Episode 023: Overcoming Stress, Failure and Guilt As A Working Parent with Sarah Argenal

Overcoming Stress, Failure and Guilt As A Working Parent

When you’re a working professional, burnout and overwhelm are big challenges, and parenting is a huge part of that. This week, I’m joined by Sarah Argenal, Founder and CEO of Working Parent Resource. Sarah helps professional parents live more deliberately in all areas of their lives so they can let go of the overwhelm and finally enjoy their journey as a working parent. You’ll hear us discuss parenting, balance, common myths and practical steps to overcome stress, failure and guilt as a working parent.


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Naomi Nakamura: Burnout and overwhelm are big issues that my clients and others of my community struggle with, and parenting is a huge component of that. Maybe this is something that you've struggled with yourself. While I certainly empathize, I am not a parent, so this week, I'm joined by Sarah Argenal of the Working Parent Resource, a company that she founded after being an overwhelmed burned out working mother herself. Sarah helps professional parents live more deliberately in all areas of their lives so that they can let go of the overwhelm, and finally enjoy their journey as a working parent. She has a masters degree in counseling psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy ad adult development.

She's also a certified professional coach with 20 years of experience counseling, coaching, teaching program development and project management. She's also the host of her own podcast, the Working Resource Parent podcast. We had a very, very delightful and insightful conversation on parenting, balance, common myths, and Sarah walks us through eight practical steps that she took, and steps that she has her clients take to overcome stress, failure and guilt as a working parent.

Hi Sarah, welcome to the show.

Sarah Argenal: Hi, thanks for having me.

Naomi Nakamura: I'm super excited to have you here. I would love for you take a few minutes, and just introduce yourself and tell us what you do.

Sarah Argenal: Sure. My name is Sarah Argenal. I am the founder and CEO of Working Parent Resource. I help working parents overcome burnout, and just eliminate distractions, reduce stress, and just become more intentional and deliberate in all of the areas of their life. I take a holistic approach to living a more meaningful life. I like to help working parents look at their home life, their career, their business, their parenting, look at all of that from a big picture point of view. Then we drill down and target the areas that they're having the most trouble with, and go from there.

My background is in marriage and family therapy and adult development. I'm also a certified professional coach, but I also spent 20 years in litigation as a project manager and a consultant too, so I blend all of those areas to talk about things like time management, self-care, parenting, marriage and relationships, what have you. I got all the things that working parents have a lot of issues with. That's what I do.

Naomi Nakamura: I'm a project manager in my 9:00 to 5:00 too.

Sarah Argenal: Oh cool. I think, it's very helpful when you're running a business. You can see, "What's the goal I want to achieve, and how to map out the steps to get there?"

Naomi Nakamura: Absolutely. Just a side note on that, I made a huge self-realization, and that as a project manager, I'm so good at asking others for updates on their deliverables, and finding out where things are stuck. I have a super hard time actually doing my own tasks for my own business, because I'm like, "Usually, other people are doing this, not me."

Sarah Argenal: Yes, it's a totally different part of your brain that you're using strategizing and planning everything out versus just being in a work mode, and doing it.

Naomi Nakamura: Absolutely. Well, that's not what we're here to talk about. What you're talking about with burned out and stressed out parents, and just being so frazzled, that's something that a lot of my clients struggle with. I am not a parent, so I really cannot put myself in their shoes other than I was a child of working parents, so I'm super excited to have you here. What are some of the struggles that your clients have?

Sarah Argenal: Everybody comes to me with something different, but at the end of the day, it's just this general sense of overwhelm and burnout. That's where I start with everything. I ask people, "What's the thing that is causing you the most stress?" Almost everyone says, "I don't have enough time." That's typically where we start, but when you dig a little bit deeper, usually, there's something else that is the real problem. I don't have enough time for my marriage, or I don't have enough time for myself. I don't have enough time to exercise. I don't have enough time to be a good employee. I don't have enough time for my kids.

The thing that they don't have enough time for is usually different for everybody, so we typically go from there, but the biggest stressor for most people is that they just have too many things going on. They don't know how to manage all of it. Some things, they might be doing well. Other things, they might not be doing well. Also, one of the big issue that I find is that people have bought into this message, this myth that balance is impossible, that if you're a working parent, it's just going to suck for you. It's just going to be really hard until the kids are older, or they're in college, or pick a date out in the future, and all you have to do now is just power through it.

One of the big things that I like to talk to people about is doing a little bit of reeducation, and work with them to understand and prove to themselves that you can have a life that you enjoy, where you feel calm and passionate and excited about what you're doing, and you're not just powering through your day in survival mode. That's the main thing that I help people with when they come to talk to me, but then everybody that I work with is totally unique. Every lifestyle, all the variables of someone's life is really different, so from there, it's really a custom project.

Naomi Nakamura: You're talking my language, because I am a health coach. I specialize in functional nutrition, and I hear the same thing. I don't have time to make a home-cooked meal. I don't have time to grocery shop, and I understand where they're coming from.

Sarah Argenal: They're valid complains.

Naomi Nakamura: Absolutely. I mean, I have days myself where I say, "I don't have time to cook dinner. I'm ordering out." At the same time, that's not the norm. That happens, but it doesn't become the norm. How do you go about working people to peel those layers away? I think about it like peeling the onion.

Sarah Argenal: From my experience, the thing that has helped the most is just becoming self-aware, so that's what I intend to help people do the most. With my experience in psychotherapy as well as coaching, and then also in training, that's a lot of what I can help people do is I ask them questions that they haven't asked themselves in the past, and we from there start digging a little bit deeper into, "Okay, why don you have time? What choices are you not wanting to make? Who do you feel obligated to? Where do you feel like you might be disappointing someone else if you say no, or if you start to back off on some of the commitments that you have? What is it that you are going to feel if you renege on this commitment, or if you start saying, "No," and setting boundaries with other people, or if you start kind of calling people out on their behavior in your relationship?"

They're all different scenarios, so the questions that I ask people to really help them figure out what's going on, again, that's pretty unique. It depends on what they're coming to me with. Some people, they have a lot of toxic relationships in their life, and they're spending a lot of time managing drama, or getting involved in a lot of energy wasting activities. Other people are just so burned out. They've got so many different things going on that by the time they get home at night, the last thing they can think of doing is anything for themselves, which is the thing that they need to fill them up.

Every situation is totally unique, and I find that it's my job just to help start asking some of those clarifying questions to help them understand where is this coming from, because what I find is a lot of people are looking for a time management hack, or a time saving solution, and so they'll find the book. They'll read it, or they'll find an article, and they're try that tip, and it's not working for them. That's what's going to lead them to this belief that there is no balance, that this is just how it is. "I'm sort of doomed, because that's the life of a working parent," when in fact, it's usually something underlying their behavior that's preventing them from getting the most out of that solution.

Maybe they're not even applying the right solution for their personality or their strengths. That's a lot of what I do is help people look at the nuances of their life, and stop just trying to apply blanket solutions to their situation, and find the ones that are going to work best for them.

Naomi Nakamura: You talked about personality and strengths. Are you familiar with Gretchen Rubin?

Sarah Argenal: I am, yes definitely.

Naomi Nakamura: That was a huge discovery for me. For those of you who are not aware of Gretchen Rubin, she is a researcher of human behavior, and she has the four tendencies that she just wrote a book on. That was really huge for me. I feel like I try to be self-aware, but just understanding what my personality type was was just huge, and just how I relate to people, how I process information. For those of you who don't know, I'm a questioner of the four tendencies, so I always have to understand why when people ask me to do something. I'm not trying to be in support of it. I'm not trying to be rude. I just need to understand why, and I think, it's perfectly along the lines of what you said. We all have different tendencies and personality types that are natural to us, and trying to fit yourself into somebody else's mold is just going to add more stress and chaos to your life.

Sarah Argenal: Yes, and there are probably 30 different personality tests like that. There is the strengths' finder. There is the four tendencies like you mentioned. There is Myers-Briggs. There is Fascinate by Sally Hogshead. There are all these different things that we can use to understand ourselves better, and then-

Naomi Nakamura: I've taken all of those.

Sarah Argenal: Yes, and a lot of people have. I think it's natural for us to want to learn about ourselves, which is really important. Then the question becomes, "Okay, so then you take all of the advice that's out there, and you filter it through what would be perfect for you, what would work best for you." Right now, we're just inundated with all of this information that's coming from everywhere, and piecing that together to find the right solution for you, for a working parent. It can be really difficult, and it's also hard to see the forest through the trees when you're in the middle of it, when it's your life, and all of these things feel important. All of these things feel you have to do it. They all feel like obligations that you've taken on, and you can't let them go.

Those are hard decisions to make when you're in the middle of it, so having someone help walk you through what decisions need to be made, and then holding your hand as you make some of those tough decisions is really helpful for people I found.

Naomi Nakamura: I was going to say tough decisions, that sounds like those are some pretty tough conversations to have.

Sarah Argenal: Yes. A lot of what I do, I'm wondering sometimes if I should change what I do. I think, everyone out there, a lot of people out there I will say are looking for the quick fix. They're looking for that silver bullet that's going to solve all their problems, and it's really hard to find. In my experience, personal growth is more of a long-term process. It's a difficult process, and everybody goes at it at their own pace. Over 20 years now, I'm doing what I do. I learned to help people when they're ready, and then sometimes, they do a little bit of changing. They apply to their life. They see how that works. They make that change, and then they're ready later again to make another change.

It's not something that overnight, you're going to have all of this transformation. These are bite sized tiny little steps that add up over time, so helping people to stay motivated and to stay consistent, and to stick with that over time is another thing that I help people do, because it's not easy to do that. A lot of what's being sold out there is, "Oh, you don't need to do all that. That's a lot of work. Don't even worry about that. Let me just give you this quick little tool, and your life will be solved. Your problems will be solved." I've just become frustrated with that message out there, because I think that it's a little harder than that, and that there's a little bit more to it than that.

It's something that we need to do if we really want growth, but it's not easy to do.

Naomi Nakamura: No, it's a journey. It's the same thing with the work that I do. Everybody wants weight loss. Everybody wants that quick fix. It's January. Everybody is signing up for whatever program it is that they're doing. It's a little bit frustrating because not every diet is going to work for you. You really have to have self-awareness to know yourself and know your body, and know what's going on, and know what your tendencies are, and your environmental inputs. For me, it is a little bit frustrating as well to see all of these things. Even really good therapeutic diets out there that were formulated to help sick people, they're being marketed as weight loss. I'm like, "That's not what it's about."

Sarah Argenal: Yes, there is so much to all of these things. I think, we're in a culture right now, where we want instant gratification. We want the simple answers. We don't want to do hard work. As a result, I think, a lot of us are unhappy. That hard work is where you find the success that you see all these other people having. It's hard. It is. It's hard. Sometimes, it's helpful to have somebody helping you through that.

Naomi Nakamura: You talked a little bit earlier that I really want to dig into this, the myth of the working parent. You recently wrote an article that I read that I thought, "Wow, this is great." Now, you referred to a quote that Shonda Rhimes wrote in her book, and I read that book. It was a fantastic book, the Year of Yes, but she referenced how she felt that something was always lost or that something was always missing. You said, and I'm going to quote this because I think this is really good, "It concerns me because this isn't my experience. It concerns me because I know a lot of powerful professional women who don't feel like something is always missing from their life. I simply don't believe all working women are doomed to feel guilty and lost just because they are juggling a career as well as a family. If I had accepted Ms. Rhimes' belief about working parenthood, I never would have uncovered the real problem in my own life. I was only reacting to my life. I wasn't living my life."

Sarah Argenal: Yup, I still believe that wholeheartedly.

Naomi Nakamura: Let's talk about that some more.

Sarah Argenal: Sure, yeah. This was a couple of years ago. I was hearing this message, and I still hear it today. I think, I'm a little more desynthesized to it now, but that was one of the quotes that I was hearing other people quote was, "Hey, I just come to accept that in order to be successful in one area of my life means that I will necessarily be a failure in others." Shonda Rhimes was talking specifically about, "I'm a powerful professional woman, and because of that, I'm going to fall short as a mom and vice versa. When I'm being really good as a mom, I'm going to fall short in my job." I don't disagree that I think you need to make choices at times, and you need to prioritize one thing over another. That includes all of the areas of our life.

Sometimes, we're going to prioritize health over our family, over our work, over our friendships, over our self-care, whatever.

Naomi Nakamura: But those things are dynamic.

Sarah Argenal: Yes, and I think they need to be fluid, and I think that that's what we've done is we've shut off our minds a little bit, and we're not making deliberate choices about what we're doing in each moment. We're just accepting, "Ah, this is so much better to just go on autopilot. I'm just going to go into work mode, and when I'm in work mode, I'm going to forget about all the other areas of my life, and then I'm going to back to them, an they're all going to be in shambles because I didn't maintain them, and I didn't pay attention to what was needing my time and attention throughout my day and throughout my week and throughout my year.

That was one of the things that I hear a lot of people saying, and I still do to this day is, "If I am succeeding in one area, I'm failing in another, or I feel like a failure. I'm constantly failing. I'm never good at anything anymore. I'm always doing everything half past." That's the message that when I first started Working Parent Resource, I felt that same way. I had been a really professional, career-oriented woman, and then I got married. We had our son a year later, and very quickly, I stopped feeling very professional and successful in my job, because I had to prioritize other things, and it took me some time to figure out where the new balance was.

I had to recalibrate that, but I had just listened to that same message, that, "Oh, it's just how it is. You got to work, and then just feel like a failure as a mom." Then when you get home, you're going to just feel like a failure as a professional. That was the question for myself that I had to answer was, "Okay, what tools do I need to apply here? What resources do I need to find? What do I need to learn? What do I need to do differently so that I don't have this existence where I'm constantly feeling like a failure? That's not okay with me. I need to find a different answer there." A lot of the messages out there, a lot of the books that I had read at that time were saying, "There is no way to do it. You may as well quit your job if you want to be a good parent, or you may as well just accept that you're not going to be a good parent if you want to continue your career."

That's the fundamental belief system that I have just made my life now. That's my job now is to combat that, and to show people that that isn't the truth, and I hold myself as an example of that. That's not how I feel now. I haven't felt that way in a few years. I know that it's not a necessity, and I know that it is possible to be successful in both areas, and it might look a little different than what I thought it would look like when I was 25, but it feels really good to me now. That was what was important to me.

Naomi Nakamura: That's important for anyone to figure out what it is of them, and feel good about it, because it's going to be different for every person.

Sarah Argenal: Yeah. Again, we hear these messages out there. This is what success looks like. This is what it should feel like. This is how you have to go about getting it. Here is your checklist, and we just followed that. For me, it continues to come down to being deliberate in your life, and making choices that are right for you, tapping into who you are and what works for your family and your core value system, and starting to let go of all of the expectations and all of the stuff that's out there, because it's not always applicable, and I think we get into trouble when we feel like it is, when we feel like those are requirements for us.

Naomi Nakamura: In that same article that you wrote, which I will reference to in the show notes, you listed eight steps that you recommend people to do. Can we go through those?

Sarah Argenal: We can, and I don't have it up for me. I don't have it in front of me, so you might have to remind me what I wrote.

Naomi Nakamura: I will. I have it in front of me, so I will read it.

Sarah Argenal: Perfect.

Naomi Nakamura: Yes. Let's just go through your eight steps, and if you can just talk about how you moved yourself or maybe you moved your client through those steps, because a lot of times, we hear this advice. I hear it myself too. I think, "But how does that apply to me? How can I do that for myself?" Number one, I analyze my schedule to identify where my time was really going.

Sarah Argenal: Yes, so this is at the very beginning of my journey out of this burnout that I was feeling. My son at that point was probably about six months old, so I had been back to work for a couple of months, and I at first was really trying to power through, and I worked lat at night. I had three-hour commute every day to San Francisco. My husband and I barely saw each other, much less connected, and were engaged in a conversation or anything. It was not a fun existence for a while, and so I started knowing, "Okay, I've got to find some answers." A couple of the books that I came across, one was Laura Vanderkam. That's the author, and the name of the book is I Know How She Does It.

What she did is she wrote this book. She interviewed many, many women. I think hundreds. Maybe dozens if not hundreds, professional women who had a career, and were raising families. She put together this subection of women. She asked them to check their time for a week, and to figure out if they were working as many hours as they said they were working. In many cases, they were not. In many cases, they were working about a 45 to a 50-hour work week, which isn't out of control, and they were wasting a lot of that "free time" that they had. It's burdened me this desire to figure out, "Well, hey, what am I doing with my time?" I was spending a lot of time.

At work, I wasn't as efficient as I could be. At home, I could outsource different things that I didn't need to be doing, or my husband and I could plan ahead a little bit better so that we wouldn't have to do things as many times, run errands as many times as we were or whatever. There were a lot of solutions just by checking my time, just by becoming very conscious about what I was doing with my time. That alone helped me save time, because I wasn't scrolling on Facebook for an-hour-and-a-half at night after work, because I was so exhausted, and I started just becoming very intentional about how I was operating throughout my entire day.

That was the first book that I found that was really helpful. The other book that I came across at that stage was called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. That book was really helpful in helping me understand that I couldn't say yes to everything, and expect to do well at everything. I had to become more discerning about whether I was spending my attention and my focus and my time and my energy. All of those things are wrapped up in one, and focus so much on time in our culture, but really, it comes down more to energy, and attention, and focus.

That's the real asset there. It's not about your time, time is it is what it is, but how you manage that time and how you manage your energy when you're applying your energy. That's what would really help you get through the day, and feel productive, and feel like you're not in survival mode anymore. Those two books really helps me become clear about what I was doing with my work week essentially.

Naomi Nakamura: I have Essentialism. I have not read it yet. It's on my Kindle, but it's definitely on my list to read.

Sarah Argenal: It's great. It was one of those defining books for me at least in understanding. It's just a different world now. We have so much coming at us all the time, and we're going to have to make different choices if we want to live a different way. We can't just expect to manage everything that's coming at us. We have to start making decisions about what we're going to pay attention to.

Naomi Nakamura: Absolutely. Number two, I clarified my life values, and committed to certain priorities over others, which I think is a good followup to that.

Sarah Argenal: Yes. Before when I was still going crazy and burned out, if you had asked me at time, my priority, my value system, all of that would have revolved around my family, and my marriage. Being a mom, being a wife, that is the most important thing in the world to me. To this day, it is the most important thing in the world, but I hadn't really thought through that very much. The way I was living my life was that my career was more important than my marriage and my being a mom and taking care of myself. All three of those things were being sacrificed because it was more important to me at that time to prove that I was still this rockstar employee at my day job.

When I finally started looking at my value systems, and realizing, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute, like, my family is what's most important to me, but my job, my career, my employees, my boss, like, all the people at my work were the people who were dictating just about every waking moment of my life, if not some of the sleeping moments of my life." I was in litigation. It was a 24/7 type of job. I was never disconnected, and I would be working at 1:00 in the morning sometimes. When I looked at what my values really were, that really clarified for me the choices that I was making, and I was not making the right choice at that time. That's when I started to set boundaries, and I started to say, "I cannot work at night unless it's an emergency, unless it's pre-planned."

I started small. I started very small, and I started working my way back to having a more manageable life that was more revolved around my family.

Naomi Nakamura: I love that word you used, boundaries. I work in High tech, and it's a very similar culture. I even remember a couple of years ago sitting in an all-hands meeting, where this male executive stood up there and said, "You guys. There's no such thing as work life balance anymore." Get that concept out of your head. I was like, "Well, okay but you have to have some type of balance. You just have to, because at one point, something is going to give."

Sarah Argenal: Yes, there are a lot of industries out there, I think so. I think that there are some industries that are coming around and realizing that the human capital is an important part of a business, and there are plenty of statistics. There's a lot of research that shows that the more balanced and the more healthy an employee is, the more productive they are when they are at work, and then it's not all about time. You're no more effective at your job if you're there for 20 hours than if you're there for eight hours or six hours. I could go into all of that research. There's a lot to that, but yes, it is definitely a world view out there.

It's one that we have to contend with right now. I think, that that's one of the big reasons why so many people are just starting to feel like, "This is impossible. This isn't something that I'm going to be able to create for myself." That is again something I help people do is look at what are some of the options. Maybe either set boundaries at your current job. I was lucky, and that they were willing to work with me, but I was also very committed ... You know, I at that point became committed enough to my family that I was willing to go somewhere else if I needed to, or start a company the way that I did.

There are other choices for people, and there are a lot of different options out there that a lot of people aren't aware of. That's another thing that I help people to do is just understand what else could potentially happen if you are unhappy in your life. It's not so black and white as we think it is.

Naomi Nakamura: It's not. One more thought on boundaries, I found that ... This is my own personal experience that when it came to boundaries, a lot of the onus was also on me to communicate what my boundaries were, because if you don't establish those boundaries, your colleagues, your boss, they're not going to know where that is. I found that once I communicated that, they were very much willing to respect it.

Sarah Argenal: Yes. I had people who were in theory, willing to respect it, but I worked for a lot of different people. I worked on many different teams. What I came across is that I sat and communicated my boundaries, but I had to continue reinforcing them overtime as well. That I think is the piece that's really hard for people. It's one thing. They just have conversation, and say. "Hey, these are my boundaries, okay?" Great! Then if people aren't respecting it, that's where the real work comes in is, "Oh, remember, this is a boundary of mine, and I need to continue to remind you."

Over time, it seems to get better as long as you stick to it, but people will naturally test those boundaries if they're not used to you setting them. That's another thing I help people understand is boundaries isn't just one conversation. It's a lifestyle. It's a habit that you have to integrate into your life.

Naomi Nakamura: Absolutely. Number three, I developed a vision for a happier life.

Sarah Argenal: Yes, this part was where ... Again, I was probably six months in and seven months in when my son ... or my son was about six or seven months, and I went to lunch with my husband. We went on a date, and we had a nice day. Then we got in the car, and I just fall. I just started crying. I had really no idea even what was going on, but it was occurring to me at that point that the life that we had created for ourselves, the life that we had chosen, we made these decisions on purpose to have a family, and to live in that area of the country, and to have these jobs. All of that was our life we designed ourselves. At that point, I was not happy with the life that we had created. I didn't know that I would become unhappy with it after we had our son.

I actually thought ... I was, "Ra, ra, ra, I'm going to be a career woman. I'm going to do it all, but reality started to hit me. It was one of those things where I wanted a simpler life. I wanted a slower-paced life. I had always been very energized by work and by the life that we had been living, and I needed to just talk to my husband about, "Okay, where are we going? What are doing, because I don't think this is going to work for me?" I was terrified of that conversation, because it felt like I was changing the rules of the game on him. Luckily, he was completely open and willing to talk about, "Okay, well, what do we want our life to look at then? If this isn't working for you, it's not going to work for me. So let's find something that will work."

That started the conversation over the long term, where we started just questioning everything about our lives. Do we want to stay in these jobs? Do we want to stay in this city? Do we want to stay in this house? Do we want to move? Do we want to change careers? Do we want to change jobs? Do we want more kids? Do we want to buy a house? All of that stuff just came up at that point, and it started probably about a two-year process of questioning what our values were again, just reinforcing that, and then building a life that was more in alignment with that. It took us another year-and-a-half to ... We moved out of San Francisco, and we moved down to San Diego, where we both kept our same jobs.

We had our son. We were still married. All the other things stayed the same, but we've cut our commute, those three hours of our day. That was a complete waste of our time. Then we also got to have a bit more of a slower pace of life. That made a huge difference to both of us. We had to make some big decisions. We had to make little changes here and there, but from there, we just started to craft the life that work better for our family and for us.

Naomi Nakamura: Number five, and we just talked about this. "I set boundaries," but you follow it up with, "I learned to say no to others."

Sarah Argenal: Yes, I was always a people pleaser my whole life. As I got older, probably around the time I met my husband and beyond, I started getting a little bit better at setting boundaries, at saying no, at disappointing others, just being the bad guy sometimes so that I could respect myself, and so that I could take care of myself, and so I could prioritize the things that were most important in my life. Yeah, we talked about that a bit already, but that just ... I started having to focus on that. Before, it was just a here and there kind of thing, but I found after I became a parent, and if I wanted to continue working and doing all this stuff, and having a nice life, I needed to be very conscious and do it consistently. It came up all the time.

I realized that my boundaries were being crossed often. Like you were saying, I had to continue to communicate those boundaries to people, and reinforce them, and not get lazy about them. As soon as I got lazy, it was a slippery slope, and I was back to burnout real quick. That became just a practice of mine over time.

Naomi Nakamura: I don't have a problem with saying no, but I know a lot of people do. It's a real problem for people. That's how they get overburdened and over-scheduled, and so frazzled and overwhelmed.

Sarah Argenal: Yes. Being over committed is just, I think, part of our culture these days. It's wrapped up in our identity. I'm somebody who likes to help other people, and so I'm going to say yes. I don't like disappointing others. There's a lot that goes on underneath not being able to say no, and understanding what it is about yourself. What's motivating you to say yes when you know that you don't have the energy or the time? There's a lot there that can be unpacked. One you get really clear about it, it's often pretty easy to start saying, "Oh, no, I know I have to say no, because the alternative is not healthy. The alternative is a lot of unhappiness for me, and that's not something I'm willing to do anymore."

Again, that's something that people need a whole lot of help with, but once they get it-

Naomi Nakamura: It feels pretty good.

Sarah Argenal: ... it makes. It does and it makes such a big difference. It is huge turning point if you can do it.

Naomi Nakamura: I had a manager who actually encouraged us to say no to other people. I was like, "I've never had a boss tell me to say no to other people." I think, that's where I started to get in the habit of saying no, and it feels really good to do that.

Sarah Argenal: It does. Well, that's how you get reclaim control over your life. Before you start saying no, if you're not able to say no, you really are at the whim of everybody around you. It doesn't matter what they want, what they need. It just takes over your life. I think, that's one of the big things that's happening right now in our society is people are just feeling like they cannot say no, and because of that, they get very resentful because they don't feel like they're in control of their life.

Naomi Nakamura: You can feel bad about it, but I've learned that in tough situations, if I say no, and here is why, it makes the conversation a lot easier.

Sarah Argenal: Yes. I think, if you're confident about it when you're saying no, in my experience, 90 or 95% of the time, people are going to be like, "Okay, no problem. I respect that. That's fine." It's actually been a really good litmus test for me. If I say no, and people continue to push me, or they don't respect it, those are usually the types of people that I don't want in my life anyway. It becomes very clear very quickly who respects me if they continue to cross my boundaries.

Naomi Nakamura: Absolutely. Number six, I mapped out a plan to take small but significant steps toward my ideal life.

Sarah Argenal: This goes back to when my husband and I started crafting our life. We just started a conversation. Every couple weeks, on date nights, whenever, we just talk like, "What do we want it to look lik? What about this part of our life? What about that part?" As we started to envision this life, it always seemed very big. Like, "Okay, well, why don't we move? Why don't we have another baby? Why don't we buy a house?" All of these things are very big decisions, but when we broke it down, we could take small steps in that moment, in that day. That did add up over time, and so saying no is one of those things.

Another thing was just starting to take care of ourselves, to sleep better, to eat better, to drink water, to just have those moments where we say no to commitments, to friends, to whatever on the weekends and in the evenings. Just start carving out that time for us. There were all sorts of tiny little things that when it added up created a balance life. If we didn't do those little things, the big stuff wouldn't have happened. It really did take tiny, little baby steps over time to make the changes. I think, a lot of people sometimes, it's more appealing to do the big fell swoop. Like, "Okay, we're going to sell our house, or we're going to change jobs, or change careers, or move cities, or whatever."

Those are tempting changes, because they're so drastic, and it feels like it will just be, "Okay, truly, overnight my life will change," but that can be really jarring, and it can be huge an overwhelming, and that can come with its own set of problems. For us, it's like we just chipped away at our new life, and then all of a sudden, we looked around. We're like, "Wow." We feel better. We have a more balanced life. We have more time with our son. We have a better marriage. We're happier as individuals. We're continuing to grow. We're doing things that make us excited and more passionate about. All of those little things started to add up, but that took time. It wasn't something that we figured out overnight.

Naomi Nakamura: I always say small doses add up. I liken that back to where people are with eating healthy, and making themselves feel better. In the line of work that I do, in functional nutrition, everybody wants to go to the labs, and the testing, but you want to start with the small stuff. You want to start with, like you said, drinking more water, getting more sleep, because that's where change really happens.

Sarah Argenal: Again, it's the hard stuff.

Naomi Nakamura: It's the hard stuff, but it's the simple stuff that you start with.

Sarah Argenal: Yes. Like you were saying, it's simple, but it isn't easy.

Naomi Nakamura: No.

Sarah Argenal: But that practice is the thing that's going to change your life. It's not this huge, big sonic boom of a thing in your life. I totally agree, so yes, that's how we started making it happen.

Naomi Nakamura: Number seven, I learned practical skills that I needed to operate my life more efficiently. This is a good one.

Sarah Argenal: I always thought that productivity meant fitting as many things as possible into the shortest amount of time. I did that. That actually just increased the frantic phase of my life. Ultimately, I realized through this whole process that I needed to develop different skills, and one of them was being more discerning and saying no. Then the other things were just getting more organized, and crafting out what I was going to do with my day before my day started, or meditating, or going for a run, or just doing things that would increase my energy level so that when I was working, I was at my optimum levels, because there were a lot of times that I would just go to work. I would be exhausted. I'd be rundown.

I wouldn't be paying attention. It would take me 10 times longer to do a project than it needed to. I'd get distracted. There were probably hundreds of tiny little skills and tools and things that I had to learn, so just starting research, and reading books, talking to people, just optimizing how I operated throughout my day. That was another thing that really helped. I was able to accomplish more in less time, but it wasn't that frantic crazy pace. I found that when I was just working furiously, working really fast and really hard, and not working smart, I would get more time, but then I just fill it with more things, because I developed this reputation as someone who got stuff done very quickly, so everybody wanted me to do their stuff because then it would get gone quickly.

My list just kept getting longer and longer and longer, and couple that with not really being able to say no and not taking care of myself, and not prioritizing my family. All of those things, it started to heap up on top of me. Those were the kinds of things that I had to work my way out of.

Naomi Nakamura: That's the formula for burnout.

Sarah Argenal: I was very burned out. It was a cycle of burnout, because I would get burned out. I had flipped out on everybody around me. I would say, "Leave me alone. I'd go into hibernation for a week, two weeks, however long it would take me to get my energy levels back up." I go back, and then I just do the same thing all over again. It would just be the cycle. I did that for 15 years I would say, and it was completely unhealthy. Eventually, my body totally gave out. I had to get medical help. I was looking at having surgeries and things like that, and really, it all came down to adrenal fatigue, and just not being healthy in my life.

Naomi Nakamura: Number eight, I set myself up for a successful transition into a life I love.

Sarah Argenal: This probably relates back to moving for us. We spent a year-and-a-half planning our move, and working out the details, and negotiating with both of our companies to stay in our current jobs. We saved money, and we looked for homes. We did all of these things, so when we finally moved, it felt like the culmination of a lot of healthy and smart choices versus just a reactive, "Let's just do this." That's, I think, what I mean when I say set myself up. I built that foundation. We both did. My husband and I both built this foundation for a healthier life, so that it was just easier to maintain over time. It just became a way of life for us versus expecting big sweeping things to change in our lives.

Naomi Nakamura: For you, it was a big move all the way across the state, but for somebody else, it's simply just putting yourself in a position to be successful at whatever your values are and what your ideal life looks like.

Sarah Argenal: Yes, I think, it's tricky. I think, it's easier for us to stay in that place, where we're not succeeding, or where we can just complain about the things that aren't going well in our lives. Sometimes, I do think it's harder to open yourself up to receive and to be successful. I think, success just means different things to different people. For me, it's just living my life my way. It was a hard thing for me to accept that I was worth doing that. It took me a while in my life to accept that, to just embrace that. I think, that's part of the process of figuring out how to create a balance life for yourself is realizing that you deserve it, and realizing that it's possible, realizing that you can do it, and then when you get it, that you're not going to lose it. That you've worked towards it, and it can just be part of your life now.

Naomi Nakamura: For someone who's listening, if they are in that really dark place, where they are struggling, and they are very unhappy, hearing this might feel a little bit resentful.

Sarah Argenal: Yes. What I found mostly is unbelievable. Like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure." Like, "You're lying." I hear that. I heard it today. I hear it all the time. Anybody who says they're happy all the time is lying. Anybody who says they're balanced all the time is lying. I actually will question myself. I'm like, "Am I lying? I don't know." I have a good life. It doesn't mean it's a perfect life. I have bad days. I have bad moods. I have sleepless nights. I have a seven-month-old now, so I have lots of sleepless nights, but I can absolutely say I'm not burned out. I can absolutely say that the things I do with my life and with my time are things that I'm choosing. It's not somebody keeping this on to me.

I don't really take other people's expectations, and make them my own. There are a lot of different things that have changed in my life. I feel in control of my life. I feel happy and very content. In just about every area of my life, there is nothing that I would say as, "This is terrible. That's my life," but I've also met other people who live this way and feel this way. I know that it's possible. I know it's hard to believe, but all I can do is say, "Well, I can help you. You know, I can help you realize how to do that in your life no matter where you're starting from." We all started from somewhere.

That's why I find this work so rewarding, because I think that there are a lot of people out there who do not only need that inspiration, but need the practical help, need not just advice, not just information, but need to know, "Okay, what do I do in my particular situation today to make a difference, and then how do I manage that over time? And how do I do it while I'm overwhelmed, because I'm overwhelmed right now?"

Naomi Nakamura: Like you said, it's a journey. You did these things, but it took you years, and it was a lot off hard work. These things don't happen overnight. It's not a quick fix. It's a lot of introspection and a lot of self-analysis, and having hard conversations and making hard decisions, but when you do those things, it can be very rewarding.

Sarah Argenal: Absolutely. One of the things that I found for myself too is that I started on this path, and I was gung-ho, but I realized, "Okay, this is going to be a longer term thing. This isn't something I'm going to achieve in a couple of months or whatever. This is just going to be a way of life. I'm just going to ays going to be improving and maximizing as I go, so I need to find a way to do this where I enjoy the process as much as the destination." It's honestly not even a destination to reach.

Naomi Nakamura: It's not. It's really not.

Sarah Argenal: Every day, I have to continue to make choices and make sure that I'm not getting lazy with the things that I'm doing so that I don't lose what I've created. It becomes a way of life. It becomes a practice. It becomes about your habits. There are a lot of things that you can do, but yes, it's like walking up a mountain one tiny little baby step at a time. It can be hard, and you slide down sometimes. You get [inaudible 00:42:29]. You have to find a new way out. That stuff still happens. That's part of it, but it is possible.

Naomi Nakamura: You teach people how to really apply this to their own individual lives, and make this work for them. I understand you have a free resource right now that you're helping people to do that. Share it with us what that is, and how people can do this for themselves.

Sarah Argenal: Sure, thank you. I am hosting throughout 2018 a series of monthly challenges. It's called the Deliberate Life Challenge as a whole. What I'm doing is every month, we're focusing on a different area of life for a working parent. For example, in January, we've been focusing on mastering our time and productivity. Then February, we're going to focus on a different area. Then March, we'll focus on a different area. The reason I set it up this way is because I see all these challenges out there, the five-day challenge, the 10-day challenge, 21-day challenge. I think, that's a great way to get a small taste of change in our lives, but I think that we've all gotten this little tips in our lives, and I wanted to help people actually create change in their life.

I'm actually going through this myself. This was something that I just wanted to improve all of these different areas of my life as well. Some of the areas that we're going to be talking about is becoming the parent that you want to be, marriage and relationships and romance, evaluating your friendships, health, and well being. We're going to be talking about your career and your purpose. Again, we have already started working on time management and productivity. There are all different areas of our life that I found to be fundamental, so I wanted to help people take some time, take a month or so, and really focus on that area in particular knowing that we're going to get to the others later.

You can really dive in and ask yourself these hard questions. Take small steps. Take action steps that are going to lead you to a different kind of life. Just immerse yourself in improving that area of your life. That's what we're doing. It's called the Deliberate Life Challenge. If anybody wants to sign up, it's an ongoing challenge. You can come in anytime. You can find that at deliberatelifechallenge.com.

Naomi Nakamura: Awesome, that was going to be my question. We're almost through January. Can people still join?

Sarah Argenal: Absolutely, yup, as long as you get it anytime before ... No, I think, I might be closing it down actually sooner so that we can start ramping up for February. Go to deliberatelifechallenge.com. There should be a link so that you can get time management and productivity checklist. That's all that they'll get in the beginning. Then they can work through it at their own pace. Then from there, we'll start on the one for February. I haven't released the topic that we'll be focusing on for February quite yet, but that will be on the webpage at deliberatelifechallenge.com.

Naomi Nakamura: Awesome. You have a podcast too.

Sarah Argenal: I do.

Naomi Nakamura: Where can people listen to your podcasts?

Sarah Argenal: Yes, it's called the Working Parent Resource Podcast. Everything, you can actually find it at workingparentresource.com. I have an archive of free resources for people there. I have free guides. I have some trainings. I have a link to my podcast. I have a blog. I have the Deliberate Life Challenge. Everything is there in that hub.

Naomi Nakamura: How people can work with you too.

Sarah Argenal: Exactly, it's all there.

Naomi Nakamura: Awesome. I will include links to everything we mentioned in the show notes, but I want to thank you so much for coming on. This is something that I hear over and over people that I work with, people in my community. My own friends talk about this. I know they need help. I'm not a parent. I'm not qualified to give this advice to them, so I'm really glad that there's people like you who do. Thank you so much for being here.

Sarah Argenal: Yes, thank you so much for having me. I mean, I can talk about this forever, so thanks so much for having me.



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Naomi Nakamura is a certified Holistic Health Coach who takes a holistic approach through functional nutrition. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, coaching programs, and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with acne and other chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop! Connect with Naomi at: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest.