Conversation with Julie Neale, Founder, MothersQuest.com
Helping Moms Choose Their Own Adventure
December 19, 2018
1. What is your business?
I’m the founder of Mother’s Quest, a “for-purpose venture” that provides inspiration, coaching, and community to help mothers live what I call an E.P.I.C. life. Currently, my coaching programs, Facebook community, and the Mother’s Quest Podcast are the main ways I’m supporting mothers across the country.
Mother’s Quest is built around the belief that every woman, even and especially in the years when she’s raising her children, has the potential and permission to live her version of an epic life, filled with all the things that matter most. This idea, living an E.P.I.C. life, has two meanings. The first is informed by my research of the hero’s journey in literature. In iconic stories across the ages, the hero says yes to a calling and journey and finds something of tremendous value that he brings back to his community. From a more feminine perspective, the heroine’s journey involves sharing as the journey is happening, regularly bringing back the lessons to the community along the way.
In addition, E.P.I.C. is also an acronym mnemonic for the guideposts that I think help us live that life while we’re raising our children. Each letter stands for a different guidepost: E is for engaged mindfully with our children, P is for passionate purposeful work beyond our family. I is for investing in ourselves, and C is for connected to a strong support network, so we’re “in community” on our journey.
My signature coaching program, where I get to bring this framework to other women in a deep way, is called the Mother’s Quest Circle. In a group of 6-8 women, we meet for four, two-hour sessions, either in-person or virtually, to get connected to our future vision, give ourselves permission to work toward that vision, assess our lives according to the E.P.I.C. guideposts, and then pick one key goal to set intentions for immediate action.
After taking action, we come together to reflect on what we accomplished, the lessons learned along the way, and to acknowledge one another. By the end, each woman has taken steps to design her future, and we’ve built deep and meaningful relationships with one another.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
I come from a non-profit background, and for 20 years I worked in youth development and community building. While in that space, I started to facilitate a process that we called “adult reflection” for the staff working with young people, with the understanding that if we wanted the young people to learn and grow and build deep relationships with their peers, we needed to model that ourselves. I fell in love with this process and decided to become trained as a coach to strengthen my skills.
Alongside that work, I also became a mother and encountered a lot of challenges. There were so many ways in which becoming a mother caused me to lose myself and to sideline a lot of my own dreams. At the same time, it also caused me to find a courage and resilience I never knew I had. At a certain point, I realized I wanted to reclaim the fullest version of my life while raising my children, and that I could bring my facilitation and coaching skills to help other mothers do the same.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
I actually did have what I call a “spark moment” that caused me to say yes to my vision. For years, I had this dream of starting Mother’s Quest, but I wasn’t doing much about it. On one Mother’s Day, I offered a workshop, and it went really well. But I didn’t take any follow up action afterwards. An entire year later, I walked into my house, after dropping my older son off to school, and saw a Facebook reminder about the anniversary of the workshop. Seconds later, my little guy and I heard a crashing noise. It turned out to be a bird that had somehow flown into our little doorway and was trapped in our house, and as it was trying to get out it was smashing into the glass.
After a few moments of freaking out, I realized I could open the door to our backyard and the bird would fly out. It did leave the house, but it wouldn’t leave our deck. As I was thinking to myself that this felt like a metaphor for how I felt trapped and just needed someone to open a door for me, I heard more crashing and realized there was a second bird in the house. This time, when I opened the door, the second bird slowly walked through the door.
At that moment I realized, okay, I feel like this is a message and I’m not going to do anything else until I sit down and make sense of this. I sat at my computer to write a post about not waiting anymore. That became my declaration to start Mother’s Quest. I’ve been 100% all-in on creating my vision ever since.
I ended up researching the bird species, and it turned out that the birds in my house were Mourning Doves. Mourning doves mate for life, and that’s why the first one didn’t leave until the second one followed. And to top it all off, Mourning Doves are known to symbolize motherhood. So, for me the two birds became this powerful, almost spiritual sign, that this work was meant to be.
4. What obstacles did you face in getting started and thinking of yourself as an expert in a new setting?
The first challenge was to find my voice and share my vision. The more I talked about it and just started to put the idea out there, the more it became real. Around Mother’s Day, after those two birds visited, I wrote a blog post on the theme of motherhood and the kinds of conversations that I wanted to facilitate. That writing was the catalyst, and from there I started working a lot on getting clear about my mission, my framework, and branding.
5. Was there ever a particularly tough time that in retrospect was a priceless learning moment?
I think for me, one of the most challenging times was right before I launched the podcast. I was resisting putting my work out for other people to hear and experience. Since it was a creative piece of work and one that is so personally connected to my voice and vision, it was hard for me to feel it was good enough.
Trump had also recently been elected, and I think I was going through a period of grief, shock and fear, and those feelings were adding to my resistance to put my work out for others. The turning point for me was when I reached out for help from my first guest on the podcast, Navjit Kandola. She helped me face my fears, stand in my power, and integrate all the emotions I was experiencing.
And with that support, I was able to finish my first episode and launch the podcast. More than fifty episodes later, I still have moments of resistance, but when things feel hard, I now realize it’s part of the creative process, and I know to reach out to a guide or mentor in my community to get unstuck.
6. Were there any partnerships or advice that were particularly helpful?
When I was in the process of building Mother’s Quest, I participated in something called the Power Circle through another organization, Emerging Women. Ever since that experience, I dreamed about being a facilitator with them. I loved the process so much, and I really wanted to be a part of creating that space and experience for other women. Now two years later, I am part of their team, facilitating their Power Circles for women from across the country and in high tech corporations.
7. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
There have been so many things along the way that I’m proud of. Recently, I had an E.P.I.C. snapshot moment because one of the women in my very first Mother’s Quest Virtual Circle, Jody Vallee Smith, launched her first children’s book, Princess Monroe. It felt like yesterday that we were in the circle process as she was pushing through her own resistance to get the book published. And we were able to be part of her support system. Seeing all of the reviews come in and the photos of children, particularly girls, feeling empowered by the story, and knowing we played some part in helping her bring the story to them, was incredibly fulfilling.
8. What are some of your current challenges?
A key challenge for me, especially because of my non-profit background, has been how to take this deeply personal venture, also intended to serve and support other women, and to figure out how to make it a profitable business. I’m trying to find creative ways to monetize the podcast and to make my circles accessible for women regardless of their income. The pathway to fully monetize Mother’s Quest is still a work in progress.
Another challenge for me has been how to integrate social justice and social impact into my work. I found a vehicle for this through an Initiative I founded called Women Podcasters in Solidarity. Now in its second season, other women podcasters and I choose a topic (this season it’s “gun safety” and the intersectional impact of gun violence in our communities) and we record podcast conversations that can shine a light on how to move forward.
Most recently, I interviewed Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, for the podcast, and will release the episode alongside a fundraising campaign to support Sybrina’s Circle of Mothers, which provides healing and empowerment to mothers who have lost a child to gun violence. In the interview, Sybrina talks about how this idea came to her quite literally in a dream to fill a void for mothers grieving that she felt when she lost her son. I’m so grateful to be able to support her efforts. This episode goes live this week and you can find the show notes and links to contribute to the fund at http://mothersquest.com/ep55-sybrinafulton/
9. What are some of the biggest positive or negative surprises in your business?
One thing that has been surprising for me is that I do not think of myself as a person who wants to be or excels at being in the spotlight. I was a grant writer and far more comfortable as a behind-the-scenes, support person helping others.
But now here I am willing to step “center stage,” as my podcast guests, the founders of “Spotlight Girls” like to say. I’ve been surprised about my own willingness and actually my interest in sharing so much of myself and my quest. And not only that, I have been moved by how sharing about my life has inspired other people to do the same for themselves.
I’ve also been surprised that people tell me they like the soothing sound of my voice. For someone that never really used her voice in a public way, and where this has felt like a big stretch, it’s still funny to me that one of the first things many people say when they listen to the podcast is how much they appreciate my voice!
10. Do you use social media for marketing your business?
I have a Facebook business page, and I spend a lot of time connecting in a private Mother’s Quest Facebook group. What started as a small group for my family and friends, who I would call on for advice, has grown into a group with over 600 people from around the world. I’ve also begun sharing images and stories from my own quest on Instagram.
11. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
I have an expansive vision for Mother’s Quest, and I feel like I’m just starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible. Mother’s Quest is about creating inspiration, coaching, and community for mothers.
The podcast, coaching programs, and the Facebook group are the key vehicles now, but long term I’d like to create Mother’s Quest experiences, both with your children and without your children.
I think it would be amazing to have a line of publications that come from Mother’s Quest, from our network of mothers, a Mother’s Quest book that captures a lot of the stories and lessons learned from our podcast guests. I’m also thinking about offering a Mother’s Quest planner to help us set intentions and organize our lives.
Another dream is to create a venture fund to seed the ideas of other mothers’ social enterprises.
Date of conversation: September 11, 2018