The past year has been challenging for us all, but no one more so than working moms. In the lead up to Mother’s Day, we are delighted to honor and celebrate our very own Natalia Brzezinski: Klarna’s Head of Strategy, mother to Aurora, and recipient of the Mother’s Day Council’s Outstanding Mother Award 2021. Retail Insider spoke with Natalia about what the award means to her, the challenges of blending work and motherhood, and the perils of taking mommy “advice”.
Congratulations on your Outstanding Mother Award! What does being recognized for this award mean to you?
My cell phone rang with the news that I had received this beautiful award two hours after my grandmother, the tough as nails immigrant woman who raised me, took her last breath in hospice. It was the day before Christmas Eve. My stress levels were through the roof and my personal life was in turmoil. This award couldn’t possibly come at a worse time in my life. I didn’t feel like an outstanding mother at all. At one point, I literally threw my hands up in the air in tears and shouted to the powers that be, “what is the meaning of this all?!”
Then it struck me that bad timing, great ironies, pain, the extreme emotional spectrum in all its glory, and living in the gray space where one could be a great mother and make huge mistakes, where one can be a good mom and feel like a bad one, that’s the definition of motherhood and of life. My daughter is my soulmate, so why not celebrate her role in defining my life through the Outstanding Mother Award!
I chose to view this award as an intention and a spectacular, public reminder of that intention. It has served as a tipping point and a new start to detoxify my life so I could activate the best version of myself as a mother and woman. I will always look back on it as such and am so grateful for it.
This award for me is not a recognition but a responsibility. I will carry the responsibility of helping working moms—especially those with buried pain and hidden shackles—with me everywhere I go in life. I believe it’s my life’s work, ultimately.
Tell us a bit about your daughter and how you balance motherhood with being our badass Head of Strategy here at Klarna?
I don’t balance it at all! It’s less about balance and more about acceptance. I had a complete burnout in early 2019. I had been living my “work-life” in two radical extremes: at times intensely “all in” at work and then intensely “all in” with mothering. I traveled frequently since I essentially lived in a city (Washington, D.C.) that I didn’t work in at all. When I was home I would enormously overdo being a mom from guilt. I would attend everything, do everything, organize intricate activities for Aurora and her friends like ziplining or horseback riding. I was like a crazed camp counselor. Then I would hop on an international flight totally exhausted and approach work with the same extreme intensity- tons of meetings, speeches, hosting big events, tending to big egos. When I got home, I would start the cycle over again.
There was no space for me in that cycle. I was burning myself alive with my concept of “work-life balance”. But 2020 was a turning point for us all. I spent the year understanding our place in the world and reflecting on my place in the world of my creation.
“Women don’t need more “advice”, we just need our safety net and army of supporters holding it up.”
In 2021, I discovered my insurmountable resilience. This is my Phoenix year. I’ve worked on myself profoundly and it’s a daily practice. I know my limits, needs, and best levers for creativity. I know how to activate the leader and woman I want to be, and when that woman gets lost momentarily, I know how to find her again. Ultimately, it’s not about balance but accepting your limits and knowing your needs. It’s also about building a network of unconditional supporters. Women don’t need more “advice”, we just need our safety net and army of supporters holding it up.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in maintaining this balance?
I’ve tried to “do it all”, “be it all”, say “yes to it all”, and do “that all” all on my own. Today I break it down and focus hour by hour. I try to accomplish each day the best I can. I also try to relinquish as much control as I humanly can and even take the word out of my lexicon replacing it with the word “flow”. I try to flow with my day and the moments I am facing, good and bad, instead of fighting against them.
As a working mom, what is one piece of advice you live by (if you have one!) that you can share with others?
The most passive aggressive, judgmental and shaming advice givers in the world are those who try to give “advice” to mothers, so I never ever do it myself! I think usually those people are trying to shame you in order to find redemption or justification for their own mistakes as parents. The parts of our lives where we feel deficient are often the parts where others are projecting their own desires or judgment onto us.
“I was young and utterly undeveloped emotionally when I had Aurora, and we grew up together. She has been my greatest teacher and my one true love.”
I may have made more mistakes than good. I was young and utterly undeveloped emotionally when I had Aurora, and we grew up together. She has been my greatest teacher and my one true love. She has taught me how to love unconditionally.
As a mother you die and are reborn every day. Every day is a forced evolution that you must embrace. Motherhood done truly and wholeheartedly is a life’s journey. I’ve made huge lapses of judgment along the way. Building up this little daughter is my one and only true path to self-discovery and self-actualization. I’m still at the very beginning of that path but my entire heart is open and committed to it for life.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career that you will pass on to your daughter (i.e. to the next generation)?
Rise up. Every time someone pushes you down, locks you in a box, laughs at you, belittles you, manipulates and controls you, every time you fail, let your ego get in the way, shame yourself, give in to temptations, fall into bad habits or negative coping mechanisms, rise up!
I named my daughter Aurora after the Greek goddess of the Dawn. The sun rises every day, no matter what happened the night before.
How do you show up and be present in both your personal and public life while not leaning too heavily toward one or the other?
I do not draw distinctions between “personal” and “public” life because for me that feels like I have two identities, one of which is false. I am extremely authentic, open and vulnerable in every arena, public and private. Why would I show up in life as a “toned down” or scripted version of who other people think I should be?
“Why would I show up in life as a “toned down” or scripted version of who other people think I should be?”
With that said, social media, allowing “followers” into my personal life and having a public voice on matters has also caused me so much trouble. Misunderstandings, jealousies, judgment, miscommunication, betrayal, breaches of trust and many other painful experiences have ensued from my openness in public/social media arenas. I have become much more cautious with what, how and where I share. I don’t crave attention and validation in the same way that I did when I was younger.
For me social media and public events are a tool to advance my passion or job, not a lifestyle. I will never become less open or more scripted, but I will protect the sacred nature of my private life and those in it much more.
What is your go-to stress reliever when you need some “me-time”?
The times in my life where I am truly present, truly carefree, authentic, rooted, laughing with my full throat, not thinking about anything else in the world, is when I am with my daughter. She focuses my entire self on joy and the special, absurd moments of life. We love to dance, go to amusement parks, go for long walks and talk about boys or girl drama, and be in the sunshine together.
How has the pandemic impacted your perspective as a working mom?
I’ve learned the virtue of standing still. Time has slipped through my fingers during the pandemic but also stood painfully still. Stillness allows things that need to be examined to float up into your hands. Things become clearer. I’m in the process of detoxifying, arranging and fixing my life so it can become a life I have chosen and created, not a life someone else decided for me and I am trying to do the best I can with what I was handed.
I’m really in the process of being the best mother and human I can be. The Outstanding Mother Award will always symbolize this beautiful process for me.
From all of us at Klarna, a very happy Mother’s Day to all of the amazing moms out there. We’re thrilled to support women who take on the challenge of motherhood alongside their roles as leaders and mentors in the workforce. You are truly inspirational.