The Power of the Strategic Yes

Welcome Jen Lopez to our MotherBoard blog team! Jen is a corporate leader and mom of five who has taught us some great ways to reframe the chaos of working parenthood using her unique approach of celebrating the chaos that is often around us and reconsidering our own approach to the challenges that find their way into the lives of busy parents. We can’t recommend her lovely, inspiring Instagram page enough – follow her at @lovehowsheleads.

“You have to learn to say no more, Jen.” These words weigh heavy on me as I look around my life—overworked, frustrated, pulled in a million directions, things falling apart everywhere, but somehow trying to keep it together.

Jen Lopez, mom of five and master of the strategic yes.

That was over six years ago. And I was telling myself I had to say no more. Because I had two babies, three school age children, a husband, and a career, I knew I needed some really good boundaries in place. At the time, maybe from reading a book or feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood, I thought the sum of setting boundaries was only learning the art of saying no. As I began to repeat it to myself over an over—“learn to say no, Jen,” it wasn’t resonating anymore.  I knew what was important to me, and I knew what I had to do to move myself forward. Sometimes that required sacrifice and determination. I also couldn’t keep moving forward the way things were. I needed to allow myself room to breathe and see the bigger picture.

I assessed all the things in my life at the time, and started to speak up more on what I was willing and not willing to do. I tried to reduce my task list and see where others could help. But it didn’t feel like enough.

I am naturally wired to love, care and serve. Even though I was getting a little better about setting clear boundaries in my life, constantly reinforcing the no wasn’t working. It was exhausting to worry about saying no, how to say no, and all that comes along with it.

It was time to reframe it. I wanted to be in touch with my natural wiring. So, through trial and error, I found the strategic yes—shifting my focus on the things that really matter.

The strategic yes is in alignment with the now, and it’s evolving constantly as I review my plans, dreams, and goals. It just felt right to think in terms of yes instead of only in terms of no—more powerful to be aligned with my inner knowing, the things I deeply care about, and the parts of myself that resonate.

Before, I would impose a structure or system that seemed ideal, but really wasn’t working. I saw it somewhere, read it somewhere, got stuck in comparing myself to examples that were going to make me a better mom, better leader, better person.

I started each day in a deficit and ended it with nothing to give. Until I realized this was about my life, where I wanted to go, and how I wanted to feel living it out.

So, I started out as simple as saying the strategic yes for the day. My mornings had to change. We have a large family (five kids), and we all have to get ready and get off to school and work at the same time. The way we were doing it was crazy–everyone was tired, rushed and frustrated. It would set the tone for the whole day.   We kept this up for years, based on some idea that we should fight our way through it, thinking it was the right thing to do. Until one day, I’m sure after a frazzled and exasperating morning, my husband and I looked at each other and said, “This has to change. Who told us how we should run our lives? We’re in charge here! And this isn’t working!”

Follow Jen on Instagram @lovehowsheleads for some gorgeous photos and helpful thoughts on embracing motherhood and work.

We took stock of what needed to change and we changed it. We’ve made decisions to support our best selves as much as possible. I work and my husband stays home with our kids. We homeschool our two youngest children instead of forcing them to get ready and rush off to school. We have an entire morning routine that allows space and time for everyone to get where they need to go. Our overall weekly schedules work around family dinner time, because it’s important to us. We let our children get involved in things, but we limit it based on what’s doable and still allows us plenty of down time. We volunteer for things that matter to us. We prioritize our emails, phone calls and our workloads to fit our schedules. And we keep just enough flexibility that we can fit something in spontaneously without it throwing the whole world out of whack. And we love grace. When something doesn’t work out as planned, we acknowledge it, ask ourselves if something needs to change or it’s a one-time issue, note it for next time, and move on.

We limit our frustrations and have more time to enjoy things. We create structures in response to what works, what’s relevant, and what’s really happening, instead of battling all the “shoulds.”

Things have shifted so much that my husband and I have more time to serve our community. We do special music for church and social events. I serve with the Children’s Museum of Cleveland. My husband coaches the kids’ softball team.  Somehow it all fits in. And it’s not out of guilt, obligation, or fear of not doing enough.

Living in the strategic yes is about taking power back. I serve freely, with my whole heart, because I know I said yes to something that resonates in the now. It is so much more fluid. Something that is yes today is not yes forever. I’m free from thinking in permanent terms on everything and I have more time to do things I love.

Follow Jen at

Who Says Girls Can’t?

Meet Shelby: engineer, manager, mom, wife.

Please welcome guest blogger Shelby Swango, PE. Shelby is like so many modern women, traveling from Board room to construction site to ballet carpool without skipping a beat.  As the Area Manager at WSP | Parsons Brinckeroff in Indianapolis, Shelby is a civil engineer focused on actively changing and developing our nation’s transit systems.  Her philanthropy work at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is helping to plant trees and rebuild communities.  When not designing roadways, Shelby can be found camping or hiking with her husband Steve (a stay-at-home dad and former engineer-turned-artist) and their 12-year-old daughter, Lydia.  

Statistics say that roughly 13% of the civil engineering workforce are women and even fewer hold leadership positions within the field. So according to the numbers, I am quite unique in my position as a female Vice President of Indiana Operations for a large international civil engineering firm. I oversee business development and client relationships and I am responsible for the delivery and quality of the services we provide. My 22-year career, including onsite construction work and office management, has taught me many invaluable things – perhaps one of the most notable is that my gender has no bearing on my success.

Shelby with her colleagues.

My friend, Lindsay Watson, asked me to write about my viewpoint as a woman leader in a male-dominated business. I was immediately excited to do it, but I told her that she might be surprised to hear my response. For me, gender is a non-issue; something I don’t really notice that much. I am empowered to be who I am and rarely have felt restrained by the fact that I am a woman. My upbringing had much to do with this.

From the very beginning, my parents told me and showed me that I could do whatever I want – that my gender was irrelevant. I worked with my dad fixing cars. My mother, who was a construction worker, would take me to job sites on the weekends to show me what she was building. They instilled in me an understanding of the mechanical world we live in and a love of practical learning. These principles have overflowed into my adult life and helped me form a set of fundamental guidelines from which I draw as I maneuver through my career.

At a worksite.

1) Do your best to surround yourself with people you like. You cannot always control those with whom you work. However, I have found it is a significant advantage to cultivate environments where people are not homogenous, but are genuinely willing to embrace diversity. When you do this, production, innovation and quality of work is so much better.

2) Don’t defer just because you are a woman. Take a seat at the table. For anyone in a professional environment, but especially a woman, I find it is important to literally and figuratively position yourself at the table. (How many women have you seen intentionally take a seat along the wall and out of the way?) Do not be afraid to talk and offer an opinion. And when speaking, do so carefully. I find it is so much more effective to speak when you have something of value to add, and not just to get a word in. Far too many people (male and female) feel they MUST SPEAK to show they are ‘in the room’. Often due to double standards, talking for the sake of talking tends to backfire for women and less so for men.

3) You do NOT have to accept ‘guy talk’ to show you fit in. This is a fine point. On the one hand, you cannot be so thin-skinned that everything offends you. But at the same time, if there are ‘girly’ calendars hanging on the wall, or lewd jokes about women, you do not have to put up with that type of behavior to show you are ‘one of the guys’. I find that some of the guys are also offended by such behavior, and stay quiet out of fear that they will lose their ‘man card’ by speaking up. I do believe this deplorable type of behavior is a form of intimidation (intentional or not) and it leads to a hostile environment that is NOT good for anyone.

4) Celebrate and embrace the success of the women around you. There are many available seats at the table for men and women alike. Lift each other up! Your career is not a competition to see who can be the coolest woman in a male dominated field. Don’t allow petty, dismissive or degrading behavior go unchecked. Celebrate the achievements of those around you. Most of all, remember that you do not have to be in a position of power to be a good example.

5) You can be the boss and you can be feminine. I like make up, nice clothes and high heels. But I also like putting on boots and getting out in the field. One is not mutually exclusive of the other. We have to stop telling our girls that you have to pick one. Be comfortable in your own skin and you will be successful in doing what you love.

6) Demand respect and equally give it out to the people around you. Thankfully, I love my career and enjoy leading my staff in the successful delivery of exciting engineering projects. I demand respect by being respectful to others, regardless of gender, and expect the same from those I lead. I work hard to live by example. I am confident in what I have to contribute. I listen to others. I make decisions and own them. I do not think that my male peers think of me as a good ‘woman engineer’. They consider me a good engineer.

Shelby, Steve, and 12-year-old Lydia.

We must never designate certain careers for boys and different ones for girls. As a society we have to teach our children to be caring and compassionate with others. We need to encourage them to be confident and passionate about who they are and to choose any path that fulfills them. If we could do this, we will then have people pursuing careers they truly love. Tell your sons and your daughters that they CAN be anything they desire. Their gender does not have to dictate anything about their future. Let’s all work to create a generation that embraces differences, lifts each other up, and creates inspiring and innovative environments – where no child is told they CAN’T.

Want to learn more about women and engineering and what impacts a girl’s decision to pursue science and math as a vocation? Check out this great link.

Two worlds (one mom)

Lindsay See Watson, PT, MPT, is a physical therapist, mother of three, wife, and writer. Her first essay for MotherBoard explores one of our favorite working motherhood concepts: the idea that being both a mom and a worker might actually make you better – at both. Help us welcome Lindsay to the MotherBoard blog and please share your questions and comments below!

I will admit that when I chose the field of Physical Therapy, I had more than career aspirations in mind. I wanted the best of both worlds- motherhood AND career. Like most other women, time somehow taught me these two worlds had to be separate and each would somehow suffer because of the other.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

With relentless effort, I pursued my Master of Physical Therapy, and equally committed to the growth of my family by having three beloved children.   Each day, I tried to learn more and hone my clinical skills while preserving enough energy to be a present mother that can wipe the majority of their tears, attend the occasional class party and wait at the end of the driveway when the bus arrives.  After years of painstakingly pursuing each dream, I finally realized they weren’t so far removed from each other.1

Like you, I’m sure, I’ve had more than one employer groan once they learned that I’m a mother of three.  “Oh really?  THREE kids?  That’s a lot of kids!”  I knew what they were thinking.  As they looked at me and weighed the pros and cons of my employment, they couldn’t hide their wonder if a childless counterpart would be better.  My considerable work experience and clinical skill was being mulled against whether I would be late over a forgotten book report, need time off for the kindergarten play, or would leave at a moment’s notice after one of my kids threw up on the playground. Continue reading “Two worlds (one mom)”

Stops, starts, and stalls: Finding my working mom path

Welcome to our first official MotherBoard guest blog post by Pam Turos: founder of, entrepreneur, writer, social worker, and mother of three.  We met Pam as part of the Cleveland Leadership Center‘s #AccelerateNEO civic pitch competition earlier this year. Pam’s practical, honest approach to working motherhood – and our shared love of our awesome city – made us fast friends.

Sometimes by choice, often by necessity, my career journey has been a winding road of stops, starts and stalls over the last twelve years. One summer, my babysitter took home more of my paycheck than I did. Thankfully, she was worth every penny. But the kids and I walked dogs together in the afternoons and evenings to balance out the cost of child care, so I could continue working part-time in the mornings. There have been stretches of time when the balance sheet (or schedule) was so off kilter, that it just seemed easier to stay home. And as much as I love my family, I spent more time than I’d like to admit crying in the sandbox (or the laundry room) during that phase of life. So I always assumed that as soon as all of my kids were in school, I would go back to work full-time.

We’ve all read articles about the stay-at-home mom who tried to get back into the workforce after ten years and the working mom who tried to do it all at her ow2n expense.  But those articles didn’t apply to me – I have always worked in some capacity, though my availability may have been dependent on night-time feedings and preschool schedules. So once kindergarten registration was complete for my youngest, I reached out to my professional contacts and started asking about full-time jobs. Seems easy enough, right? Except that nothing in life is as simple as we’d like it to be and working motherhood is no exception.

That first year trying to get “back to work” was full of unexpected lessons and introspection, some of which I’m still processing. First and foremost, I realize now that when I was negotiating professional positions, I fell into a trap of believing that
my own time was less valuable than other people’s – think dollar figures here. Because “We have my husband’s insurance” or “I need to have flexibility for the kids” – I was willing to accept any position that met our most basic needs. What I didn’t realize at the time is that I stopped growing professionally as a result, and the women who stayed fully committed to professional development had skills, relationships and experience that I just wasn’t getting on “almost full time” diaper duty. If you take a lower paying job that happens to meet the needs of your family, chances are, you will get treated like an entry level employee.

In my mind I was ready to move forward professionally, and I even offered to take on more hours and responsibility at work. But in my colleagues’ mind, I continued to be “just part-time” and this was most evident when it came to projects and leadership. More than once, an idea I presented at a meeting would be implemented by full-time staff members. When I discussed my desire to do more with my manager, I will never forget her telling me that her own professional goal when her children were young was to just have a job that would let her manage her family. I don’t want to “manage my family” – I want to be fully present in their lives. Women shouldn’t have to choose between having a rewarding career and being an engaged parent, but we each have to decide what that means to us and then surround ourselves with people who have the same beliefs.

family beach
Pam Turos is MotherBoard’s first guest blogger, a working mom of three, and the founder of

When it became increasingly clear that my employer and I had different ideas about the meaning of “potential to grow” – I took a leap of faith and decided to create my own full-time job. I’m now working more than I ever have as a freelance writer (at a professional rate I deserve), and I’m managing other professionals who also freelance on my client’s web development and video projects. This summer I can afford to pay the babysitter and also enjoy an afternoon at the pool with my kids once in a while. And with the upcoming launch of, I’m in the position to offer other women opportunities to contribute in ways that are flexible and meaningful to them. It’s the best of both worlds. My family, my clients and my colleagues all get to know the best version of me – a busy, happy, fulfilled, and capable mom.