Measuring Growth

Managing Increased Demand When You Have Less Capacity with Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick and I talk about what happens when things go BOOM and you have to figure out how to manage that boom in your business at a time when your personal situation might actually mean that you have less time than ever to spend in or on your business?

Susan Boles
November 24, 2020
Quote: "When we're under stress, we have less access to the tools we usually reach for as well as things like intuition and vision. I'm finding that I need to make sure I have more prep time and processing time than I usually would." - Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick

On the podcast lately, we've been talking about how to manage change, how to become more resilient, and how to develop our skills in these areas—both personally and as leaders—so that our businesses can weather storms and so our team can stay calm, relaxed and supported. 

I talked to Elatia Abate in Episode 54 about what it MEANS to be resilient and how much of a role mindset plays in our ability to be resilient. In the last episode with Lauren Caselli, you can see how that played out for her in real-life this year in how she both weathered a HUGE business change and how she dealt with the loss of the business she had spent almost a decade building. 

Today I’m going to talk about the OTHER end of that change spectrum. 

What happens when things go BOOM and you have to figure out how to manage that boom in your business at a time when your personal situation might actually mean that you have less time than ever to spend in or on your business?

Today’s guest is Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick. 

Alethea is the Principal and Founder of Co-Creating Inclusion, a diversity, equity, and inclusion firm with a focus on shifting culture and driving equity through strategic consulting, leadership and team development, workshop facilitation, and business integration. Alethea’s mission is to help people, teams, and organizations create culture transformation through inclusion and belonging in order to co-create the conditions where all can thrive and do their best and most fulfilling work.

Alethea is also the mom of 2 kids, 8 and 11-year-old boys, in Brooklyn. And, like a lot of us, she’s now running a business and being the main parent, at home, dealing with virtual school for both kids—all while her business has seen unprecedented growth this year.

Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • What 2020 has looked like for Alethea and how she’s figuring out how to balance business and homeschooling her kids—and how she’s being conscious about taking care of her own needs, too
  • What techniques and systems she’s put into place to try and cope with all the changes that this year has brought
  • How Alethea’s day-to-day looks as she manages having the capacity to work less but having MORE business than ever
  • How to balance business and life when they're both changing

Episode Transcript

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (00:00):

Basically what ended up happening is by the time we got to July, August, and I'm thinking about cutting back my hours, it's the exact same time that my business is seeing potentially unprecedented growth. What ended up happening is that we had enough actual revenue that I was able to make an offer to one of my team members to come on full-time as an employee. And so that really opened up capacity for us as a team. And so that was really the moment when I was like, "Oh, this is how the math could work."

Susan Boles (00:39):

How are you? How's your year been going? How have you managed all this change we've been dealing with this year, all this unprecedented-ness? I don't know about you, but I could definitely go for some precedented times these days. I'm Susan Boles and you're listening to Break the Ceiling, the show where we break down unconventional strategies you can use to save time, boost your profit, and increase your operational capacity.

Susan Boles (01:07):

We've been talking about how to manage change, how to become more resilient, and how to develop our skills in these areas, both personally and as leaders so that our businesses can weather storms and come back. So our team can stay calm, relaxed, and supported. I talked to Elatia Abate about what it means to be resilient and how much of a role mindset plays in our ability to be resilient.

Susan Boles (01:35):

And in the last episode with Lauren Caselli, you can see how that played out for Lauren in real life this year. How she weathered a huge business change and how she dealt with the worst, the loss of the business she had spent almost a decade building. Today, we're going to talk about the other end of that change spectrum. What happens when things boom, and you have to figure out how to manage that boom in your business at a time when your personal situation might actually mean that you have less time than ever to spend in or on your business.

Susan Boles (02:07):

Alethea Fitzpatrick is a principal and founder of Co-Creating Inclusion, which is a diversity, equity, and inclusion firm with a focus on shifting culture and driving equity. She's the mom of two kids, eight and 11-year-old boys in Brooklyn. And like a lot of us, she's now running a business and being the main parent at home, dealing with virtual school for both kids. But her business has also seen unprecedented growth this year. And so she's figuring out how to balance both. Delegate where she can and be conscious about taking care of her own needs.

Susan Boles (02:42):

So she can be there for her family and her team, both of whom need her now more than ever. Alethea talks about what 2020 has looked like for her, what techniques and systems she's put in place to try and cope with all of these changes, and what it looks like for her day-to-day, as she tries to manage having the capacity to work less, but having more business than ever. Hey, thanks for being here.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (03:07):

Thanks for having me. I'm so excited to have this conversation.

Susan Boles (03:10):

Me too, this year has been a roller coaster for everybody. And so I think this is going to be really interesting.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (03:17):


Susan Boles (03:18):

So take me back a little bit. Tell me about what your original plan for 2020, which was about 42 years ago-

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (03:26):

Right. Way back in the dark ages.

Susan Boles (03:29):

So if we were talking in January of 2020, what would the year look like for you?

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (03:34):

So January 2020, I was feeling very excited about the coming gear and we were on a trajectory of growth that kind of evolved over the first few months, right up until early March. I mean, it's hard to know actually, which opportunities would have been realized if the pandemic hadn't hit. But we were definitely looking at a big year of growth. It was very exciting. So that's what I was kind of expecting, not necessarily counting on, but shooting for and expecting at the beginning of the year.

Susan Boles (04:11):

So then when everything shut down in March, what did that look like for you?

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (04:17):

So we had a really healthy pipeline of opportunities and a couple of ongoing projects and we actually had a couple of projects I think that were just finishing and a very healthy pipeline and the corporate, so we do diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting, mostly for nonprofits. But at the beginning of the year, we actually had quite a few corporations who were interested in working with us. And those corporate opportunities pretty much went on hold right away, as they were closing.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (04:47):

Literally, they had meetings with us scheduled or they were reviewing proposals and as they were closing their offices, they were emailing us and saying, "We need to put this on hold, we'll be back in touch later." So that was right away. But our nonprofit clients, interestingly, because their budgets are set ahead of time for the year, I think already had budget committed to for DEI.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (05:12):

And we actually had a couple of proposals in that we were kind of back and forth on that ended up closing pretty much right after the lockdown hit here in New York, which was for us, mid-March. So that was really interesting. In fact, we had one client, it was funny, we met with them in their offices at the end of February, and the writing was already kind of on the wall.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (05:42):

I remember at that meeting we didn't hug, we didn't shake hands, and we all sort of talked about how I guess we're not going to be doing that anymore. But I don't think any of us knew in New York city how quickly the shutdown was going to happen. And then literally my kids' school closed on March 13th and I had a strategic plan due for this client on March 17th.

Susan Boles (06:03):

Oh, man.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (06:04):

And in the three weeks since we had met for the strategic planning and when the strategic plan was due everything changed. And so part of the strategic plan at the beginning was to acknowledge that and to sort of even start thinking what does DEI look like in a pandemic? And so the meeting to review the strategic plan was online, was on Zoom.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (06:29):

But from there we talked through and they really wanted to, they were very committed to DEI and we'd be working with them for about six months at that point. And so they stayed true to the commitment, to continue. They I think in part thanks to the work that we had done with them, but also due to their own commitment, they felt it was important to continue. And I think we also felt that in a crisis DEI actually becomes more critical than ever because what we've seen with the pandemic is the inequity is getting exacerbated.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (07:04):

So yes, we had a couple of clients. There's another client as well that we'd worked with for about a year that also, shortly after lockdown, finalized our contract to continue work. So that was kind of the immediate weeks following lockdown and we actually got a new project because they had been planning on attending an in-person training that was canceled. So they reached out and I had done work with them before. And so they said, "Hey, could you do an online training?" I was like, "Absolutely, yes."

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (07:36):

So yes, that was sort of what the immediate things that happened business-wise. Obviously I typically pre-pandemic was working at co-working space for what sounds now like a very ironic reason, I find it really hard to concentrate when I'm working at home. I have two kids who are eight and 11 and realized many years ago that working from home was not for me. And so I really enjoy having my co-working space where, so I could leave the house like a normal person every morning and go to a space and be in a professional environment and not be distracted.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (08:16):

So obviously that space closed down right away and my husband's office closed maybe a week or two later. So yeah, then much of the world, we were all suddenly the four of us at home together, 24/7. So that what happened on the personal side.

Susan Boles (08:35):

So work is still happening and the kids are home and you are home with them and everybody's trying to work and figure out, school and all of those things all at once. How did you cope with that? What did it look like for you? How did you cope with it? Nobody really coped with it, we all just freaked out for a while.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (09:03):

It was terrible, it was terrible. It wasn't terrible. I want to say it was sort of like there was sort of varying levels of terribleness that didn't all hit at once. So I think in the immediate, we all... My husband and I just kept going with, okay, so now we're home, but we're going to work. And the kids' school, we were lucky that the school actually it was a little bit ahead of the curve so they didn't have a gap. I think a lot of schools actually just had no school for a couple of weeks. Whereas our kids, I think had one day with no school and then they had remote school, but remote school was all asynchronous and they pretty much would finish... Can you hear that in the background by the way?

Susan Boles (09:55):

It's fine.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (09:56):

That's my husband. I'll start that... Hey Keith.

Keith (10:01):

It's been 10 minutes.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (10:01):

Well, I guess this is ambient noise.

Susan Boles (10:03):

I'm like I want to leave it in. This is real. This is what it's actually like.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (10:12):

Yes. So their remote learning was they would finish their work within about the first hour or two of the day. And I can't even, I think I might've just blocked out the whole experience.

Susan Boles (10:29):

It's like after pregnancy where you're just like, "Oh yeah, it was fine."

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (10:32):

Yeah right. So basically my husband's on calls, I'm on calls and they're finishing their work super early. And so I think as happened with a lot of people, we just ended up giving them more and more screen time. They really got into Minecraft. I mean, they'd played Minecraft for a few years, but they just really got into it. And at first, it seemed great because Minecraft is creative, it's collaborative.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (10:58):

They were video chatting with their friends and building these incredible worlds together. And they were happy and engaged, but certainly, as the months went on, it kind of shifted to being not so healthy and too many hours. And it all kind of spiraled down from there to the point where I think about in July we realized we had that we couldn't keep going. I think when school ended ironically, the loss of what felt like very little structure, it was still a structure. And then without that, it really kind of spiraled downwards and we realized that we needed to sort of reign in the screen time.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (11:45):

And we also realized that the math of two parents working 40 hours a week with the kids home, just wasn't working. It was hard decisions about should I just quit my job? Basically close the business, which I really didn't want to do. So what I realized was like well, I don't have to quit, but I could cut back my hours. So we kind of moved forward from there. So I would say for us that was the low point.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (12:19):

And it took us until summer. We needed the pause of summer to even be able to step back and reflect and figure out, everything was very reactive for March, including school. Right? So no one really had a minute to pause and sort of intentionally redesign life. At least we didn't and so over the summer, then we were able to kind of reconfigure a lot of different things and we could talk more about that. But yeah, that was sort of the turning point for us.

Susan Boles (12:52):

Yeah, you realize that way earlier than I did apparently. We had a similar experience. We shut down here in Arkansas relatively early because we actually didn't see much of the virus until May but we shut down in March. So our school shut down the same day, March 13th and it happened to be spring break. So we had a week of spring break that was no different and then a week of them closed going, "We don't know what to do."

Susan Boles (13:22):

And then went back to school very similarly to you where they were done with their work. It was like three worksheets and they were done in an hour and a half and my son got very into Minecraft. I mean, he was already into Minecraft but spent a lot of time with Minecraft and my husband is a realtor. So it just so happened that he basically said, "Okay, I'm not taking any clients." Because you physically have to go see people in houses and he's high risk.

Susan Boles (13:57):

So originally we were like, cool, he's doing homeschooling. I'm going to continue to work. Which worked for a while and then he was like, "Hey, I have to go work. We both have to work now." He made it to almost the end of school and then over the summer we were trying to figure out okay, he's home but he also has nothing to do. What do we do with him? And ended up splitting the days half and half, and trying to compare meeting schedules and deal with the unpredictability of real estate.

Susan Boles (14:26):

So it took me until darn close to this fall to go, "Huh. Maybe I should pull my capacity back. Maybe I can't keep working at the same pace." So you realized it much faster than I did.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (14:41):

Well you have one kid, right? I have two.

Susan Boles (14:43):

Yeah, I just have the one.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (14:45):

So I think that maybe had a little bit to do with just, yeah. I think it's different for everyone right? Depending a little bit on how many kids do you have and what kind of kids you have.

Susan Boles (14:54):

Yes, absolutely. So you were doing this, I'm going to pull back – I'm reducing my capacity and then George Floyd and all the BLM protests kind of kicked off and you are a DEI consultant. So what did that end up looking like for you?

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (15:16):

What happened was with our current projects, we were already really booked in June and I think we ended up having 18 hours, I facilitated 18 hours of workshops in the week before George Floyd was murdered and in the four to five weeks after. So I think that might've also accelerated the realization that things weren't working because it was really intense to be going through this.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (15:52):

Actually, the new client that I picked up right after lockdown, I was doing a series of four workshops. And the first one was two days before George Floyd was murdered and so then the next one was a week after. And the second workshop was one we had always planned to talk about race and so it was quite astonishing timing.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (16:23):

It was very intense, but also, I mean, the folks that we did workshops with were so grateful for the space to sort of process everything that was going on, but it was a really intense run of facilitation at a time when these conversations were just exploding and going more mainstream. So it was an interesting time of conversations going more mainstream, which is good, but you know, the cost of those conversations, the cost of a lot of white folks waking up to systemic racism that has been around for a few hundred years, there's a cost to black folks and other folks of color when those conversations happen, because yes, it's a wave of awakening that is much needed, but it's also sort of a wave of white fragility if you like.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (17:24):

As a reaction also to white folks entering into this conversation. Because a lot of people, I think we're entering in a way that they hadn't before. So it was definitely a double-edged sword and I think the impact of that definitely is not equal on everyone and is differing for different people and particularly exhausting and traumatic for black folks.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (17:53):

So holding space for that was certainly something I was glad to be able to do, but it was also quite intense and actually, a white friend of mine called it, the woke wave, which I thought was very-

Susan Boles (18:10):

That's a fact.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (18:11):

... it felt very apt because it was. It was just this wave that was yeah, like I said, both positive, but also quite overwhelming. And then when you also add the pandemic, I call it also the broke woke wave because all of these companies are like, "We need to do this work now, but we have no money and we've got people on furlough and no budgets are getting cut."

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (18:39):

Yeah, so it has resulted definitely in an increased interest in our work. Again, still, it's hard to tell how much of it will actually convert into real projects. So, I mean, we now have a steady lead of inquiries coming in that honestly a year ago I couldn't even have dreamed of. That we don't have to do anything and they're just coming in. It turns out actually naming your company Co-Creating Inclusion is really good for SEO's.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (19:06):

So even though I actually haven't optimized for SEO, we've had a lot of referrals, but we have also had random Google search people coming our way. Honestly, we've never had that. That's a capacity issue of even just being able to have the processes in place to respond that I know DEI consultants everywhere have been really overwhelmed.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (19:30):

So we are now fully booked until the end of the year and beyond and actually, we really had to turn the filters up on our inquiry process because we just don't have the capacity to take on the work. So basically what ended up happening is by the time we got to July, August, and I'm thinking about cutting back my hours, I'm thinking about cutting back my hours at the exact same time that my business is seeing it seeing potentially unprecedented growth.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (20:01):

So that's a real conundrum and what ended up happening is that we had enough actual revenue and not just potential revenue, that I was able to make an offer to one of my team members to come on full-time as an employee. And she had previously been working as an independent consultant and also had another full-time job and so that was a big step, that really opens up capacity for us as a team.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (20:32):

So that was really the moment when I was like, "This is how the math could work. I'm cutting back my time. But our team overall is increasing our hours." And I have another team member also that was able to increase their hours so that presented itself in August as this kind of amazing gift, really. An opportunity of how I can make this work because of the disproportionate impact on women, right?

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (21:05):

So there's a disproportionate impact on people of color black folks in those communities. There's also the disproportionate impact on women when because of the pay gap around agenda if someone's going to cut back their hours really, it depends, but generally speaking, if someone is going to quit that job, or cut back their hours because the children are home it's going to be the person that's making less and very often, not always, but very often that is still, unfortunately, the woman in a heterosexual marriage.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (21:38):

Or in any partnership, the person who's earning less often is the one that has faced more systemic obstacles for whatever reason. That was and continues to be something very difficult for me personally to grapple with. Just the idea that my career was going to take a hit and my business was going to take a hit because of that has been a very painful and frustrating thing to grapple with.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (22:08):

And to know that it's systemic and especially with my husband going back into the office full-time that feels like yet another hit I'm taking. All of our clients are still closed and not requiring their, their staff to go back to the office full-time which I just think is the humane and right thing to do at this time. Really being able to make that move has sort of mitigated some of my resentment around having to pull back as default child caregiver.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (22:47):

So, yeah, so I'm lucky. I mean, I feel very lucky that I can pull back my hours while continuing to grow the business. So it's not the hit to my career that it might have been at the same time a team doesn't just magically-

Susan Boles (23:05):

Magically run themselves.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (23:08):

... so in reality, I haven't really cut back my hours yet, but I have more support in the business than I did and I do think we will get there to the point where I can pull back my hours a little bit.

Susan Boles (23:25):

Yeah, I think that balancing act between our businesses and our lives are always as a business owner, really a balancing act, even in the best of times, which a global pandemic is not.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (23:39):

Definitely not, yes.

Susan Boles (23:44):

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Susan Boles (24:14):

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Susan Boles (26:10):

So talk to me a little bit about what that balance looks like for you personally, as you're managing that change. Day to day, are you working weekends? Are you working in the evenings? How are you actually managing to lead a team even if you have employees taking on some of the client-facing work what does that look like? Especially as you're the primary school assistant.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (26:40):


Susan Boles (26:41):

Wednesdays are my homeschool days and I'm always like, "Oh, that's the day that I'm a third-grade virtual teaching assistant."

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (26:46):

Yes, basically it's like, right. Yes, yes, there have been some great memes online of your basically an admin assistant. Your first zoom is at 8:30 and here are the worksheets that you need for it. Do you need another cup of juice? What else can I fetch you?

Susan Boles (27:01):

Yeah. I mean what does it look like? I wrote in my notes, it looks terrible. I mean I don't think it looks pretty for anybody.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (27:10):

So I would say the last month, so my husband went back to working in his office full time after Labor Day and that was when school started again for the kids so this has been the first four or five weeks of the new remote learning me home by myself with the kids. In the spring it was sort of all of us in it together.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (27:32):

I told my husband it's like it feels like you escaped back to a relatively normal life where you leave in the morning and you go to the office and you have your day and you don't get interrupted and you don't get asked to fetch snacks for people and then you would come home at night. And meanwhile, like we're all sort of stuck in hell basically is a little bit what it feels like.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (27:56):

At the same time, I'm really lucky that I can work from home and that we have enough space that we've now got the kids set up in separate rooms. We didn't do any of this in the spring. They were like-

Susan Boles (28:10):

Well no, because we all thought school was going to be there in the fall. We all thought this was just temporary.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (28:14):

Yes. They were doing remote school wherever, whenever. And so we have the resources that we have enough space in our apartment that they each are now in separate rooms. We got the desks, we got them monitors that they can plug their Chromebook in. I have found that has been a game-changer for them to then have Zoom on one screen and then whatever they're working on, on another screen. So, I mean, we are by no means the most impacted or close to the most impacted or facing the most struggles. And yet it's really hard.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (28:50):

So I'm here managing two kids on two different schedules plus my schedule. So I had to make an Excel chart of how everyone's schedules lined up against each other and literally in the... Now we've all, they say it takes 30 days just to create a habit. I definitely felt, felt like after 30 days I was like okay I think we're finally like getting the hang of what the rhythm of this is but literally in the beginning I was clicking on that schedule every 10 minutes, like, wait what's happening?

Susan Boles (29:27):

When are we doing this? What times is it now?

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (29:30):

My executive function and my memory, I feel like has just plummeted just from being overloaded with too many things. So yeah I feel very lucky that under the circumstances, I don't know that the circumstances could get that much better. I mean, well, I think if my husband even if he were on an every other week schedule, that would help me tremendously but aside from that we have a lot of resources and we have a lot of support for succeeding in this.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (30:02):

So I do think we are moving into something more sustainable. So what it looks like is I wake up super early, I wake up at 5:30 and I do Morning Pages. So for me, Morning Pages, I've realized if I don't do Morning Pages, my sanity quickly slips away. So that practice is something I really need to just have some time to get some thoughts out of my head, hear my own voice, center on my own voice before I go into the fray.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (30:30):

So I do that until maybe until 6:15 and then for an hour that's when I get to do really focused work because the kids are still sleeping and so I'll maybe get an hour in of something that really requires my best brain thought my brain work. Then the kids are up, my husband leaves pretty much when they wake up. I mean, he's been so amazing and supportive and doing everything he can to set us up within the constraints of he has to leave for the office.

Susan Boles (31:07):

Yeah I mean I'm sure it's not his choice to.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (31:08):

It's not his choice, yeah.

Susan Boles (31:11):

Everybody's doing the best they can.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (31:13):

So he makes breakfast and sets things up and he sometimes sets things up for lunch and yeah. So what I realized, so another ah-ha moment was I shouldn't try to do work while they're doing school. If I can and great, but I shouldn't be counting on that to get stuff done so they have school from around 8:30 or 9:00 until 2:00, depending on which kid and what day.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (31:41):

So that last hour, so once they're on their last Zoom is sort of when I'm like, okay this is my work time. So my official work hours or 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM. And then we have a sitter from 3:00 to 6:00 and so far we've been... So we also have vulnerable family members so we were pretty quarantined earlier on and we have been getting out of our bubble a bit, but we've wanted to avoid people indoors with us.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (32:10):

So we have childcare, we have sitters that pick them up and masked take them to the playground from 3:00 to 6:00, but that doesn't work when it's raining, which it was today. So 3:00 to 6:00 is my little window of okay, I can do a podcast interview, I can do a client call, I can facilitate a workshop. It's not a huge amount of time so when people are like, "When are you available?" I'm like, "How about 3:30 seven weeks away?"

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (32:42):

But that's how I've organized my day and the kids come back at 6:00 and they get their Minecraft time when they come back so that gives me usually a little bit more time to finish up some stuff. I do, do team calls in the mornings so my team is used to me being like, "Hold on. I just gotta check everyone's on their Zooms, I'll be right back." And I have had to do a few client calls or facilitations that were scheduled way ahead of time.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (33:09):

One of my biggest fears is that... So I do that with one of my team members and I have them share their screen because one of my biggest fears is that I'll be sharing a screen-

Susan Boles (33:20):

Is the kids running around in the background?

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (33:21):

Well, no but I'll share my screen and then I'll get pulled away so everyone will just be on slide 17 and have no way of moving forward while I'm off dealing with my kids. So I'm always like, "Okay, you share your screen, and if I need to step away." And I'm up-front about it. I mean I tell folks I'm here by myself and my two kids, I may need to step out and back a couple of times. People are understanding right because there's so many people-

Susan Boles (33:48):

Everybody's dealing with it.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (33:49):

... that are dealing with it. So that's what it looks like and then pretty much by 8:30, 9:00 I'm done and you know, my husband comes home, he cooks dinner most of the time and most of the time puts the kids to bed. And I'm usually asleep by 9:04 p.m. because I'm up really early and it's a tiring day.

Susan Boles (34:15):

Has there been anything that you found that was particularly key to you being able to cope with this? To cope either emotionally or just logistically with wearing multiple hats during the day and just trying to manage it? You mentioned Morning Pages, is there anything else that you found was particularly key for you?

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (34:38):

Yeah, so I think, yes. So definitely Morning Pages. I'm still working on the movement piece. So actually that's been one of the hardest things with my husband, not here is my kids are kind of old enough that I could take a short walk, but I feel like because they still kind of need help at any given moment I can't really leave the house during the day.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (35:03):

There's my son in the background, which you may be able to hear. So it's been really hard to just get out and walk. So I'm trying to actually plan that at 5:30, which is the last half hour before the kids come back with the sitter. But that certainly earlier has been really helpful. Just the movement I've been going on bike rides as much as I can. So generally on the weekends I'll just take off on my bike and go sit in the park and just be silent and to have no one talk to me. I'm an extrovert and I am feeling so much the lack of alone time that it is not even funny. I don't know how introverts...

Susan Boles (35:47):

Yeah I'm an introvert and I love working at home and it was really weird for me the first couple of weeks going I can't think. My brain, I can't think what's, like what is happening that my brain no longer works? And I didn't realize that it was just I would never be alone. Not once because my husband was working from home and my kid was working from home and I think he took my son out on a walk or something for like an hour and I was just like, oh, that's what it was. I just need alone time for my brain to empty out and then had to make conscious choices about okay, I'm going on a walk by myself with no one to talk to me, or else it's not going to go well for anybody.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (36:33):

I mean, I think the interesting thing about, well, one of the interesting things about the pandemic is you've got extroverts who live alone who were really craving and I think people are getting out more and are able to get that time now. But I think in the depth of quarantine, a lot of my friends who are extroverted and live alone was struggling with the complete opposite problem to those of us quarantined with family.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (37:03):

And I think so the extroverts who are alone and the introverts who are not alone, particularly, it's been super challenging, but yeah, like I said, I am an extrovert and that has been a really, really hard thing for me. So I can't even imagine being an introvert and not having that alone time. I mean, certainly at times I just... I remember one time I went to the car just to sit in the car and then my husband came outside with the kids and then he forgot to bring his keys and he was locked out and he was knocking on the window of the car and I was like, seriously?

Susan Boles (37:37):

I'm just trying to be alone. I'm sitting in the car.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (37:42):

I couldn't even sit in the car all by myself.

Susan Boles (37:44):

I think every mom in the whole world can relate to that. Just in the car, in the bathroom. Like I'm just trying to get two seconds by myself.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (37:56):

Just a tiny little piece of time. I think I really need time in a sensory deprivation chamber, you know, I've never tried it. I've never tried it, but I know they have them in New York at least. And I'm sort of like, that sounds amazing. So in August, we were lucky enough that we went away, we went upstate. We were by a lake, we went to nature, we could go out.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (38:20):

The density in New York City is such that you just can't, at least we didn't feel comfortable leaving the house without a mask on but upstate we were able to just breathe a bit and be outdoors and that for me was it was incredibly healing and restorative. My kids didn't appreciate it as much, I think they became, well, first of all, they are really city kids.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (38:43):

They literally were born in the city and lived in the city their whole lives but I also think that the quarantine really made them sort of afraid to go outside as well. So they were not quite so thrilled about the outdoor time but I realized being outdoors and being in nature was super important. So what I came back from that I'm like, I need to, at least while the weather is nice get on my bike, ride to the park, sit in the park.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (39:07):

So that has really helped. I have definitely like I said, my executive function and my memory feels very compromised. So partly because of that and also partly with bringing on a team full-time. So I now have two full-time team members, almost full-time team members who we've actually worked together for over a year, but in a much more limited capacity. So what I didn't realize was the amount of onboarding that would be needed even though we've been working together, but I've mostly been working with each team member separately.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (39:45):

So we're now needing to come together as a team, and we're also working a lot more with each other, their roles have increased. So I have been using Notion for a couple of years myself and what I realized was one of the things based on like things that they were asking me for, I was like, I think that Notion for the team would fulfill a lot of these requests for documentation and more information and a database of projects and files and past content and all of this kind of thing. So we've also been in the process, do you work in Notion?

Susan Boles (40:31):

So I'm a ClickUp person, but I'm familiar with Notion.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (40:33):

Okay. Yes.

Susan Boles (40:34):

I'm a project manager and not a writer. That's the distinction.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (40:37):

So Notion is an incredible tool, but it's also kind of a blank canvas. So you sort of have to build it yourself. So in August, part of all of my reflecting up by the lake and thinking about what we needed to do. So that was one of the decisions that we made as a team, both as kind of an externalization of my brain.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (41:01):

So it's like, I need a container to put everything that's in my brain somewhere so it's accessible to others, but then it's also a place to co-create the Co-Creating Inclusion brain and institutional memory and for other team members to also be able to come in. So that's an important piece of the onboarding and then transitioning over to having a team and having it be less of just me and it's also really helping with executive function in terms of just lots of lists and planning and writing things down and breaking things down into small steps and systems that can be my brain a little bit for me when my brain-

Susan Boles (41:48):

Yep. You don't have to decide what to do, you just go do the next thing on the list.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (41:51):

Yeah. In my best scenario, I can hold a lot of things in my brain and less of it needs to be written down somewhere or organized or externalized, but definitely under the stress and the limited capacity. I'm definitely seeing, I need a lot more stuff that's written down and a lot more systems to shore up my not as robust mental systems. And we've also realized because everyone on a team is also kind of under siege for various different reasons.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (42:24):

Pandemic, failure of democracy, rise of fascism, all of the things, uncertainty. All of the things that are going on right now. We've also realized that when we're under stress the tools that we usually can reach for are harder to reach for and it's also almost like we have less ease of access to things like intuition or vision at least I'm finding that. So I am finding I need to make sure I have more prep time than I usually would and more processing time than I usually would.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (43:04):

So especially in DEI work, there's no real fast-tracking anything. There's no such thing really as lean or efficient if you try to do things more efficiently it generally doesn't work. We're also at the most risk of creating harm when we're in urgency or scarcity. A friend of mine, Kate Stratham was talking about that recently and Tara McWillan was talking about it as well of what works and I was like, "Oh that's so true and so good."

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (43:29):

Where it's almost like a slow down to speed up kind of situation really that I've noticed where we've tried to move quickly on things especially right now it ends up generating more work. So it's just not worth it. So we have to slow down and make sure we're allowing for the time that is needed for a process to take place and also to support our clients in that.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (43:55):

So a lot of the inquiries are "We need to fix systemic racism now." And we are doing a lot of yes it is beyond urgent and beyond time and-

Susan Boles (44:10):

And also not going to happen right now.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (44:11):

... and also it's been around for centuries and it's not going to happen overnight. So we need to not be reactive and not respond to a manufactured sense of urgency or toxic sense of urgency I would say. Instead, be intentional about creating a path forward that will work and that isn't just because we feel uncomfortable or guilty about not having done the work before and are trying to show and prove that we are doing the work.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (44:42):

Let's take time and think about what it would take to actually do this work in a way that will create meaningful change. So we've been having those conversations on different fronts.

Susan Boles (44:55):

Yeah, I think that's probably a great place to wrap up. Is there anything you think we should talk about that we haven't touched on yet?

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (45:01):

Well you know as I was speaking one resource that I think might be interesting for you and your listeners, it's a document called The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture and I always say it's not about the KKK, it's not about extremists groups it's really about, if you read this document it's by Tema Okun and I can give you the link to put in the show notes but if you read the document it's very little about race and it's really about oppressive characteristics that we all can instantly recognize.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (45:33):

They're pretty much embedded in every company, business, organization, institution. It is things like sense of urgency and perfectionism and worship of the written word and either/or thinking and power hoarding and all of these things that we are so socialized to perpetuate without even really realizing it and I think it's a really great business tool especially during these times.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (46:00):

Because I think in a crisis we can fall back on those more default oppressive, toxic behaviors. It's a really great document. I don't know if you're familiar with it but-

Susan Boles (46:12):

I'm not but definitely send me the link and we'll drop it in the show notes.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (46:16):

Yeah. I highly recommend it. It's one of the things that always when we do workshops and work with clients it always garners a lot of interest. It's very thought-provoking but it's also very actionable. You can immediately be like oh that's what's going on and here's what I can do. So it doesn't just name the oppressive characteristics but it also names here are some of the things you can do instead.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (46:43):

So it's a really great document. So yeah, I thought I would just mention that as well seeing as we were talking about sense of urgency and some of those things that happen.

Susan Boles (46:57):

Perfect. So where can our listeners find you if they want to connect and learn more about what you do?

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (47:02):

Yeah, so our website is and from there, there are some different links. We have a DEI advocates self-coaching program which is a weekly email and a few other different things that you can sign up for. So yeah, if you go to you can explore from there.

Susan Boles (47:20):

Awesome. Well, thank you so much for coming and talking to me about how 2020 has gone for you and all of the different ways you are coping. I think it's obviously still something we're all dealing with and I think it's always helpful to hear how other people have been trying to handle it.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (47:40):

Yeah. Well thank you for giving me the chance to reflect a little bit on the roller coaster that the past seven or eight months have been and for sharing your experiences as well and I feel like who knows what's going to happen next and yeah I think we've all learned to not make any assumptions.

Susan Boles (47:59):

Don't say anything. Just assume it's going to keep being crazy. If it stops being crazy for some reason, great.

Alethea Cheng Fitzpatrick (48:06):

That would be great yes.

Susan Boles (48:10):

Now, more than ever. Just kidding. Being able to cope with change and even thrive with change has always been an important business skill. Owning a business is a journey. It's an evolution. It is never stagnant. There will always be change to handle. Unprecedented or otherwise and building strong personal skills and a flexible mindset allows you to personally become more resilient and that in turn allows you to help your team and your business become more resilient.

Susan Boles (48:42):

As I was thinking about this series about managing change I keep coming back to something Elatia Abate said in the first interview. "When faced with change think about how could this actually be the very best thing that could have happened?" That mindset, that question has been critical for my own ability to cope with change.

Susan Boles (49:04):

But I would add one more to it from my years as a military spouse dealing with last-minute deployments moving from one country to another and never knowing what's going to come next and that is what systems or structures can I put in place that will help me manage this change? Sometimes that's something like Alethea's Morning Page routine.

Susan Boles (49:24):

For me right now it's making sure I'm taking walks alone. The answer to that question is going to be different for everyone but what one or two routines or systems can you put in place to help you be better able to weather whatever comes your way?

Susan Boles (49:41):

Next week we're kicking off a theme talking about creative pricing in business models and I'm talking to some folks doing some pretty cool things in their business. So make sure you hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player because you do not want to miss it.

Susan Boles (49:55):

Break The Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our executive producer is Sean McMullin, production coordinator is Lou Blazer. This episode was edited by Marty Seefeldt, with production assistance by Kristin Runvik.


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