Tackling The Extreme Work Life Balance Of Being A Woman Business Leader During COVID-19
By Karina Michel Feld, Authority Magazine
This article originally appeared in Authority Magazine and Thrive Global, August 2020
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of my series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Besecker.
Ashley Besecker is a registered dietitian nutritionist and expert in human biochemistry and nutrigenetics. She owns and runs 3 different companies, managing the health of professional athletes around the world including Megan Rapinoe and Sue Bird. She has been married to her husband Tyler for 9 years, and they have 2 young daughters Grace, 6, and Gianna, 4.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better.
Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I have always had an interest in medicine, health, and science, even from a young age. It is in my nature to ask questions, deeper and deeper, until I reach a solid understanding of how things work. I was also an avid athlete. I grew up playing all the sports, from gymnastics to soccer to softball and running track. In high school, I focused on softball and volleyball and was an all-league player and captain in both sports.
That love of science and sports naturally collided into Sports Medicine. I specifically attended Pepperdine University because they offered a major in Sports Medicine. I took out student loans and put myself through both undergrad and graduate school. I am just now reaching a point where I am close to paying them off!
Sports nutrition is a fascinating field in itself, but when combined with a focus on biotechnology, genetics, and longevity, I am able to optimize my professional athlete clients at a cellular level and elongate their professional careers.
Now, in order to own and run 3 companies before the age of 40, you have to be a bit of a risk-taker. I’ve always been very independent and looking to evolve and reach for more. Sometimes, that fills my plate too much, but it is the trait that drives many entrepreneurs and sustains those that succeed long term.
I opened Crave Health at the age of 24 using Google search as my mentor. That practice has now been thriving in Bellevue, WA for over 12 years and has grown to be the home of 8 different providers offering incredible nutrition and mental health services.
As my girls were born, I stepped away from the private practice life and found that telemedicine (again, being a risk-taker and self-starter I just jumped into that!) applied extremely well to professional athletes. Their schedules put them all across the world in different time zones and HIPAA compliant video communication platforms began exploding. My professional athlete roster grew so quickly, yet was so different from my branding and vibe at Crave Health, that I spun off and formed “Functional Performance Nutrition” which I work exclusively under today. And if that weren’t enough, I leaned on my old mentor Google search and started my own podcast “The Functional Performance Nutrition Podcast” almost a year ago, interviewing and sharing some of my work with these incredible athletes via podcasting. That’s the jump-in, I can do this, risk-taker mentality.
As COVID hit, my work with athletes didn’t change. I work via telemedicine as it is, and I still support them nutritionally even if their seasons were delayed or canceled. However, my husband’s family business was a different story. My husband buys and sells wild seafood all over the world, to huge restaurant chains and markets. When the restaurants closed, the sales slowed.
My husband, my brother-in-law, and sister-in-law sat in the backyard, eating our awesome Dungeness crab and decided that we could help pivot by starting our own direct-to-consumer seafood company, diverting that amazing seafood directly to our friends and family via no-contact pop-up shops around our community. And “Premier Catch” was born. Now, I side hustle with my sister-in-law selling seafood at pop up shops around the greater Seattle area.
That’s how I got to 3 companies in 2 completely different fields!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
The best is my transition to professional athletes. I had already become an expert nerd in this new field of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics and was applying that very new science in the lives of everyday people. But when I got the call asking if I could apply that science into professional athletics I hesitated. I love sports, but I am not a “sports dietitian”. I told this coach that I would work with 2 athletes to start, as long as they understood I was a deep dive biochem dietitian and not a sports dietitian. They agreed, and weeks later I was sitting in the condo of Sue Bird and Megan Rapinoe talking about their genes, designing their meal plans, and teaching them about omega-3 fatty acids. My daughters have worn player’s championship rings, been on multiple game fields and courts, and even face-timed with Megan from France during the 2019 World Cup fawning over her new pink hair.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My projects are my athletes. Many of them are completely depleted when it comes to their cellular health. They’ve put so many miles on their physical bodies, taken so many hits, and drain their energy through workouts, practices, games, and travel. I take an athlete from relying on their natural talents to optimizing every detail of their physiology to prevent injury and allow them to reach veteran status in their sport. I currently have 26 exciting “projects”.
As a double-edged sword, while I recommend high omega-3 intake in my full-time job, I’m actually selling the food source of high omega-3’s in my side hustle, Premier Catch. Those pop-ups are doing so well that we are now figuring out how to ship our salmon, sablefish, crab, halibut, and tuna across the country.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My husband of course. There were so many times that I felt like a failure. I learned from scratch how to build and run a business. Science was my specialty, not economics and business. I struggled for years to make a decent profit. Healthcare and insurance is a tough industry to make money in as a dietitian. Our profession is not valued nearly enough, even though nutrition is such a key factor in overall health and longevity.
My husband financially and emotionally supported me through many of those early years with Crave Health, giving me time to learn by trial and error, adjusting my business model, and waiting to make a decent wage. Crave Health would have closed a long time ago had it not been for Tyler.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family-related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
My husband has an auto-immune condition, so the quarantine started for us about 2 weeks early. I know enough about medicine to be dangerous and understood the severity of what was about to hit the world with SARS-Cov-2. Grace and Gianna’s schools were closed in March, and the district scrambled to provide some online learning, but it was an absolute mess. Can you imagine trying to work while simultaneously attempting to maintain the attention spans of a preschooler and kindergartener, checking off daily video assignments, and teaching them how to use Zoom? I melted down. As a woman, the childcare tends to fall onto the Mom, especially if both partners in a marriage grew up in homes where the standard gender roles of Dad working and Mom caretaking was the norm. This was our situation.
My husband works on the phone all day. I work on the computer most of the time, and then via telemedicine. My work structure, (and I believe my gender and income contribution) put me in the driver’s seat to suddenly become the fulltime teacher as well.
It’s impossible to do it all well. My generation of women grew up hearing a lie. “You can do anything!” We might be able to do anything, but we certainly can’t do everything. As women, we HAVE to take time off from work to give birth. We have to. It’s impossible to just take a long weekend to go and deliver a baby. If you work, and have kids, and are a woman, I guarantee you either feel like you are half-assing both work life and home life, or you feel guilty for pouring more time and effort into one over the other.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I have learned the hard way that over-communication is key. With my colleagues, with my husband, and with my kids. I try my best to tell my husband the thoughts that normally fly through my head and get ignored. I’m overwhelmed. I feel stupid. I feel guilty. I’m confused. I have had to work on redefining my definition of success. My definition of success before; to keep a clean home, to make a lot of money, to be a super involved Mom, to make family dinners each night, to always be the happiest one in the room, was absolutely unattainable. My definition of success now looks more like cleaning the house once a week, getting in 30 minutes of homework with my kids, taking a walk when I can, and being honest and real with my clients and colleagues about how hard this current life situation really is. I have to be more flexible, ready to pivot and adjust my expectations and work structure. I just have to.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
Scheduling. It usually takes me 2 hours to review a player’s initial genetics report and get their nutritional plan rolling. It is nearly impossible to find a 2-hour window of uninterrupted time when your kids are with you 24/7 and your husband is working full time from home.
And with my Premier Catch pop-up shops, I have to pick a day that I can put 4 hours into slinging seafood to the community. It’s all amazing work, but it just takes time that’s incredibly hard to come by these days.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I had to talk with my parents and ask for help. They live within 30 minutes of us but are both 60. I had to ask for their help watching the kids, and also have a conversation about what “quarantine” really meant for all of us. How the kids moving back and forth between our 2 houses would affect my husband’s health risk. My Dad began to work from home full time and my Mom adjusted her work structure as well, all to help me. It’s the only way I am staying afloat right now.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
There is no best. There is only grace. Balance is a fantasy that we’ve been told we can achieve. A book that helped me with this concept was “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and his thought is that “The reason we shouldn’t pursue balance is that magic never happens in the middle; magic happens at the extremes.” This means leveraging something called counter-balance; focusing exclusively on the important task at hand, whether it’s work, teaching the kids, or working out. We have to choose what’s critical and give it as much time as it needs before switching to the next most important thing. So screw balance, and work on figuring out the one critical thing each day, or each hour, or each week, and redefine success.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
Be honest, and vent! It’s ok to admit that your house is a mess. That you’re 50 emails behind. That your kids just watched their tablets for 4 hours. Be vulnerable and genuine and you’ll find that you’re not alone. You may even begin to connect deeper and more authentically with friends, family, and colleagues during an absolutely insane time. And walks. If the weather is tolerable even for 10 minutes where you live, try to squeeze one in any way that you can.
Many people have become anxious about the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”?
Time is the healer of all things. From a breakup to a pandemic. In time, the truth always comes out, and we learn more, and do better. Trust time.
Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
1) Humanity. Have faith in humanity. Deep down I truly believe everyone has good in their hearts. If we can keep even a fraction of this idea in place, we may just have a shot.
See the silver lining. This is forcing us to reconsider how our world and life structure could look. Do you really want to be living where you are? Can you ditch your brick and mortar office? Are you seeing more of your family?
2) Gut check. A forced look at your own career. If you got laid off, is that a good thing that is allowing you to rethink your passions?