Samantha Ettus, THE PIE LIFE: A Guilt-Free Recipe For Success and Satisfaction

Samantha Ettus, THE PIE LIFE: A Guilt-Free Recipe For Success and Satisfaction

Zibby interviews Harvard MBA, best-selling author, and “queen of unsolicited advice” Samantha Ettus about her 2016 self-improvement guide for working women, The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe for Success and Satisfaction. Sam talks about the importance of nurturing every part of our lives (each of the “seven slices”), rejecting guilt and embracing messiness in motherhood, the myth of maternal instincts (dads can do everything moms can do!!), and her passion for empowering women and helping them achieve financial independence.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Sam. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” This is so exciting.

Samantha Ettus: I know. This is a long time coming. I’m so excited to be here.

Zibby: It’s so nice because I feel like — we were introduced through mutual friends. Of course, I have your books, but it took until now for me to read it. I’m really sorry. In the meantime, we’ve become friends, which has been so much fun. You’ve helped me so much with so many things, including prioritizing and all this stuff. Now that I read your book, I’m like, oh, you coach people. This is what you did. This is why you gave me such good advice.

Samantha: Yes, I’m the queen of unsolicited advice. I think I gave you a ton of advice on a walk when you weren’t even looking for it.

Zibby: But it totally helped. The Pie Life is your book. It came out in 2016 but is completely relevant today. Literally, in my head, I was thinking of four people I had to send it to immediately who must read it right away. So many of the things you touch on, and it’s really your — actually, I should let you explain. What is the book? You explain the book.

Samantha: That makes me so happy because I think in the book world, we get so obsessed with, what’s the newest book? Even with my own book, I sometimes get worried because it came out a few years ago. Is it still relevant? That’s really good to hear. Thank you. I actually wrote the book because I felt like we were in an era of so much negativity about how women were talking about managing their professional and personal lives. It was in the age of Anne-Marie Slaughter, whose cover article in The Atlantic Monthly made such waves. It was, women can’t have it all. It was so much negativity. I felt like there were three frameworks women kept being sent. One was the idea of juggling. Anyone who’s ever tried to have a conference call with a baby or a dog in the room knows that’s not possible. One was having it all. We actually can’t think of any man or woman who technically has it all. The other, it was the work-life balance scale. Anyone who has a full-time job or a real career knows that you can’t spend equal time at work and at home and be successful. It was all these really negative frameworks. I had been managing my professional and personal life successfully. I had a lot of women friends who had been doing it and were really happy. At that point, I’d worked with thousands of women. I knew that the happiest and most fulfilled were those that allowed themselves to participate in their own professional goals. I decided I needed to write a book on how to thrive in both areas.

Zibby: Amazing. You have a quote where you say, “It’s not selfish to have friends when you’re a busy working parent. It’s essential.” You have advice where, “You’re not aiming to win the face time game in parenting. The best parenting comes through in the quality moments.” You systematically go through all the parts of your life and talk about why it’s okay and why it’s imperative for women to work, to own their passions, how to be great parents along the way, and how to use hobbies and relationships and sex and everything in your life to create this pie where you slice it up and have a better life. I didn’t explain that very well. Maybe you should talk about your system.

Samantha: When I grew up, I had a very unusual childhood. I almost had a full-time job as a tennis player. I would go to school. I grew up in New York City. There was really no competitive tennis players in New York City, so I had to drive outside of New York every day for an hour to go to tennis after school. I still went to a very competitive school where there was three hours of homework a day. I didn’t really go to parties. I was always playing tennis. On the weekends, I had tournaments every weekend. I had to be very disciplined. I still had friends. I still had some semblance of a social life. I remember laying in bed at night and thinking about my life in categories. I think the categories at the time were tennis, school, boys, relationship with my parents, family, and friends. My friends were really important to me. I would be very, very deliberate and disciplined about how I organized my day so that I had a couple of hours or an hour to talk to my friends at night after I did my homework. I always thought of my life in those categories. When I was managing my own very crazy professional and personal life with three kids and a husband and a career and all sorts of other things, I started cutting my life into slices.

When I did all this work with all of these women who were managing a ton of things, I realized that we all have things that fall into seven slices. Those seven slices are our careers, our families, our romance or our quest to find one, our friends, our hobbies, our health, and our community. Everything kind of falls into one of those categories. The idea is not to beat yourself up on how much time you’re spending in each slice. You’re probably pretty logical and pretty rational about how you’re dividing your time right now. The idea is to make goals for each slice so that they exist. Even if you are a new mom and you’re so busy and you’re sleepless and you have a career and you have a partner, you can still make time for a hobby, even two hours a month, because that will really make you happy. You can still go out for that margarita with a friend. Those are the kinds of things that actually make you better at your job as a mom, make you a better partner, make you better at your work. So often, especially as women, we talk about things in a suffering kind of way. The more I suffer, the better off my kids will be. It’s actually quite the opposite. The more you feed your soul, the happier you are, the happier your kids will be, and the more you can give to the other people that you love in your life.

Zibby: It’s so true. In terms of timeliness, this whole pivoting moment where women have the ability to really pursue what they love, especially if their kids are empty nesting or even if they’re going to kindergarten and they suddenly have all this time, they’re like, okay, now what? I had a coffee with a really, really smart, amazing girlfriend who was like, “It’s been so long. I’ve lost my confidence in the work world. Maybe I can’t go back.” I’m like, “Of course, you can.” She’s one of the many people I want to give this book to. You give everybody a roadmap where you have to start looking into yourself. What are my goals? What do I want to achieve? Little quizzes. What is meaningful to me in my life? which I think is such a great way to ground the reader and the person and figure out, what is next? What do I love? What am I passionate about? Where do I get in my flow state? I know other people and books come at this, but there’s something about you sharing your story the whole time and all these little anecdotes from your life and your friends’ lives and cofounder and people you’ve coached that makes it like, oh, this woman is talking to me and giving me advice. Particularly because I know you, I’m like, oh, my gosh, thank you. This is so great.

Samantha: Thank you. Obviously, one of my goals is, if I can reach someone before they’ve made that choice of leaving completely, I’d like to save them from that decision. Ninety percent of women who leave the workforce at some point want to get back in. Only fifty percent of women are able to ever get a full-time position again after they leave for just two years. That’s a really scary stat that we don’t share with women. We never look at a man who’s going to have a baby with his wife and say, are you going to focus on your baby’s feeding and sleeping schedule and take a couple years off, or are you going to go back to work? We don’t say that to men. It’s really unfair to put that guilt when a woman is pregnant immediately into her head. There’s so many ways to keep that pilot light on and to keep your foot in the workforce. It leads to a much more fulfilling future. Economically, by the way, most people can’t afford to be in a situation where they don’t eventually get a full-time job again. It puts your family, in most people’s cases, in a really risky financial position to leave completely.

What ends up happening — I see this all the time. Because the cost of childcare is so exorbitant, and outrageous that we don’t have universal childcare, it makes it so that often, couples do what I call faulty math. They will look at the lesser-earning spouse’s income for one year and say, oh, my gosh, that’s the same as the nanny or same as day care. You leave your job. You’ll go back to it later. The problem is, you really need to compare those five years where you really need intense childcare until your child’s in full-time kindergarten to your future earnings. That’s really what it’s about. I really deeply believe that we’ve somehow along the way lost the idea that our lives are supposed to be fun and exciting. I know that you, Zibby, and I share that, that wanting to say yes. We say yes. Many people in our lives probably think we say yes to too many things. I would also say that we have really fun, full lives. I think that that is more important than all of the rhetoric around, say no more often. Cancel your plans. Limit the things you do. Really, when you think about the most fulfilled people in the world and the ones you’re idolizing or the ones that you admire, they’re out there doing things and living every day. They really spend very little time feeling guilty about it.

Zibby: There was a girlfriend I had a few years ago. We had coffee one day, or lunch or something. I’m like, “What’s new with you?” She’s like, “I’ve decided not to feel guilty anymore.” She was a working mom. She was commuting in from Westchester or somewhere. She’s like, “My kids, they’re great. They’re so lucky. I’m done. I’m not feeling guilty.” I’m like, “What? That’s an option?” You put it in your book so well too; A, how we’re supposed to think about guilt in general, and B, that each scenario where we are in trouble does not mean we should feel guilty about our past decisions. Your whole concept of, “Okay, this is a messy moment. This doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be working. This doesn’t mean I’m not being a good mom. It’s just a messy moment in my life that this event is on this day,” it’s a way of reframing life, which I find incredibly helpful.

Samantha: The reason I love the analogy of the pie is because the most delicious pies are not the store-bought, perfect-looking ones. They’re the messy, gooey, dripping-over-the-side ones. I believe that that’s what our lives are supposed to look like. My morning this morning was a shit show. I don’t know about yours. I’m sure on social media, it doesn’t look like a shit show. It looks perfect. Everyone’s like, oh, my god, how does she do it? How does she do it? She does it with such a mess. My leg is fully scratched from this other dog this morning because my dog got in a thing with this other dog. I had three kids. My husband’s out of town. I had to walk the dog. I have someone coming in from out of town. I have a crisis at work. That’s how all of our lives are. Sometimes we’ll see another mom at drop-off. We’ll say, how are you? She’ll be like, great. You’re like, why are they all great? I’m feeling like crap. It’s because no one’s telling the truth. I think it’s actually much better to be turning your bad moments into stories. That’s kind of how I think about life. I think that if you expect it to be a little bit messy, you can laugh at it. If you expect it to be perfect, you’re going to be endlessly disappointed and angry with yourself.

Zibby: There was another piece of the book — there were so many, but one piece I can’t stop thinking about. One of the people you coached when you did your radio show was upset because she only spent ten hours a week with her kids because she was working all the rest of it. You got her to reframe that and think, wow, you spend ten hours uninterrupted with complete focused attention. That’s actually really good. It got me thinking. I’m certainly with my kids way more than ten hours a week. I’m with them a lot when they’re not in school, especially in the summer. How often am I with them completely focused on them without getting distracted or doing something else or checking my emails or “Hold on, I just have to do this”? Could you build in ten uninterrupted hours a week on your schedule? Maybe that sounds bad, but that’s a lot of time to not have any distractions.

Samantha: No, it doesn’t sound bad. Think of how many moms or dads can say that when they’re with their kids — even if they’re with them for an entire day, how much of that day were they not checking their phone, were they literally looking into their kids’ eyes and listening to what they said? It is so rare. By the way, that’s rare for all of us these days. I feel like in many ways, my oldest child was so lucky, and even my two oldest were so lucky, because they didn’t grow up in the era when we were strolling them with smartphones in our hands. How rare is it to see a parent of a young kid without putting a device in their hands to calm them down or to shut them up or whatever? It’s a very different world than we all grew up in. If you think about the time you spent with your spouse, if they were always a little bit distracted, you never feel seen and heard. When you’re with your friend, if they’re checking their phone every five seconds, you don’t feel like you actually had dinner with your friend. You felt like you had dinner with their phone or a shadow of who they were.

I always say I hate going to Disney World or Disneyland because I hate how people treat their own children. It breaks my heart. So often, you’ll see someone get frustrated with their kid because they’re tugging on them. They’re like, okay, enough, stop trying to get my attention. They’re trying to get their attention because they’re not getting enough attention. I think when you turn it around and say, how can I make my child feel seen every day? the bottom line is — you have four kids. I have three kids. If I have a child who gets twenty minutes of my undivided attention with them talking to me, then that’s awesome. I feel great about that. That doesn’t mean that’s all the time we’re spending together, but it’s hard to get one-on-one time with a kid. It’s hard to make someone feel heard and loved. I think that if that becomes the parenting goal rather than, they have to eat every single organic thing and they have to be at this practice and they have to — if you can make your kid feel awesome inside, that’s pretty much all that matters.

Zibby: Although, there are times where I have to finish something. They’re tugging on me. I think this is also the danger of trying to work from home or when the kids are not in school. You do have to finish things sometimes.

Samantha: You bring up such a good point. Especially in this new world where there are no offices, practically, anymore and everyone is working from home — it sounds like a parenting dream. It’s actually, for many parents, a nightmare because there’s people at home that want your attention. When my kids were really little, I had my radio show. I used to have a sign that they made. I purposely had them make the sign. They would put it on the door. I would say, “Here’s the sign. It’s going up on the door because Mommy’s busy for the next hour.” They respected it because they had been invested in making the sign. They knew what the sign was about. Even now, I think if your kids hear, “I am busy now, but at seven o’clock, we’re going to do something fun together,” they can then withstand that time where they have to be patient and wait for you. I think it’s all about, when are you going to be done? If you say to someone, “I’m going to be done in a half hour,” it’s a lot easier for them to stomach it.

Zibby: I do that too with my podcasts. I’m like, “Recording in progress. Goodbye.” They get it. The harder thing is the constant emails and texts and DMs. This has to be done. This is due. Where is that logo? All that stuff.

Samantha: I like to say the world is not flat. Sometimes when we get really overwhelmed or busy, it seems like everything is urgent. Everything needs to be done yesterday. At the end of the day, I always recommend to people that work with a lot of other people to say, these are the two hours. Six to eight are the hours I’m with my family. Unless it’s an emergency, I’m probably not going to be checking email. I’ll be back online after eight, or whatever it is. Figure out what works for your family. Do it that way. It’s definitely difficult. It’s a constant battle for all of us.

Zibby: Then you also say, stop apologizing to your kids, which I love because I feel like I’m always like, I’m sorry. I just have to do this one thing. I’m sorry. You’re like, we’re working. We’re doing this. We’ll be there soon. I think you have great parenting advice. You also have great partnership advice. I love your whole idea of this partner shift. You talk a lot about different relationships and unsupportive parents and what you can do to really partner with somebody and take care of your own relationship, which so many people are willing to put on the backburner.

Samantha: When we went to our new preschool in California from New York — from the very beginning, my husband, we’ve always been fifty/fifty partners. We both work full time. We’re both very, very passionate about our kids. From the beginning, we used to divide everything. He has these things. I have these things. I remember in the beginning of one of the years he was making the lunch boxes or something or taking our kids to school with a lunch, all these moms were like, oh, my god, you are so lucky. I was thinking to myself, it’s not luck. I wouldn’t have partnered with someone who wouldn’t want to do fifty percent of the load at home. That’s what I grew up with. I grew up with a really involved dad who would sew the buttons and iron the shirts and cook dinner even though he worked full time. That was always my expectation. I think that many of us suffer from low expectations of our partner. If you assume someone’s going to mess something up, they’re much more likely to mess it up. I think that we often talk to our partners as though they will be buffoons if they change a diaper or if they cook a dinner. That’s just not true and not fair. In fact, it’s funny that we’re doing this interview today because there was an incredible article today that I cannot stop thinking about in The New York Times about the fact that the idea of mothers being nurturing and having a maternal instinct is totally false and that it’s not scientifically proven. It was actually created by Darwin. It’s the craziest thing. It’s all a myth. That myth has created so much guilt and pain for so many parents.

Zibby: Wow. As I mentioned, you weave in a lot of your own story here. Towards the end of the book, you start talking about a season that was a little harder for you personally and how everything sort of raised its head — that’s not the right expression. Your dad had bladder cancer. You had shingles. Your kid had pneumonia. Then you end with your mother passing away really suddenly. My heart was breaking for you. I’m so sorry. How did you get through that season of really, really difficult times there?

Samantha: Wow, I’ve done so many interviews about this book, and no one’s ever asked me that question. I was certainly caught off guard by my mom getting sick. She got sick and then passed away within a five-week period, start to finish. She was perfectly healthy, or so we thought, and then one night had this mini stroke. It turned out to be lung cancer. It was super sudden. She was living in New York with my dad. I was, of course, with my little kids in California. It was interesting. There were so many other things going on, like the shingles. These things just happen. We’re all so stressed and busy. Then something like that happens. I’d had this funny experience when I moved where I had received this thing from school that said, who’s your emergency contact? We moved to Los Angeles with zero friends and zero family here. I literally had no friends, and so my emergency contact was thousands of miles away. I thought to myself, for the sake of my family, for our safety, I need to go out and make friends, which is kind of the last thing you want to be doing when you have a one-year-old, a three-year-old, and five-year-old and you’re not sleeping. I was like, I just have to put myself out there for their sake, not even for me.

I had built a really strong community here out of necessity. I totally put myself out there in the beginning. I remember for the Jewish holidays, we weren’t invited anywhere the first year. The second year, I decided to have this Yom Kippur break fast. I invited all the Jewish people I knew in the community and even people who weren’t Jews who might want to come. Thirty people came. Now we do the same break fast every year. It’s over a hundred people. We just keep inviting the same people every year and keep adding to the list. I created that. It wasn’t like I was sitting around the next year waiting for an invitation. I was like, all right, if I don’t get an invitation, I have to create one for other people because I’m sure there’s other people in the same boat as I am. Anyway, when my mom got sick, I had a very nice community here that could chip in and help my husband with the drop-offs and the pick-ups and the meals and all that stuff. Just to give an example — some people might disagree with this. In those five weeks — I have this tradition where I take each of my kids on a one-week trip internationally to the country of their choice, just the two of us, when they hit age ten. When Ella, my oldest, was ten, she and I planned this trip to London because that’s where she wanted to go. I had already planned out the entire trip. It was for one of the five weeks between my mom’s getting sick and dying. We still went on that London trip. I was totally present with her, totally engaged with her. Then when I came back and dropped her off in LA, I went back to New York. I didn’t cancel that trip. I think that most people would’ve probably canceled that trip. It was very important to me that life can’t stop. There’s always shitty things happening.

It’s one of the reasons that I’m so against when people are like, oh, my god, thank god that 2021 is over. That was the worst year. I had the worst week. This is going to be the worst week. This is going to be the worst day because my kid’s in a bad mood at ten AM. These are all moments. Life is a series of moments. One moment might be awful. The next moment’s going to be awesome. There is no perfect day. There is no perfect year. The same year my book came out is the year my mom died. I didn’t decide, this is going to be the worst year because this is the year my mom died. We’re not alive for that many years. If I throw the towel on an entire year, it’s not fair to the rest of the people in my life. Going on that trip with my daughter — she was super close to my mom. Then when my mom passed away, it was very hard for her. I look back and think part of the strength she had was that she’d had all this attention for one week just a couple of weeks before my mom died. I don’t mean to sound cold. Obviously, death and illness is such a serious thing. It crushed me in many ways. I just think that life is so complicated. All of our lives are complicated. I was able to come back and show my mom all the pictures from London before she passed away. That was how I managed it. There’s no perfect way.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, I love that so much. I’m so sorry you went through that. I’m so glad you had the moments with Ella and that she had what she needed. You’re really giving her that gift. I also love that — people do so quickly say — even this morning, I got off to a bad start. I’m like, oh, it’s just going to be one of those days, but it’s not. I’m having a wonderful moment right now. I’ve had, already, many wonderful moments today. You can get stuck in that narrative. Well, today’s a wash. This year’s a wash. Because of this, this is going to be a wash. It’s a reframe on how you live every day of your life, which is incredibly valuable. I don’t think that’s sounding flippant at all. I think it’s a coping mechanism that everybody desperately needs.

Samantha: That’s a great way to put it.

Zibby: Sam, you’re an entrepreneur. You have this amazing company that you’re running and all of this. You’re doing Park Place Payments. You also have this women leader, guru thing, coaching. Are you doing any more of that? Is there any way to scale what you started? So many people need that too. How do you keep up with both pieces of that?

Samantha: I was always obsessed with financial independence. Again, that was a legacy of my mom. She was very crass in her lessons to me. She’d be like, “You can’t sleep with money.” She was always giving very crass but very meaningful lessons. She would point out women in our apartment building and be like, “She hates her husband, but she has no money of her own. She can never leave him. Never be like her.” Because of that, I was always obsessed with financial independence. When I was on my book tour, I met so many women who got stuck in situations because they had no money of their own or they had no ability to get back into the workforce. That was actually what drove me to start my company. People are like, I don’t understand how you were this work-life balance guru and then you became a payments expert. I’m like, I am not a payments expert. I spend all day thinking about how I can make tons of women financially independent. That is so meaningful to me. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. We now have 1,300 account executives in all fifty states who sell to their local businesses. They sell payment processing, which is a really boring product, by the way, to their hair salon and their kids’ pediatrician and the businessowners they already know. It makes them supplemental income if they just want to have a stash for new shoes every month or it allows them to pay for their kids’ education based on how much they want to work. It’s all part of the gig economy. That is my full-time thing.

As part of that, I have a podcast that I cohost about extraordinary women. You’ve been on the podcast. It’s called “What’s Her Story?” I’ve always been obsessed with women’s stories. It frustrates me that we don’t hear more women’s stories or more of a variety of women’s stories. I still do a ton of public speaking and speak to a ton of big groups of women. I have a speaking engagement coming up in a week or two to a group of thousands of women. What’s really hard for me — it’s so funny. Zibby, you and I, I feel like, have gotten to each other super well in a very short period of time. This part of me, even just talking to you about all the advice and stuff, I love talking about this stuff. I feel like I can help so many people. It frustrates me that I can’t do more of it. I was just telling my kids the other day. I hosted this call-in radio show for so many years where people would call me with their problems. I loved it. If I could’ve done that twenty-four hours a day, that was my jam. Definitely, that part of me is not as fulfilled anymore. In five years when I sell my company or whatever, I will probably return a little more to that stuff.

Zibby: Amazing. Where can everybody find you? Where should they go? Where should they follow you? How do they find out about your speaking engagements and all of that?

Samantha: They can follow me on Instagram, @SamanthaEttus. Twitter, same thing. Facebook, same thing.

Zibby: Amazing. Thank you. Thank you for your book and your friendship and all the rest of it. It’s inspiring and really awesome. I know this book and hopefully this episode will help people out there who may be at a crossroads or may just need a finetuning of their life hacks or whatever it is. I know it really helped me. Thank you.

Samantha: Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Thanks.

THE PIE LIFE: A Guilt-Free Recipe For Success and Satisfaction by Samantha Ettus

Purchase your copy on Amazon and Bookshop!

Check out the merch on our new Bonfire shop here.

Subscribe to Zibby’s weekly newsletter here.

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts