Carolyn Ann Van Damme & The Round Peg Group, LLC
Creating the Perfect Fit


For years I watched my successful and talented female colleagues leave the workplace once they started a family. Their struggles with trying to find a balance between work and family, often meant they had to give up (or take an extended break from) the careers that they had worked so hard to build. They could no longer work the crazy hours they used to and were left with no choice but to stay home and put their careers on hold. I swore that would not happen to me, that I would find a way to make it work and have it all.

Fast forward a few years, to when my husband and I started our family and my whole perspective changed. I realized just how precious time spent with family can be. Being a mother of three, my career has seen many stops and starts these last twelve years in my attempt to find balance and "have it all." I took time off to be at home with my girls, I worked full-time and tried to balance it all, and I worked as a consultant/stay at home mom. During all of this I kept thinking that there must be better way. A way that I could contribute creatively and productively to my profession while still being available to provide my family with a stable, loving and inspiring home. There had to be a better way for all of us trying to juggle parenthood and our careers.


When I got pregnant with my third daughter, the panic began to set in, "how could I possibly continue to juggle a full-time job with a new baby on my hands, a husband who travels, and two beautiful and very busy little girls." I decided that consulting was the answer. This would allow me to work more flexible hours, which would allow me to spend more time with my girls. Quickly, I lined up three clients and I was off to the races making money at night and spending my days with my new baby girl.

Soon, however, just consulting was not enough for me. It wasn't the challenge I needed and it kept me too isolated from my peers and other professionals. I needed to be doing something more, creating something bigger and more meaningful. That's when it all became clear to me. I remembered an idea I had brainstormed with a colleague of mine many years before -- what I needed to do was create a company that helped professional woman find part-time and/or short-term work arrangements.

Professional issue


Starting the Round Peg Group was not an easy road. I started it with a partner, a friend (the one whom I had brainstormed with all those years ago) -- someone I trusted and who I thought I shared a common vision with. Less than one year into the partnership, it was clear that our goals -- both personally and professionally were not in sync. So that meant I had to start over. New clients, new materials, and new services. After putting in more than a year of sweat equity, I was starting over.

In hindsight, it was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to me. Because now I had to own the idea myself. I had to make it mine and really think about what I wanted to do with my company and my dream. For the six months after I bought out my partner, I began to reshape Round Peg, seeking input from my consultants and reaching out to previous clients to explore the business concept further and gain insight into what they wanted and needed.

Within a year I was back up and running, with renewed energy and focus. I had taken the sound advice of my friend and mentor (a successful female business owner). She told me that when things got tough and I didn't want to deal with something that I just needed to "lean in" and tackle the challenge; and that I would find that it was not as hard as I thought it would be. She was right. It was challenging, rewarding, frightening, difficult and inspiring -- but in the end, it was not as hard as I imagined.


Personal issue


To my surprise, the company began to grow. My client base was expanding and my consultant pool was growing. I had attended every networking event imaginable, had fielded hundreds of business development meetings and had screened over 200 consultants. I was ready for the next phase for Round Peg.

That is when the news came. My younger sister had cancer -- breast cancer at 37 years old. I found myself walking in daze, not being able to work or concentrate. Not understanding the reasons behind such an unfair diagnosis. She has two kids of her own -- they are young and beautiful and needed their mother. It was an injustice. I wanted so desperately to help her -- but I was more than three hours away, how could I possibly be there for her?

But then it struck me -- this is why I own my own business -- to be there for my family. So, for the next year, family came first. Bella (my youngest) and I traveled up to see my sister in Philly and care for her and her family. In February, when my father needed triple bypass, Bella and I traveled to Atlanta and helped out my parents. After that, it was back on the road to Philly. In between it all, we were home with the family and I worked whenever I could as hard as I could. And I prayed -- I prayed lot. I prayed that the business would survive my neglect. I prayed my sister would survive. I prayed that my family would not suffer from my absence.

In the middle of it all, through all of the chaos and pain, business started rolling in. I could scarcely believe it -- since I had done no BD for six months. Yet somehow, I had more clients than ever before. All of the hard work and effort I had put in before was finally paying off. With the advent of 2010, The Round Peg Group is poised to double its revenue for the third year in a row. Proving that you can indeed build a company and put your family first, all at the same time.

Now I am thinking about what is next for my company, and how will I continue to challenge myself and help other professionals find a way to balance work and life. What can I do now to move my dream forward?