I’m asked all the time why I write about “this stuff”. “This stuff” meaning the intersection of being a mother, a parent, and a women in the workplace. And while I sort of covered this in a previous post, what I’m realizing is that people are actually asking what led me to write about this stuff: what’s my story?
So, okay. I guess I’ve been sharing my (sometimes controversial) thoughts with you all for a while, so I should be comfortable sharing my story on how I got here. Well, it starts like many great stories. With…
Once upon a time, I was at work in a previous position, enjoying what I was doing, but slightly bored that I had done the same type of job for nearly three years. I had a three-year old son, a six month old baby, and an incredibly supportive manager and management team that valued my work and gave me the space to get it done the way I wanted – so I could have a rich life at home with my kids. I thought I had it all – a great paying, full time job and a wonderful home life. But something was nagging me. I may have been in a great job that I was happy with, albeit a little bored, but shouldn’t I be doing more? Shouldn’t I be out there, aggressively asking for more responsibility and the chance to prove myself for a senior management position?
At first, I thought – No, that makes no sense. You have small children. Those are big roles, are you sure you want to do that? But then I thought – Of course I do! This is my “Lean In” moment, find a juicy role and get yourself into it. You’re doing fine now, you can hire more help, you can figure it out once you have the role. My line of thinking had, no doubt, been influenced by much of the advice floating out there that women aren’t in senior roles because we don’t actively seek and ask for them. When the opportunity was presented to me to do something ground breaking, phenomenal, and extremely difficult for my company, I felt I had an obligation to all those working women out there to take it and soar. What I didn’t think about was: What if it’s really not the right time for me? Am I willing to make the sacrifices I’m about to make? Can I even really afford, financially, to take on a bigger role? What will this mean for me – my health, my quality of life, my family? And is the advice to charge ahead and expect or demand that the position and business adjust to my personal needs really something that’s feasible with this job?
Sacrifices are necessary as we pursue new things and new passions at work, but I really wish I had better thought through what those sacrifices meant as I embarked on my new role. The role was exciting but all-encompassing. I was doing things that had never been done before, and because it was a new business for the company, with fewer resources than I was used to. I started working early mornings before the kids woke up, and every night, including weekends once the kids went down. My life evolved from having a fun job with flexibility, to having a crazy job with limited flexibility and a ton of demands. I found myself being extremely short-tempered and exhausted, trying to manage through all the demands of what I was trying to achieve at work with raising young, unpredictable, playful children. Sadly, there were many nights where all I wanted was for them to go to bed so that I could get back to the ever mounting amounts of work that urgently needed my attention.
The work culture was brutal. On my new team, I didn’t have sponsors and the politics were nearly insurmountable. When travel started creaping in, I ended up hiring even more household help. I was exhausted all the time, and I did nothing but work and take care of children. I started having to take money out of savings to make up for the amount of childcare I needed to manage the 1 hour each way commute to work (on a good day), pick ups, drop offs, and evening work. I was net negative economically from taking on this position, and I didn’t see any way to get out of it.
I finally decided that it just wasn’t for me. I stopped working so much, I focused on only one or two priorities and made sure to do them well. I gave my evenings back to myself, and stopped working on weekends. I started to feel better, but sadly my job started to suffer. There was just too much that had to be done. They needed someone who could really dedicate their whole attention and life to that position. They probably also needed someone who was more committed to being at the company to master the politics and find a way to shine through. I worked hard during the day, but I drew a line on when that was over and I went home.
The whole time I was in that position, all the advice I heard or read just made me feel worse. Other people were doing it? What was wrong with me? Why was this so hard? Why isn’t my husband helping more? Did I marry the right person? And I was lucky enough to be granted a “lean in” moment. Many women out there may work their entire careers and never have that opportunity.
Hindsight is 20/20. It may have been my “Lean In” moment; I may have been intrigued and excited, but all the advice out there did not give me the frameworks or the perspective to really analyze if that was the right position to go for. I’ve realized a number of things:
- A lot of the advice being doled out to working women, especially parents, can make us feel worse, not better.
- Don’t just take an opportunity and think that it’s all going to work out because you want it to.
- Sponsorship counts, all the time, no matter what.
- The tradeoffs of certain high level positions may not be worth the opportunity costs.
- Even when your significant other is picking up 50% at home, you’ve still got to do 50%.
- There are economics involved with promotions (both to get one and to keep one) – and they don’t always make sense.
- Some senior women don’t want to share how luck, or right-place-right-time, or even how much of a role sponsorship played in their ascent.
- Having a child before you’re in leadership can really impact your career trajectory.
- You have control of some things, but there is a lot you do not have control of in life and career.
- There is nothing wrong with loving your family more than your career.
I found a position where I’m much happier. But I started this blog to share my thoughts, my ideas, and to offer more practical and pragmatic advice to other working parents out there. We’re doing so much, and we’re doing it in a system that wasn’t made for us to be full-time parents and full-time employees. We need more than hindsight advice that insists we have control over things that we just do not always have control over. We need practical advice and we don’t want to feel judged because we aren’t able to create the conditions needed to rise to senior ranks or even to just “have it all”.
It’s hard to think back on my story. Admittedly, I’m in such a better place these days. But I wanted to share it with you because it helps to answer the question “Why do I write about this stuff?”. And I hope it makes you feel better about your own path.
Have Kids, Will Work