Maybe you’ve heard Jenné Lombardo’s name amidst the constant cloud of conversation that circulates downtown New York City. Maybe you came across her cameo in #GIRLBOSS; a handpicked ally to the aforementioned movement. Or maybe you’ve just seen her Instagram and have already made up your mind. But meeting Jenné and hearing her talk about her 3 kids (8, 7 and 5-years-old), her self-awareness and her struggles; you’ll realize that you’ve only caught a glimpse—a bright brief flash—of who she truly is. There is a surprising softness to Jenné that blows a humble breeze to an otherwise fiery persona. In person, without the glare of the spotlight, she is easier to really see.

“I don’t know if my sense of faith has always been with me. As I’ve gotten older, the more I seem like an absolute walking contradiction of myself—from what I wear, to how I’m absolutely fearless in some areas of my life and and completely fearful in others. Work is something I have never been fearful of. I’m largely driven by intuition and because of that I feel very confident and courageous in the decisions that I make on a day-to-day basis. Part of what we do at The Terminal is help brands maintain their relevancy. In order for there to be any reward or success in that, you have to take risks. Without risks there is no change, so I’m paid to help make changes, not maintain status quo. So perhaps that’s where my courage comes from, in that I’m paid to be a disrupter. It’s common for things not to work out. We’re all navigating new terrain, and as marketers in particular, were constantly trying to re-engage with the next generation—and the one that falls before that, and the one that falls before that. We’re trying to communicate a product to a generation who have hardly had a second to define themselves in the first place, so there’s naturally a lot of trial and error that comes with that. That rhythm of trial and error exists in all areas of my life.

I can honestly say I don’t know what I’m doing 9 times out of 10.

What I do know is that I’m doing the best that I can and the best that I know how to. I also have a great support system that helps and allows me to constantly continue on and figure out my path. I’m learning to overcome fears that I have, but being emotionally vulnerable is always scary. Enlisting and trusting somebody with my heart and other personal elements of myself is something I’m very protective over. Of course, being a mom you have fears with everything because you love your kids so much. You would never want anything to happen to separate that.

I think there’s a common misconception when you read interviews with people, you read about peoples lives, you follow them on Instagram—you think they’ve got it all figured out. That’s bullshit—they’re just not admitting the full picture. If they do have it figured out that’s great, but in the times I feel like that, I’ll jump to—OK, so what’s next? How can I constantly evolve and grow and learn from the past, and why might I be making the same mistakes over and over again? I used to look at my parents and think, mom and papa know exactly what they are doing. It was only when I got older my mom was like, “I was winging it.” Having kids, I now I realize that.

It’s not as if there’s this one moment in life when all of a sudden you know exactly how to be a mom, or know exactly how to be a business woman.

You definitely get better as you mature, but you will never have all the answers. Being thankful allows you to be at peace with this a bit more. I wake up grateful every day that I have the opportunity to keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t think anyone should ever get too comfortable, because when you get too comfortable you stop growing. Once you start to feel safe, that’s when the challenges stop. We’ve always got to have something that continues to push us a little harder. Honesty is also hugely important to me. I particularly value being honest with yourself, in that it allows you to have a better understanding of your confidence and self-worth.

You need to recognize when there’s a situation in life that isn’t right for you—you need to be able to ask yourself those hard questions. Why am I feeling this way? Am I satisfied? Then having the confidence and courage to move on. I’m very self-aware, but that doesn’t make it easy and that doesn’t mean that I always understand. It doesn’t mean I am accepting of those answers, or that it makes any less harder.

Moving on is no longer a choice when you have children, it’s a necessity.

As a mother, I don’t have the option to not succeed. I don’t have that luxury to fail because I have 3 people that rely on me. If I’m not doing well, if I’m not at my best, then I can’t possibly give them what they need. There are definitely pressures in being able to provide for my family. First and foremost, I need to make sure they’re taken care of. In terms of motherhood, I’m one of 5 so I don’t understand not being in chaos. My formidable years were beautifully chaotic. Everyone is shocked to hear me say it, but I’d like to have 1 or 2 more kids. It’s fun that way. At the same time I’m very protective of my personal space. I don’t like anyone touching my stuff, I like everything neat and organized. The kids are pretty good about that. My one son gets up, makes the bed, brushes his teeth and I’m like, you are so your mother.

I think my kids have a pretty balanced upbringing. I have them every other week—they live in the city with me, and in Brooklyn with their dad who I’m friendly with. In summer they get to go to Montauk and have fun. My whole family lives in Brooklyn, so they’re surrounded by people who love them, and who are very helpful to me. Despite what might be a non-traditional situation, I still very much value tradition. I seek it and want it very very much so. But like any of us with anything, just because we want it doesn’t mean we have it. My parents have been married for almost 50 years, so I’m a product of that. I put a lot of pressure on myself, as do women in general. We’re nurturers and providers by nature, and we feel good when everyone around us feels good. But then you look around at everyone around you doing OK, and you think hold on, what about myself? We’re always over-extended and over-exhausted and it’s just not fair.

I think it’s OK to say, I can’t do this.

Some weeks I’m a really great, present mom. Other weeks I’m busy in other aspects of my life. You have to prioritize and know what your personal bandwidth is and stop pretending. In NYC in particular everyone is overly ambitious—maybe it’s just because I’m getting older, but I wouldn’t mind for everyone to take it down a few notches and chill out for a second. I get asked all the time how I do it all and my answer is that I don’t. I’m just a nice girl from Ohio still trying to make it in NYC, the same as when I moved here. My apartment’s just a bit bigger.

I’ve always believed that it’s up to you to create your place in the world; it’s something you need to work for. I’ve always had a seat at the table as much as I’ve earned the right to be there. The only reason that I might not have a seat at that table is because I wasn’t ready to be there and participate. I believe in taking that responsibility upon myself to earn that place, rather than letting the world decide for me.”

Jenné’s #OKREALTALK Tips

  • No risks = no change.
  • We are all figuring it out along the way.
  • Ask yourself the hard questions.
  • Earn your seat at the table.

i. @jennelombardo

t. @jennelombardo

Photography by Amelia Alpaugh

As told to Amy Woodside, July 2014