Oonagh O’Hagan is a glamorous mum of two, who’s also the very well respected, award-winning MD of the Meaghers Pharmacy Group. How does she do it all? Teamwork is her top tip among many more helpful pointers for busy, Career-orientated mothers!
Tell me a bit about your background (education, career)
I am a qualified pharmacist by profession and studied pharmacy in Trinity College Dublin. Following the four-year degree course, it was then necessary to work for a year in practice under the guidance of a pharmacy tutor before sitting my professional examination to practice as a pharmacist. I chose Pierce Meagher as my tutor and spent the most amazing year with him learning how to put all I had learnt in my pharmacy degree into practice. From the moment I walked across the threshold of Meagher’s on Baggot Street I fell in love with it; with the shop itself, the community – but most of all with the customers. I dreamt that one day I would own the pharmacy. On my last day of my internship, I was really upset about leaving and I made Pierce promise me that if he was ever selling the pharmacy he would let me know. Four years later I got that call and shortly afterwards my dream of owning Meagher’s Pharmacy on Baggot Street came true.
Did having children change how you felt about your career? How so?
Yes, before I had Children I worked incredibly long hours and had much less balance, but since the arrival of Luca and Cassie, I now have new and more important responsibilities in my life. Suddenly, my life is no longer all about work and I have slowly learnt how to switch off from work in the evenings and particularly at the weekends. My career is still very important to me and gives me a huge sense of personal fulfilment but when it comes to priorities it has certainly been knocked down a few rungs on my life ladder.
What changes did you make to make your career work for you?
There are many changes that I have had to make in my career since having children to allow me to still make my career work for me are. I have had to be become meticulously organised so that I can drop my children into school and pick them up again either in the afternoon or evening – depending on their activities. My working day, and the meetings that fall into my days are scheduled with much stricter starting and finishing times to allow me to be there for my children when they need me.
I find that I am much more focused at work in order to get through the same volume of work and to make the decisions I need to make within tighter time frames. I find I work using agendas much more than I have done so in the past to ensure I get everything covered off, and I have regular weekly meetings that do not budge in my diary with the team members who report directly to me so that we work at the same pace that we would always have worked at in the past.
Finally, I ask for a lot more help these days. At work, I delegate a lot more so that decisions are made as quickly as they would have been made in the past and at home, I have help with all the tasks that would eat into the precious time that I could be spending with Luca and Cassie. Before having children, I would have been very controlling and wanted to do everything myself but if I did that now I simply wouldn’t get anything done at the pace we work at in Meaghers.
How did you feel when making these changes?
Having to delegate more was very challenging for me at the start, as I am a little bit of a control freak and like to know exactly what is going on in all areas of the business at all times. However, I found myself becoming a bottleneck in my business and things slowing down because I simply wasn’t able to review things quickly enough and make decisions. When I delegated more of my own tasks and gave my team greater responsibility things quickly picked up pace again. I often find myself wishing that I had learnt this lesson earlier in my career. In terms of being organised, this has only led to much more effective working but I do find that very often there are quite simply not enough hours in the day.
How did your partner support you through this time?
My husband is great at allowing me to catch up the odd weekend if I have some big presentations or projects at work and he takes Luca and Cassie off on little adventures which they love. He’s also great in the mornings with helping to get them ready for school and we have a little routine for drop-offs, which really helps. He is, however, self-employed himself and is in a career where he is very much responsible for all his clients and unfortunately he cannot delegate to anyone else – so I consider myself blessed that I have a strong team around me to support me at work.
What worked and what didn’t work along the way?
It is a constant challenge every week to get through all that I need to get through. There are only a certain number of hours in the day and I have a tendency to think I should be capable of getting through so much more than I possibly can. I still tend to take on, or say yes to more things than I should. What has therefore worked for me over the years is taking some time to actually consider if I have the physical time to do something before making a commitment to doing so. I guess I have learnt to really value my time much more than I have done so in the past and to say “no” to some things.
Considering your happiness levels before making a switch to now – how have they improved/decreased?
I find that I am much more content in my life these days. I consider having children a true gift in life and my whole perspective on things have changed as a result. Becoming a mother has certainly made me realise just what is truly important in life, which for me is my family and friends. Before I had children I worked incredibly long hours and always felt like I had to prove myself. Now, I wonder who I even felt I needed to prove myself to? I think I am much more relaxed now and certainly much happier in my own skin and with life in general. I tend to notice and appreciate the simpler things in life these days and have a heightened awareness of the value of my own time.
How do you rate your work/life balance?
I wouldn’t say that it is anywhere near perfect if that is ever possible but it is certainly much improved on what it was. I spend much less time at work and more time outdoors and enjoying simple things like walks on the beach or playing in the park, which I would never really have done before Luca and Cassie came into our lives. I certainly spend much less time on my laptop or physically at work so I know I do have a much healthier balance these days.
Three bits of advice for working mothers?
- Always ask for help when you need it. Never ever feel that you should be able to do it all. It has been my experience that you simply can’t and that those around you are only delighted to be asked and to help if they can.
- Invest in help at home if you can afford it. Get someone to do as much housework, ironing and anything else that takes up your valuable time so that you can spend as much time as possible with your children when you get home and you are not juggling chores with time with your precious little ones.
- Accept the guilt that comes with being a working mum. The guilt never leaves me and there are many days that I wish that I was at home to pick Luca and Cassie up from school every single day. Now I feel that the guilt just demonstrates what an incredible and loving connection we have and if it was missing then perhaps I wouldn’t have the relationship I do have with them. My work gives me a huge sense of personal fulfilment and it is important for me to acknowledge that. So, if that comes with the odd pang of guilt then I need to learn to accept it as normal, which is easier said than done some days, but which I will never give up trying to do.
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