Work, Life & Balance-Shannon Mulholland

Ever wonder how you can balance it all as a mom? This is one interview in a series talking tomoms who have found a way to make it work. Meet Shannon Mulholland, humanitarian, CEO and mom to Clara (2.5 months). 


Shannon is used to roughing it – clocking 20-hour days helping Haiti earthquake refugees recover in a make-shift camp, working for the UN in Kenya, and finding out she was pregnant in a pit latrine in the Dominican Republic. But running a cause-driven coffee company, working another day-time job, and mothering a little one has upped the ante. Not wanting to give up her humanitarian work, Shannon has found a way to balance being a dedicated mommy and a passionate professional.

1. What do you love about being a mom?

I love mornings. I used to be anything but a morning person. You could ask my grad school roommate who would wake me up with a cup of coffee just so I didn’t bite her head off. But despite the sleep deprivation, I relish the first 30 minutes of my day. I love when Clara wakes up and looks into my eyes giving me a big, gummy smile. It reminds me that those middle of the night feedings and the 654 diaper changes thus far are worth those three seconds of love.

2. What do you enjoy most about working?

I enjoy being able to use my mind to solve problems. Being a mom is an amazing emotional experience, but every mommy still needs to have adult time for adult thoughts. Snuggles and kisses with Clara melts my heart, but finding a solution for economically repressed farmers challenges my intellect and rewards my need to help others. My definition of self is very important. Working allows me to not lose myself now that I’m a mom. I don’t think of myself purely as Shannon – mommy – Mulholland, but as Shannon – humanitarian mommy – Mulholland.

3. What’s your biggest challenge in juggling both?

Having time for myself. As a working mom, when my daughter sleeps, I open the laptop and get to work which doesn’t leave much time for my basic needs. Showers, healthy meals, and a social life take a back seat to filling coffee orders. Moving forward, my biggest challenge will be my need to travel internationally. If anyone has a good recommendation for how to balance breastfeeding with two-week field trips to sub-Saharan Africa, I’m all ears.

4. How do you deal with it?

I take advantage of when my husband is home to get things done like taking showers. I like to have the coffee maker on a timer so it is ready when I most need it. I also have healthy snacks in the house so I can grab something easy, like dried fruit and nuts or kefir, rather than a cookie when I’m starving.

5. How do you re-charge?

I take a walk and call a friend. Taking the time to catch up with a close friend helps me not feel isolated and exhausted from the long hours and often stressful days. I am a very social and verbal person so a 30-minute conversation with my cousin can make me laugh and goes a long way in de-stressing me.

6. What advice would you give other women considering being a working mom?

Make sure your job suits your personal and family life. Trying to abide by someone else’s nine to five is extremely difficult. Whether you have a boss or work for yourself, flexibility is key to being a working mom. Being able to start my work day at 11 a.m., after being awake all night with a screaming child, or being able to have a conference call in my PJs while bouncing a baby on my knee allows me to not have to choose between being a dedicated mommy and a professional. I can cuddle my baby when she needs me most and fit in my professional duties when she is asleep.

7. Who inspires you?

Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan political activist and the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.

8. What one thing can you not live without? 

My Blackberry. Whether holding a sleeping baby in my arms or making a last-minute run to the store to get diapers, I can respond to work emails and calls one handed.

9. If you had an hour of time to yourself, how would you spend it? 

On the phone with a friend.