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Gemma Broekhuis, founder of Milestone, the gift and card company, on the value of slowing down to appreciate small moments that make up life’s grand journey.
Dear Gemma, The year is 2010. You’re living in Amsterdam with your husband, and you’re about to become first-time parents to a little boy you’ll name Mikkel. You don’t know it yet, but you’ll have two more boys and be a family of five just three years from now. The journey into motherhood introduces you to amazing highs and hectic lows—everyday life feels multiplied by 10,000! You have no idea what you’re doing one moment to the next. But that’s the life of a parent. Be patient, you’ll become a master of multitasking, and it’ll eventually all work out.
To make life more challenging, however, you’re still grieving the loss of your mother a few months prior. You miss her dearly, and you’re devastated she’s not there when you become a mother. It’ll take a few years—yes, a few years—for missing her to become (somewhat) tolerable. I know you’re always rushing on to the next task and family moment, but some things shouldn’t be fast-forwarded—a life lesson that will take you time to learn.
Being pregnant with your first son is the reason you decide to leave the advertising company you co-founded. You felt you’ve been moving in the wrong direction career-wise for a while now, and with Mikkel on his way, you listen to your gut and get off this track while you still can. It’s unsettling at first. With no immediate job or plan you don’t really enjoy your newfound freedom, rather you get restless and even feel lost at times. But being a full-time mother opens you up to new ideas, like the one that will occur in January 2011. Mikkel is on his playmat as you prepare him for a bath. Suddenly, he rolls over—all by himself! It’s a major life milestone! (Remember the last word of that sentence.) You’re giddy with pride and realize this is a moment you want to remember—forever. You grab a notecard and write, ‘I just rolled over for the first time. —Jan. 12, 2011’ and place it next to Mikkel. You snap a photo, immediately cherishing its value. And then you think, ‘Maybe other parents would appreciate this, too.’
It’s your epiphany for Milestone. You ponder a number of fancy gizmos to help parents cherish childhood memories and milestones, but simplicity prevails: you create a set of 30 pretty cards in a tidy box. Each card is labeled with a special moment of a baby’s first year. You discover a wonderful artist based in Australia, Beci Orpin, who creates the artwork. It takes a little over a year to launch the first sets—a startup all self-financed. “You could buy a car instead,” says your first printer. (Don’t fret, you’ll outgrow that printer a few months later.) Over the ensuing few years, your family grows (Frey and Rover are born) alongside your business. Milestone expands rapidly to include more products and distribution in more countries.
Life is hectic and fast-paced. As a mother of three young children, which means operating in survival mode 90 percent of the time, it prepares you for anything the business world throws at you. At times, however, family and business snowball and you are operating at breakneck speed, 24-7. You’ll be processing orders in bed with your second son next to you, who was born just nine hours earlier! You’re always rushing. Rushing to get home, rushing to take care of the kids, rushing to squeeze in a Pilates lesson, rushing to find new ways to grow your business…Just because you can keep pace with it all, doesn’t mean you always should. Please learn to slow down and smell the proverbial roses now and then.
Just like the company you created from scratch, appreciate special moments for just how amazing they are. Slow down when you’re cooking, putting the kids to bed, out with just your husband, travelling to trade shows and creating new products. Remember to appreciate and enjoy it all. You’ve always thought being fast is a strength, but you’ll discover it’s not. Instead of saving time, it’s costing you what raced past. My greatest piece of advice, should you choose to accept it, is to live in the present. Stand still once in a while, take a deep breath and ground yourself in the here and now. It’ll make a profound and rewarding difference.