Motherhood can bring great joy but it is often defined by sacrifice. Coach Jessica, entrepreneur and founder of Zen Mommy, felt a loss of identity and purpose outside her care-taking role after she was swept up by motherhood from a young age. Motivated to add purpose to her life, she made it her goal to help other moms start their own self-discovery journeys with the added benefit of becoming the best version of themselves for their kids.
Speaker 1: [00:00:14] Three, two, one, lift off! We have a lift off!
Sam Jayanti: [00:00:33] Welcome to this new episode of the ideamix radio podcast with today’s guest, Jessica Gershman and your host, yours truly, Sam Jayanti. On ideamix radio, we bring you the stories, in their own words of innovators, founders, coaches and mentors to highlight the lessons and learnings to apply to each one of us. Never before has the myth of “you can have it all” run into as many roadblocks as it has over the last several years. The pressures were building way before the pandemic, and the pandemic only served to crystallize the plight of mothers around the world. Jessica Gershman is the zen mommy who’s figured out her own balance and now shares that with mothers through her curated wellness app. Here’s Jessica in her own words.
Jessica Gershman: [00:01:28] Hi, my name is Jessica Gershman. I am the voice behind the Mom Slow Down podcast and recently launched the app, The Zen Mommy, this summer. So I am a yoga teacher by trade, and I saw hundreds of women in my studio and the sentiment was the same. They were stressed out, overworked, overtired, underpaid and didn’t know how to get out of the funk. And when they come to see me in the studio for just an hour, it was the most magical hour, but they went back out into their stressful life. So I launched this wellness app to give moms the tools that had made such a difference in my life. I went to culinary school to learn how to feed my body and nourish my body with whole foods. I want to teach other moms how to cook. I want to give them a yoga practice that they can do any time, anywhere from the comfort of their home and give them the skill set to combat stress and anxiety with mindfulness, meditation and breathwork.
Sam Jayanti: [00:02:23] Jessica, it’s so great to have you here today. Thanks so much for joining us.
Jessica Gershman: [00:02:28] Thank you so much, Sam. I think it took a lot for the stars to align and for us to connect, but I am so grateful to be able to be here with you today.
Sam Jayanti: [00:02:37] You know, sometimes things just take time. So I’ve gotten very relaxed about that sort of stuff. You can’t force these things, you know? And as you and I both know, as mothers, they are always a million things going on. And you know, you have to sort of stage when you can get to things.
Jessica Gershman: [00:02:55] Absolutely. Yeah. And be ready for all the fires that you have to put out on the side. That’s the joy of motherhood.
Sam Jayanti: [00:03:03] Absolutely. So Jessica, you have four children. You have found your balance between yourself, motherhood, being a wife and being an independent woman and entrepreneur. So tell us a little bit about that journey and how you got there.
Jessica Gershman: [00:03:26] I think it’s important to say that balance really is a continuum, and it looks differently, it expresses differently, and even in my own life every day and it’s still this kind of like, I don’t know, carrot that’s dangling in front of me of like, how can I achieve balance today? Or almost like the new word for “perfection,” which is like, completely unattainable, but we’re all striving for this idea of balance. And so giving all the listeners just a little break, you know, that balance is hard because there’s always going to be something that takes more attention, whether it’s the kids or your job or your relationship or your health or aging parents or all of the things that come in life. And you know, I’ve not been without my own struggles. But what I was able to get on was the journey. I think the self-transformation journey, the journey to truly beginning to know and love myself, which you know, for the first part of my life in my early 20s, you know, I was a type A overachiever. I started my career in commercial real estate, as a commercial real estate developer at 19 years old in a completely male-dominated business. You know, and I was this young thing, and I can get in the door being young and attractive, and I had to back it up with some money and some intelligence. And so I worked really, really hard and I worked in the shadows of my father, who I loved dearly, but is a narcissist. So that came with its own set of challenges. And then I met my husband when I was 22 and he had two children and was going through a divorce. And, you know, that’s never easy. And I took on these two little beings at 22 years old. They were three and one.
Sam Jayanti: [00:05:09] Wow.
Jessica Gershman: [00:05:09] Yeah, no, totally ill-equipped. Really just not equipped, you know, it was more like playing house kind of, at the beginning, than it was like actual parenting. And, you know, I was a kid. And if we can all remember going in our 20s I mean, we just were not making the best choices. You know, I was in this very intense profession and really, you know, we got married and really nothing had changed, I was still struggling on the backside of an eating disorder and it’s one of those things with disordered eating, you know, someone described this to me as it’s a radio station in the car and it’s always on. And it just depends on when you get in the car, is the radio station blaring and you can’t hear anything else or is it just a whisper and you almost can’t hear it at all? And it’s something that sticks with you. So it’s always this kind of recovering pattern of behavior. And food is this really interesting thing that we have to create a relationship with. It’s not like drugs or alcohol where you can just abstain from, you know, you really have to work to create a healthy balance and relationship with food, especially coming from disordered eating. And so, you know, my path, I got married and, you know, I had a daughter when, in 2009, the crash of the commercial real estate market, you know, everything kind of ended. Obama got inaugurated, I found myself at home, really with no career to go back to and being a mom. I was a stepmom, which is a different experience and relationship. And then I had a daughter and it was a little girl, you know, and I was like, I remember praying over her, just please, please, please don’t ever let her experience what I did, you know, what I’ve gone through and having eating disorders and struggling in that way is such an isolating, lonely, isolating just terrible experience that is hard to get away from. Because you’re suffocating in your mind, you’re just, you know, this crazy mind and it’s, you know, you’re having to juggle all of these awful thoughts and feed yourself. And it’s just, you know, that’s a pattern of behavior that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone.
Sam Jayanti: [00:07:17] You’ve said you’ve said so many interesting things there. I think it is so still ignored, largely, how many women, not just teenage girls, but women, suffer from eating disorders and that it flares and diminishes at various times in their lives. But because it’s food and because you can never quite get away from it, there’s this sort of constant element just always in the background, as you said,
Jessica Gershman: [00:07:50] and you used the words disordered eating and that even broadens the spectrum. It’s probably 90 percent of, you know, people that have struggled with whether it’s binge eating or dieting or all of these kind of fads in this yo-yo thing. And it’s a hard relationship that we have. And it comes with a lot of intricacies and trying to make that a healthy balance.
Sam Jayanti: [00:08:12] Yeah. I also think you said something about turning inwards after having your daughter. And one of the hardest things to do as a young mother, as you made that transition from being a stepmother to having your own child, is this huge sense of responsibility that you feel that kind of makes you want to subsume yourself and subsume your wants and your needs and your identity to kind of everything that this child, the family, needs. And in a way, to come back to your own wellness takes a combination of self-absorption, which is never thought of as particularly great. And self-awareness because you have to sort of be aware of, but also accept and then want to tackle these imbalances and problems that you can see with some clarity in your life. You help people do this now, as an entrepreneur. Tell us a little bit about that, and your experiences working with different people.
Jessica Gershman: [00:09:21] Well, and I think society, you know, the minute even from becoming pregnant, you know, even the baby shower, is all about the baby. You lose your sense of identity and through society, it’s okay, right? The mom just doesn’t really exist and all of the needs and wants and identity that you thought you had before becoming a mother gets pushed aside and you’re just supposed to take on this role, which is incredible; it’s beautiful and ordinary at the same time, like people are having babies–it’s extraordinary the fact that we’re giving life and also it happens, you know, it’s happened five times since we started this conversation. So it’s something that happens all the time. I think all of us, no matter what pattern led you in when you become a mother, create, we develop almost like a superhuman strength. That our intuition, we start to really lean into that, our sense of protection, like a mother bear, you know, our heightened sense of hearing. And, you know, we could wake up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night and know our baby is crying or our child needs something and really attune to the needs of others, maybe so much more than maybe ever before. And what gets lost in all of that is who we are as people. And I think that it’s been normalized and even celebrated, this martyr role and to be exhausted and to run ourselves into the ground. And from being in a place and seeing another way, seeing a way where we make ourselves a priority alongside, or just as much, or even more so, than the other responsibilities in our life. I would choose the latter, right, I would choose myself first. And realizing that–it sounds selfish, I mean, there is a little bit of selfishness to it, but no one else can take care of you. I mean, you’re not able to take care of anyone that you love–not your children, not your job, not your career, not your husband or spouse or friends or ailing aging parents–if you don’t take care of yourself, I mean, it’s just the fact of life, you know, and you’re the only one that can do it. You cannot rely on anyone else for your happiness. I mean, that’s a tough one to swallow, right? Because you want to be like, Oh, I want him to make me happy or I want this next promotion to make me happy. And the reality is it’s an inside job. And then in having Eva, it was strength I didn’t know I had because it really upped the ante of what I needed to do in the inner work I needed to do because I recognized that the only way to give her a fighting chance to not have eating disorders or not have disordered eating, if we just talk about that one little piece, is to model healthy behavior and you can’t fake that, you really have to do the inner work and so much that we model for our children, it’s hard to fake. I mean, they’re going to see you, if you want to talk about inclusion and diversity and loving everyone and you have no friends of a different color or race and everyone surrounding you looks just like you, they’re going to see that. You know, your mouth can say one thing
Sam Jayanti: [00:12:36] Kids are great at calling B.S. on that stuff with parents.
Jessica Gershman: [00:12:40] Yeah, I mean, and they recognize so much more from what we do than what we say. I mean, kids eventually tune us out, right? I’ve got a pre-teen and I raised teenage boys so I am well aware of that. But the inner work, I mean, that starts to shine through. I mean that start to make a difference. And everyone around you notices when you start to do this work, whether you get through it through therapy, traditional therapy, or coaching. For me, it was through yoga and meditation. You start to change as a person and your values and your priorities change and you get something, for me it was called this yoga pause, which was just the space between whatever was going on in my mind and in my reaction. And it was a choice, and it was awareness. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Sam Jayanti: [00:13:29] Totally. I love the way that you described, as you did so articulately right now, your journey into becoming an entrepreneur. Let’s take a quick listen.
Jessica Gershman: [00:13:38] I started my path as an entrepreneur because I wanted to show my two daughters that you can do anything that you put your mind to. Of course, being thirteen and eight, they really enjoy the app aspect and they can’t wait to tell all of their teachers and friends to download their app, and they’re so proud of their mom. But most importantly, I want to help other moms and give them a platform and a space to have whatever human experience that they’re having, to let them know that we’re not alone in this and the suffering, no matter what it looks like on the outside, whatever Instagram pictures that you see, that we’re all having a collective human experience and it involves suffering and joy, and that the more that we can band together as a community of women and moms, the better off we’re all going to be to support one another. So even when I get just a little e-mail or an instant message or DM about a podcast episode or something on the app that made a difference, that is just the motivation I need to keep going.
Sam Jayanti: [00:14:35] So Jessia, you trained to become a yoga teacher and one of the biggest elements, I think, of yoga beyond, I mean, so many things, right–self-care, breathing, wellness, overall. But it’s also about community and bringing people together and connecting to other people around you even though they might be strangers. You’ve done that and amplified that with your community in your app. Tell us a little bit about that process of building a community. It takes time. It takes a lot of stewardship. What have you done, do you feel, that’s worked?
Jessica Gershman: [00:15:19] I think showing up with vulnerability and authenticity is really important. And I had a private yoga studio in my home and I got to see clients. And the more I shared with myself, the more other people could share in that experience and something that I was going through or that I had experienced resonated with someone and gave them permission to have experience. And really, in yoga, we talk about this idea that, you know, we’re all just body-soaked suits of this like bigger energy. We’re all just kind of outlets from that. And that unites us. It unites us in the practice. Yoga unites us just in the desire to be a better person, to feel better. You know, there are things, you know, it’s a safe place. I’ve always called my mat like coming home. So it’s a safe place to make friends. I mean, in a yoga studio and teacher training was the first place that I felt open and vulnerable and strong enough to to befriend other women, you know, because I had not really done that before in my twenties. And I sense a community I think connects us in this idea that, you know, we’re not alone. And I think being a mom and with social media, with everything, there is so much out there that makes us feel like everyone else has it together but us. And the minute you open your phone, you can look at ten people that look like they have everything together and their kids are perfect and their lives are perfect. And you know, we walk around feeling less than and the truth and reality behind all of that is that we’re all suffering and that no suffering is new. Nothing that, Sam, you experience or I experience is going to be new in this world and what happened before us and what happened after us. And it really does unite us in the sense of truth and just being able to show up exactly as we are and love ourselves and each other through the ups and downs. And yoga has always been that very safe place for me to kind of explore even what’s going on with me, take a look at myself, see what things I like and don’t like. I mean, some things come up in practice like, Oh, you’ve got some work to do. But I’m able to keep coming back to the mat and I think that that, you know, you’re doing something really good for your body. You’re changing, you know, energetically, you’re changing the insides. I mean, we’re all just energy, your brain’s energy. We’re able to change that through yoga and breath and meditation, and we come out on the backside happier, more joyful, more present, more connected, more compassionate and empathetic person through this beautiful practice.
Sam Jayanti: [00:17:53] Yeah. I want to go back to something you said, which is that the challenges of motherhood or something that every generation has experienced before us and will after us. But I do think that, I wonder if you agree with this, that what is unique about our generation is that I feel as though it was our mothers generation who fought for the right to be and to enter into all these places that weren’t, you know, kind of hospitable to women before that. And arguably in lots of places still remain not as hospitable to women today, but at least it improved. And as a consequence of that fight and of that improvement there developed this expectation that we had to be super educated, seize every opportunity, live up to our privilege, you know, and have children and have a great marriage and look really good, and and and. And it became this like, just exploding set of expectations that we all sort of embraced, in a way, in our 20s because the maturity wasn’t there to sort of understand that there would be tradeoffs and it would be hard. Tell me what you think about that onus, in a way, that our generation was born.
Jessica Gershman: [00:19:14] And it is interesting, like I remember going to rallies and anti-abortion rallies with my mom and, you know, this feeling this sense of–when I was in high school, they came around and asked everyone what they wanted to be. You know, I wanted to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And I was in high school and it was like, there’s nothing that’s going to stop me. And we did take on a lot. And the reality is, you know, it’s also up to us to show the next generation where our priorities are because we kind of blasted the door open, choke on all this stuff and, you know, find ourselves really feeling alone and depleted and sad and unfulfilled. And maybe not fulfilled in our relationships or our marriages or with ourselves. And we’re unhappier than ever. You know, and I think our responsibility to younger generations and to ourselves is to really be present, to be in the moment without judgment. You have the experience to show up each and every day, to show up in each and every opportunity as our best selves. And give ourselves the grace, to know that things are going to be really hard. You know, saying yes to opportunity and all these things is saying no to something else. I mean, they’re just–you only have so many plugs of energy and you have to unplug from something to plug into something else. You only have so much to give. And so the more and more we take on and pretend like it’s not impacting our lives or impacting our happiness or our sense of self or our community or, you know, our relationships, is untrue. Something has to give, there’s a breaking point. And I challenge all of us to start to do the inward journey. I think that’s most important to even figure out what’s going on. You know, where are things that maybe you’re saying yes to that maybe are inauthentic or that don’t feel good? You know, I love doing a gut check. Our intuition is so incredibly strong and powerful if we lean into that. And show up in a way where we can be our best selves, whether that’s at work, in a meeting, with our children. You know, we have so many distractions. I mean, forget the distractions that we carry around with us in our mind, you know, and then we have a palm distraction of our phone all the time and everything else going on in the things of the email and all the stuff. You know but all of that is a practice of mindfulness of just keep coming back to the present moment without judgment. What’s really happening? Not the story in my head, you know how can I show up and be my best self today? And I challenge all of us to continue to do that? And it’s in each and every moment, right, is a new opportunity to continue to do this. I mean, I fail all the time. I mean, I’m always coming in and up from failures. And that’s where the growth happens. But I know that every moment is a new opportunity to do better–to do it again, to show up and continue to show up.
Sam Jayanti: [00:22:22] So true. I think there’s so much more learning that comes from the mistakes than does the successes and without the learning, there’s no growth. So it’s just absolutely essential. And a friend of mine, Frederic Fekkai, who’s also been on this podcast, has said many times, ‘if you’re not failing, you’re not taking enough risk and you’re not pushing yourself to learn and grow.’ Couldn’t agree more with you. You’ve created, Jessica, various pillars of content through the Zen Mommy–the podcast, a blog, food recipes, curated content–in a world where we’re sort of awash in content, tell us about some of the problems you’ve faced in honing in on the type of content, of getting people to actually see it, getting some feedback on it. What has that experience been like and what are some of the lessons learned?
Jessica Gershman: [00:23:25] Yeah it’s interesting in this digital world, I mean, I went from teaching one-on-one and having so much interaction, to doing the podcast, Mom Slow Down, and having the app and really speaking to a sea of nameless and faceless people that I don’t get to interact with or have the ability to connect with on a day-to-day basis. And so that’s been an interesting challenge because as a yoga teacher, you get so much out of energy in the room, energy with people, there’s such an exchange and a give-and-take. I think we have become more adapted to doing things independently at home, you know, over the last two years of ingesting. Especially, you know, fitness or health or, you know, that kind of content because we were forced to. And a lot of amazing studios and fitness places they all pivoted and are offering streaming it was something I don’t know that I, personally, in my own life, would have ever loved to do but now I’m like, this is so great. I gained so much time back for me, personally, that I can pull up something on my phone, still support studios that I love and the teachers that I love, so I think people are getting more comfortable with that, even as the world begins to open up. But I think the difficulty is always number one, there’s so much out there. Two, people have to buy in on me as a person and believe in what I’m saying and doing and there’s always the struggle of how best to come across authentically through social in a way, because as much as I would love to do and show you all of the messy parts and when I’m screaming at my kids and all of the stuff that comes behind the scenes, you just don’t pick up your phone then. And I have tried to pick up my phone and video my children when I’m yelling at them and that doesn’t–
Sam Jayanti: [00:25:16] They’re not gonna like you for that.
Jessica Gershman: [00:25:17] No, that doesn’t no, I get pretty much in trouble for that one. But the reality is, I want to keep trying to show up authentically. I want to give content that people like, that give them space to have an experience. On the podcast, I talk everything from sexual dysfunction to marriage and parenting and infertility and everything that we’re experiencing and kind of touching on a really broad band of subjects. And I’m learning as much along with the listeners as I hope they are and continue to be able to reach out. You know, I have a community feature on the app so that they can have direct message right to me. They can talk to other people that have the app, which is nice, you know just getting more comfortable with having this kind of digital sense of community. Doing Instagram lives and having those kind of things, it’s definitely a new world and it comes with its challenges. As a yogi, I struggle with being on social media as taking myself out of the present moment and not being fully present at a meal with my family and so I really have to strike a firm balance on what is approachable as an encroachment to our family experience and meal and living and what I want to be able to show followers and listeners and people that are following along with me. And that’s definitely a struggle. You know, sometimes I go into a little too deep and hot and heavy on the social media and I usually get reminded from someone in my family. But it’s, you know, it’s all a balance and it’s a learning. And I think the biggest thing as an entrepreneur is being ready to pivot and seeing what, you know, not being afraid to follow something that may be more successful and kind of riding the app and the podcast and all of these things at the same time. And I have all of these, you know, irons in the fire, and I’m also ready to pivot if one, you know, hooks a right. And I think that kind of flexibility, as long as I’m still getting enjoyment out of it and on occasion I get an incredible listener or someone that’s got the app that reaches out to me personally on Instagram or sends me an email and says, Hey, that meant a lot to me. And for me, as a creator, that is enough. That’s enough to keep going. That fuels my fire to keep putting the grind because as an entrepreneur, it’s a grind. I got to get up and teach to no one and sit for hours in front of my computer and I have no one telling me that I need to do that. But it has those little moments where I’m like, OK, someone is listening. It meant something to someone, and that’s why I’m doing this.
Sam Jayanti: [00:27:51] Completely. So who is the app right for? Let’s hear straight from Jessica.
Jessica Gershman: [00:27:58] All right. So who’s my community? I want to reach out to moms in all stages of the life, whether your a mom with little kids at home or pre-teens like I have, or maybe teenagers or college students. Being a mom unites us together. We share similar experiences, we share similar struggles, and I know that that connection of motherhood is something that will band us together for life. It is the reason why we get up and do the things that we do and it is not without its challenges. There is no rulebook for motherhood. But we can have all the joy and presence and mindfulness to create incredible relationships with these little human beings that we’re raising. And we can connect with one another as moms and lift each other up and support one another through this role of motherhood and this whole journey.
Sam Jayanti: [00:28:49] So last question, Jessica, for you. What’s been the role of coaching and mentorship in your entrepreneurial journey?
Jessica Gershman: [00:29:01] You know, I think the best thing is surrounding yourself with a community or people that will give you a gut check, which is always nice. Especially when you, as an entrepreneur and you’re starting out, you certainly don’t value yourself and your worth and your time, maybe as highly as you should.
Sam Jayanti: [00:29:16] So who are those people for you?
Jessica Gershman: [00:29:18] Well, you know, I’ve got a really great group of friends, which is nice. I never thought I would have a circle of best friends. It was not the kind of kid I was, I was the wallflower in high school. And I’m also part of an incredible group of moms in a community called Hey Momma and I just get so inspired. When you get to be around other people, creators, women that are, you know, in all different walks of life, that we share this thread of motherhood which unites us all in the experience and the collective experience of being a mother. And no matter where your kids, whether they’re off to college or grown or you have newborns at home, we’ve been there. We get it. We know the trenches. We know the struggle. And it’s this beautiful thread of humanity that just unites us as mothers. And it’s something that you can talk to, someone that maybe you’ve never met or have anything other in common with besides you’re mothers. And you can have this incredible experience and conversation and get advice and feel supported because we have this thread. And so I’ve been blessed to be in communities like that. And it’s really been a wonderful experience.
Sam Jayanti: [00:30:25] Amazing. Great to hear. Thank you so much for being here with us. It’s been wonderful having you.
Jessica Gershman: [00:30:31] Thank you so much for the opportunity. I’m glad we got to connect.
Sam Jayanti: [00:30:36] Thanks for listening today. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, please do review the show. We love hearing from you, so email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or Instagram DM us. Our episode this week was produced by the incomparable Martin Malesky, with music by the awesome Nashville-based singer songwriter Doug Allen. You can learn more about Doug at DougAllenMusic.com.
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