How She Does It | Niki Alexandrou

March 1st is, officially, the first day of the rest of my life!

Sometimes I feel like I am repeating myself when I say that “this month had it all”, but this time it did. Again! February found me recovering from a burnout episode, got me surviving (yet) another diverse set of multiple daycare-induced viral infections (thanks J!), and still saw me holding on to reach important milestones in my life. All that, amidst an outbreak of war on European soil.

The recent events in Ukraine got me contemplating on the idea of safety. What it means to feel at ease. How fragile balance actually is. How relying on externalities to ground yourself might actually cost you the war you’re fighting for on the inside. How we are living in the 21st century, and still find it in ourselves to rely on ammo and violence to prove a point. How much our view of the outside word is primarily an inside job.

Back in 2016, as I was working towards my MBA at the ALBA Graduate Business School, our Digital Strategy Professor Dr. Nikos Mylonopoulos had us create a blog to get a passing grade. We had to write about something, anything we like, brand it, and then promote it. It was a social media and content experiment, one I very much enjoyed and learned a lot from. Following my lifelong passion for nutrition, I went on to create a food blog named Wanderfoods (sic), where I researched and presented international recipes: their stories, their ingredient list and nutritional analysis, coupled with steps explaining how to prepare them.

My last published post in that space was about a dish called Borscht: a reddish soup prepared with beef, beets, and a variety of other vegetables. Although it’s reportedly an ancient recipe, I couldn’t find much about how this dish came to exist, but I researched it very well from a nutritional aspect, and I can tell you this: Borscht is a very well thought-of plate. Nicely balanced ingredients, and not too much of a hustle to make. It has almost as much protein as it has carbs. It’s both sweet and sour. The vegetable list may vary from one eastern European city to the other, but the impact of the dish is the same: it will help you get through any cold winter day, keeping your gut warm. An effect that, in some cases where temperatures drop really low, it could actually save your life.

Rumor has is that Russia and Ukraine have been arguing for years about having invented the Borscht. Most sources say it’s a Ukrainian dish, still there exist Russians who claim it’s theirs. Still, none of the two has had the nerve to alter the recipe. This ancient dish is a bold reminder that, focusing on the value of the outcome rather than the conflicts of the source helps safeguard what truly matters. The warm gut amidst the cold winter.

This month, managing uncertainty while working through change in what seemed to be an abundance of agility, got me thinking: when our safety needs aren’t met, when we don’t feel comfortable in our own skin, what are we left with if we neglect ourselves enough to get depleted? What’s there to build upon and lead us to self-actualization? Top-to-Bottom approaches to personal development don’t work: it has to stem from the core. It needs to resonate from within. Your gut must be warm. Then, and only then, do we stand a change to elevate our consciousness enough to embrace our existence wholeheartedly. And this month’s featured working mom, Niki Alexandrou, a woman of many traits and virtues, and my comrade in Lean In, lives and breathes this value to the core. Her paradigm and social impact, manifesting through her work and activism, but primarily how she chooses to show up everyday, sheds a ray of hope to us all.

Niki Alexandrou, Counsel (Finance), Norton Rose Fulbright Greece
Certified Leadership Coach | Network Co-leader, Lean In Network Greece (Athens)

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ll give you both the official and the unofficial version. I am one of those women with lots of “slashes” in their titles: Counsel at Norton Rose Fulbright Greece / Leadership Coach / Co-leader of Lean in Network Greece (Athens) / TEDx Speaker / author / youth mentor / mama. I am a mother of four boys: Alexandros (13), Petros (10), Aris (6) and Leon (6) and married to Kostas, my partner in life. I studied law at the University of Bristol (UK), did my Masters at the University College London (UK), qualified as a finance lawyer in the UK, worked in the European Commission (EU, Brussels), then London, New York and now Athens. I hold a diploma on Sustainable Leadership from the University of Cambridge and I am a certified Leadership Coach by the International
Coaching federation (ICF).

The unofficial bio goes a bit deeper than that. I have been juggling multiple roles for more than a decade, managing a demanding career alongside my family and personal growth, servicing others, grinding away 20 hours a day. Until the day  I realized I had burned out. That’s when I decided to change things around for me. I introduced some powerful tools in my routine, developed my career on my own terms and engaged with coaching and women empowerment in a deep, impactful way. My mission in life is to support impact-driven professionals to discover their identity, strength and leadership style so they can thrive in their careers. I am happy only when I stay connected to this mission and plan my life around my values.

Stemming from your personal experience, what is the toughest part of being a Mom, and how do you manage it?

Like most women I too suffer from mummy guilt sometimes. This impossible guilt that we put on ourselves every time we have to make a choice between our family, our career and our personal time. Women compare our efforts at work with those of our colleagues with no kids. We then compare our efforts at home with those of women who have decided to dedicate their lives to their families. This standard of perfection is unattainable.

Reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book and the research of Leanin.org on this subject was pivotal for me. I now appreciate that my children have a lot more to gain from spending time growing their own talents as opposed to time with me. I also appreciate that when it comes to spending time together, quality is more crucial than quantity. To manage this, I consciously choose to focus on the things that really matter to me, both at home and at work.

This is easier said that done, I used to bother so much about the bed linens at home not being neatly stored away, the photo albums being incomplete, an unread email in my inbox at the end of the day… I managed to get rid of all this mental clutter, prioritize, delegate and focus on the important things. As a family we have a strict “no media” rule for pockets of time together. We also have a monthly habit of one to one “mummy & son dates”, with each of the boys choosing how the two of us will spend this. I also stay consistent to my wellness regime, meditation and personal growth. It is only through keeping our vessel full that we can water and nurture others.

Who is (are) your go-to person(s) when you need support as a Mother? What type of support are you mostly in need of?

Oh I have huge support network and I absolutely recommend to all mummies to establish the same! We have no family in Greece. So we just built our own. Popi takes my phone orders at AB Vasilopoulos once a week, Litsa takes the grocery orders, Yiolanda takes the meat orders, Giota looks after our children at home, Maria cleans all nooks and corners of our house, Katerina will drop off Alexandros after the school party on a Friday night, Rania will keep an eye on the boys at the playground on a Saturday afternoon, Maria will drop off clothes that her kids have outgrown, Evi will lend me her ear and tips when things get crazy hectic, Areti will step in and cover for me if I can’t take on a deadline, my sisters Olga and Christina are a phone call away and always full of love and wisdom.

I am surrounded by working women and mummy friends that choose to support each other in their day to day lives. I build relationships with them and feel truly blessed for their kindness and support. It does takes a village to bring up a child! In my case it also takes a like minded hubby. Kostas is a hands-on dad who loves spending time with the boys and understands my need for personal development and growth. We share chores, thoughts and priorities and have deep respect each other.

What’s the No1 Skill (or Ability, or Knowledge) you have found handy in your role as a Mom?

There is this piece of wisdom that my mum shared with me when I became a mother, and it stayed with me forever. She said “Our children are not our possessions. They are souls delivered to our care to protect so they can blossom.” I could not make full sense of this sentence at the time. But as I stepped deeper into motherhood I became keenly aware of its meaning. It means that you cannot “build” a child in the way that you think it ought to be built. You cannot pick and choose attributes, talents, characteristics. You cannot turn a sensitive child into a fighter; a dominant child into a submissive. You do not shape the entirety of who they are. You have no choice in the mission that they came to fulfil in this life.

This one piece of wisdom has really helped me come to terms with my own fears and worries as a mother. I felt no shame when I missed the parent-teacher’s meeting for my son in 3rd grade, because deep inside I knew that he was well and happy where it matters. I felt no worry when my son refused to take part in school plays for 3 years in a row, because I knew that his confidence would shine through when he is ready. I felt no fear when my son decided to climb up a crazy high cliff and dive into the sea aged 5 because I trusted him to grow through this experience. I felt no guilt when I told my 3yr son I could no longer carry him in my arms all day, because I knew that he would grow more independent out of this. I accept and respect all 4 of them wholeheartedly. And I can only hope that one day they will say the same for me too.

What advice do you have for a new Mom?

New mums are up for an incredible journey ahead. You are about to discover skills you never knew you had! Top one being the ability to dress a moving octopus in less than 60 seconds while it’s pulling at your hair and threatening to pee all over your blouse.

This journey will be full of highs and lows, joy and sorrow, hope and fear, love and loathe, each experienced by a bunch of people intently and wholeheartedly. And the center of this journey is YOU. My advice to new moms is to honor yourselves through this journey. Treat yourselves with respect, love and care like never before. Keep your sense of self. Embrace your new power. Own your new role. Trust your instincts. Set your own boundaries. Protect yourself from doubt and fear and judgment. It is only by looking after yourself that you can look after others. Lastly and most importantly, enjoy the ride!

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