom of three, she was an example of strength, poise, and confidence for me growing up. She typically worked multiple jobs to support us and still managed to be a wonderful, present, and nurturing mom. I still call her for advice, whether about motherhood or life in general. She has always been my biggest cheerleader and there for me whenever I needed someone, encouraging me through my highest achievements and my greatest challenges. I would not be the woman I am today without my mom’s example, support, influence, and teachings.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?

The biggest family related challenges have certainly involved having the kids at home while my husband and I are working from home. I want to first say that we are incredibly thankful to have been able to maintain our jobs and continue to work throughout the entire pandemic. I know that hasn’t been the case for many people, so we certainly count our blessings. Despite being thankful, having young kids at home has certainly presented unique challenges while working during the pandemic. Our oldest started kindergarten this school year, so he has been participating in virtual learning. While he has a fantastic teacher, his age requires us to be fairly hands-on with his daily learning activities, and this has required a circus-level balancing act of meetings, partner reading, Zoom calls, math games, emails, and sight words. Our youngest is thankfully back in daily preschool, but he was home for a few months during the first part of the pandemic. As a then 2-year-old, it was most challenging for him to see his mom and dad at home, but unable to give him full-time attention. Constant interruptions were normal, and he developed some unique ways to get our attention. Have you ever been responding to emails and had a pineapple thrown at you? No, just me? The real challenge has been finding that right balance of work to be an effective employee and leader, and yet give the necessary attention to family so they are cared for, loved, and supported. To complicate things further, I have concluded that this balance continuously changes from day-to-day, and it requires a constant state of flexibility. I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been extremely difficult, and I know a lot of people reading this are nodding their heads as this sounds all too familiar…maybe minus the pineapple though!

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

Setting realistic expectations has been key. The reality is, I’m not going to have an uninterrupted day while working with kids at home, so expecting that will only lead to frustrations, and ultimately, a less productive day than if I had just started with more realistic expectations. Along those lines, we have found that making a realistic and flexible daily schedule is helpful. As a family we map out the day and try to line up our breaks and lunch times, which helps the kids know when they can expect to have our full attention. Setting up effective workspaces for everyone, including our kindergartener, has also been critical. Having comfortable seats, adequate desk space, proper lighting, etc. have all made working from home more effective and enjoyable. We also don’t shy away from addressing the issues and challenges of the pandemic with our kids head on. We take time and allow them to ask questions and voice their concerns, sadness, and fears about what has been happening. This past year has been difficult for adults, but it’s also been uniquely challenging for our kids. We encourage them to express their emotions and work with them to appropriately act out those emotions. Lastly, we laugh…a lot! We look for humor in as many things as possible, even having a pineapple thrown at me. In the moment I was frustrated and mad because I’m human (and that pineapple was real and hurt!), but after the fact, these types of situations make for some hilarious stories and really help us to keep things in perspective! I actually recounted these stories in daily updates on Facebook during the initial months of the pandemic and was able to share the laughter with others, which was a refreshing break from everything happening in the world.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?

Adapting to leading virtual teams has been a challenge. Learning how to use new technology and communication platforms, connect virtually, and keep up productivity have all been part of that challenge. Defining necessary boundaries for work has also been difficult. With my office now at home, my computer is always available to check emails, respond to taskers, or get a head start on the next day. Prior to COVID, when I left the office for the day, I was done working until the next day. On occasion, I would take my computer home or stay late in the office to meet a deadline, but most of the time, my work stayed at work. Now work has infiltrated my home and those lines of work and family are completely blurred. As I mentioned earlier, working from home, in itself, has been a challenge with so many distractions and the need to constantly shift my focus between work, kids, multiple modes of communication, and general distractions of the home. Lastly, the continually changing environments of family, school, and work have certainly been difficult to navigate in terms of work schedules and productivity.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

First, I had to intentionally set boundaries for work. In the beginning of the pandemic, I was working a ridiculous number of hours per week to make up for the fact that I was largely taking care of kids during the day. It didn’t take long for my sleep, work, and health to suffer. So, I knew I needed to make a change and set some healthy boundaries. I will now actually lock my office door over the weekends and in the evenings when I am finished work. This signals for me that I’m leaving the office for the day and lets me then fully focus on my family. I have also been clear with colleagues about my boundaries, so they know I won’t be responding to work related text messages over the weekend, unless it is an emergency. In addition, I have encouraged my team members to set their own healthy boundaries. I still keep flexible work hours, as I must balance having kids at home and taking breaks during the day to help with schoolwork, but I now have much healthier boundaries and sustainable overall weekly work hours. This ties in to setting realistic goals, as I mention above. Being realistic about what I can accomplish during the day has helped me to set those boundaries. I have also removed as many distractions as possible from my work area, so that when I am able to work, I can focus on the task at hand. Initially, my son’s school desk was set up close to mine so that I could easily assist him, as needed. However, I quickly realized that we were both too distracted, and we moved his desk to a different floor in our house. I have also made smaller changes, like keeping my cell phone more than an arm’s length away while working on my computer, so that every notification doesn’t cause me to stop and check my phone.

In terms of leading my team, I had to eventually shift our focus from running a sprint to a marathon. In the beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t know how long we would be teleworking or for how long kids would be at home. Once we realized some things were here to stay awhile, we began to shift our focus away from just surviving this time to thriving during this season. We started to set new rhythms for meetings, embrace our new communication platforms, and develop processes to compliment our new working environments. Lastly, my team and I have remained incredibly flexible and adaptable during this past year, realizing that rapid change is inevitable, and if we keep the correct mindset, we will persevere.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Give yourself grace. My kids have had more screen time this past year than they have probably had combined over their entire lives. I have needed to use movies and shows strategically during times of particularly important meetings and calls. They have also eaten more junk food and convenience food than I’d care to admit. It is impossible for me to be as efficient at my job as I was pre-COVID, when I worked without family distractions throughout the day. Daily, I have to push back against feelings of inadequacy and failure and give myself grace. We are all doing the best we can right now, and that probably looks a lot different than our ideal, and that is ok. Let go of old “rules” and redefine what success looks like in this season. I can’t emphasize this enough; show yourself grace.

Translate your prior down-time at work to down-time at home. During this pandemic, I have talked to so many people that are new to teleworking and feel extreme guilt for not spending a full 8 hours a day at their computers working. They are dealing with so many distractions that pull them away, or they take necessary mental breaks. I try to remind people that while it looks different at home, you were already doing those things at the office. There are distractions, mental breaks, and socialization that occur every day at work. You weren’t spending 8 hours at your desk at work, so don’t expect yourself to do that at home. A walk down the hallway to clear your mind and say hi to a coworker might translate to helping your kid with schoolwork or throwing in a load of laundry while working at home. Of course, I should caveat that I am talking about reasonable breaks, and not condoning blatant abuse of company time.

Lastly, set realistic expectations about what can get done in a day, keep some semblance of a schedule, and don’t sacrifice sleep. That last one is worth repeating; don’t sacrifice sleep! Sacrificing sleep to fit more work and/or family time into your days is not the correct approach. Trust me, I had to learn that one the hard way. No one actually benefits when you sacrifice your sleep. Ask my husband and kids!

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?

Did I mention laughter, yet? Seriously, I can’t express enough how much that has helped us during this past year. Prayer and trying to stay positive, hopeful, and joyful as a family have been critical. We have also tried to incorporate fun activities like movie nights, building forts and slides down our stairs, family reading time, and getting outside to play and go for walks, as much as possible. My husband and I have also built in time for each of us to individually take breaks. Even if it’s just a solo car ride or walk outside, we have intentionally made alone time to decompress. Additionally, the thing that has truly helped me stay sane has been my oldest son telling us repeatedly that he has loved all the extra family time together. That has been such a great reminder and reset for my attitude when things are challenging. As a working family, our kids have been in daycare and preschool since they were babies, so this has truly been the most amount of time we have spent with them in their entire lives, and it has been the greatest gift of this past year!

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

1. This crisis has created such a unique opportunity to reevaluate our lives. For a lot of us, everything we knew about work, school, family, and parenting has flipped on its head. In what seemed to be an instant, we were working and learning from home. Work and family life became so intertwined that they were almost indistinguishable, and during all this drastic change, we were forced into isolation, practically dismantling our support systems (whether friends, family, or schools) overnight. We had no choice but to make some difficult choices to try and make it all work. Although painful, this time has certainly forced some introspection about what is important. I had to distinguish between my essentials and non-essentials. Early in the pandemic, I, along with my husband, were taking care of our kids all day, since they could not be in preschool. We would accomplish as much work and as many meetings as possible during those daytime hours, and I would then stay up most nights until about 4am to complete the rest of my “workday.” Needless to say, that was unsustainable, and I quickly had to figure out a long-term, sustainable daily routine. The path forward was not a simple matter of logistics, it was way more complicated. It required an introspective approach where I was forced to face my own boundaries, my desire to be seen as competent, and really decide what was most important for both my family and my work. I have definitely gained some valuable insights about myself and my priorities during this past year!

2. There are so many lessons to be learned from the recent days and months, as individuals and as a society. I believe people have the opportunity and capacity for the most substantial growth during difficult times. It’s times like these that set the stage for transformation if we only allow ourselves to learn and be stretched. Not a single person will come out of this pandemic unchanged, so let’s work hard to leave better than we entered. When I think back to the most challenging times in my life, I’m now able to see how I changed and grew through them, and how those changes shaped who and where I am today. In spite of the pain we face, challenging times present an opportunity for growth, so I’d rather grow for the better during those times, than suffer all that pain and have wasted the opportunity for growth.

3. What better time than now to build and practice resiliency? Resiliency is such an important skill to carry us through life. Resilience gives us the mental reserves, adaptability, creativity, correct mindset, and fortitude to carry us through tough times. However, it is an ability that we all must learn, cultivate, and develop. Now is a great time to practice keeping things in perspective, nurturing your social connections despite being less available and convenient, taking control of the things you can and acknowledging what you can’t, and keeping your holistic health a priority when it could so easily be replaced by stress and fear.

4. We will see changes for the better in how we do some things following this pandemic. During this time, most people have had to adapt the way they work, with more people teleworking than ever before. I have seen organizations that were previously opposed to telework be forced into this work option, and they now see the benefit it brings to their employees and business. I have also seen a greater acceptance of flexible work schedules for employees and the use of new technology and communication platforms. It’s wonderful that more companies are realizing work can get done other ways than through the traditional 9–5, onsite workday. I think workforces will be better for it and their companies will see increased morale and productivity. The landscape of education has certainly changed during this past year, as well. While that change has been a challenge and the subject of much debate, it has also presented news ways of teaching and learning. While I’m hopeful that some normalcy will return to education, I’m also hopeful that the positive changes, such as flexibility in teaching platforms, wider access to computers and internet connections, and alternate learning opportunities will persist in some capacity.

5. We are not facing this alone. Literally, the entire world is going through this pandemic together. We are not all in the same boat, as our situations and circumstances vary greatly, but we are all weathering the same storm. This unity provides a perspective in which we will all share forever. I have gone through tragedies in my life where I have felt very isolated and alone, until I opened up about them and found a community of people that had faced similar tragedies. The support that people with shared experiences can provide to one another is like none other. This support can be incredibly uplifting and life giving. During this pandemic, it has been amazingly encouraging to connect with other parents of young children who are working from home. We can share frustrations, strategies, prayers, and many other helpful insights. You are not alone right now in your unique COVID-related fears, challenges, loneliness, or tragedies. Don’t be afraid to open up because someone out there, probably a vast number, are sharing in those same challenges.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Stay connected to people in whatever ways possible. We were made to live in community, not isolation. Even if it’s currently through a screen, remaining connected to friends and family is critical. Continually reach out and check on those you love. Once connected, don’t shy away from talking about the truths and sharing emotions. This past year has been a roller coaster, so call it what it is and talk about it. Fear is greatest in the dark, so give people permission to share and bring those feelings into the light. This allows others to help shoulder the burden and makes things seem a little less scary or daunting. Overall, be present, be real, and be encouraging. I think we all need that right now.

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

It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite “Life Lesson Quote” because I have so many that serve as needed reminders throughout my life, but one that seems very fitting in our current reality is Romans 5: 2–4, which says, “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” For me, my hope and faith in God grounds me, and I try to focus on the opportunities for growth during challenging times. This pandemic is not the first time that our family has faced trials and hardships, and this quote and mindset is a continuous theme through all those challenges. No matter what your beliefs, I think it comes down to the perspective and mindset that you use to face the situation. There are always silver linings and opportunities for learning and growth if you are open to them.

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Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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