Learning to Lean In

Six months ago, to our surprise and joy, my husband and I discovered we would be bringing our third child into this world.  I had just finished my MBA (we actually found out we were pregnant the night before I walked for graduation…talk about one door shutting and another opening!), and I was laser-focused on my next career steps.

My first instinct was to take a step back from my career, to back off from my goals, to wait until after pregnancy, until after maternity leave, until after the re-balancing of life following our newest addition.   I didn’t want to, but rather thought I had to, lean back from my career in order to be a good mom, a good wife, to take care of my family.

I was wrong.

I shared my thoughts with a good friend.  I had been vying for a promotion, and I thought I should bow out now.  I thought that I couldn’t balance both a pregnancy and growth in my career.  Thankfully my friend said, “Don’t do that…don’t leave before you leave.  Lean in.”  My friend, a career-loving parent herself, had started reading Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg.  I know this book impacted my friend, but the timing of her advice and the introduction of this thought into my life in that particular moment was life-changing.

img_6229

I listened to my friend.  I did not slow down.  I did not lean back.  I pressed full force on the gas pedal, and I leaned all the way in.  I was sick, physically sick from the pregnancy.  I could barely eat for the first few months due to crazy food aversions and nauseousness.  I was utterly exhausted all day every day due to anemia brought on by my pregnancy.  I was stressed out between prepping for job interviews, prepping my current role for the next person, showing up as my best self every day for my current job, caring for my two children and husband, and running my household…and dealing with pregnancy hormones (you mommas know what I’m talking about!).  And in that time, we faced a serious illness within our family.

So here I am, six months down the road.  I pushed forward when things were not ideal, and I got the promotion I have been working toward for years…I got my dream job.

The stress isn’t gone, if anything it is now crunch time.  Baby three is due in eight weeks and four days (but who’s counting???).  In those eight weeks, I will train my replacement for my current role, I have taken on a special project within my company that will take place in two weeks (another lean in moment for me), I am continuing to work to excel in my current role until I move, I am beginning to train and work in my new role…and I’m nearly eight months pregnant.  Let’s not forget that I have a family and household to care for, and we’ve tried to make the most of this fall season with Halloween fun, field trips, lots of quality time, prepping the house for baby, along with the usual homework, laundry, baths and daily routine.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m totally looking forward to my maternity leave with my new little nugget.  I’m counting the moments until my sole focus is my newborn and my other two children, until I can be just mom for a bit.  But also, and this part is so vitally important, I am already looking forward to going into my dream career when I return to work after maternity leave.  I’m so thankful that I’ve leaned in to arrive at a place that I am truly excited and ecstatic to be.  I’m so thankful that I’ll be doing work that I find meaningful, setting an example for my children that hard work pays off in the best of ways, that I’ll be providing for my family while fulfilling my own individual goals.

I thought this morning about what my life would look like right now if I had leaned back in that moment six months ago.  I enjoy my current career, and I would still be thankful to work for a company that I believe in and within a role that is challenging every day.  But I would also be watching someone else step into the promotion that I know I am made for…and it would hurt.  I would not have taken on the special project that I’ll be completing in two weeks, and I’d be watching someone else in my spot…and again, it would hurt.  It would hurt for my pride, but it would hurt more so for the opportunity lost.  When I factor in the last six months I’ve spent full-throttle careening toward my goals, the next two months executing the final steps before baby, and my upcoming maternity leave, I would have missed nearly a year out of my career progression had I not leaned in.  A year of my career would have been stopped, stalled, at a standstill.

When we look at professional women and we wonder about things like the pay gap or the glass ceiling, I am convinced it is in these make-or-break moments in life that determine if we continue to advance or stall.  These are the moments that we easily fall behind our male peers, and while it is for a wonderful and fulfilling reason, it is difficult, if not impossible, to make up for.  It would have undoubtedly been easier to stall in this year’s time; however over my lifetime, I will look back and be so thankful for the advice I was given to “lean in” when I was afraid to push myself.

I’m aware that this decision is not for everyone, and I admire and understand those whose choices are different than mine.  Every decision we make has an immediate consequence on our lives and the lives of our family.  For me, as I know it would be for many of you, leaning in was the right decision.

I encourage you to not be afraid, to give every single opportunity your absolute best.  I encourage you to stay engaged in those things you are passionate for up until the very moment that you can’t; I encourage you to not leave before you leave.  There are times that our personal lives take center stage and balance between family and career is impossible, so our focus becomes 100% our family, and that is the way it should be…that is wonderful.  But when that time passes, when it again becomes possible to have our families and continue to pursue our personal goals, it’s important that we’ve given ourselves every option possible, so that the decision to be made, the going back to work, is a happy one, because we’re returning to a career we love, a career that we’ve spent every available moment working toward, a career that we didn’t leave prematurely.

I also encourage you to be the friend in my story. I’m so blessed to be surrounded by strong, career-loving parents.  These are the women and men that help me to see all that is possible in my own life.  Be that driving force, that role model, that source of inspiration when those around you struggle with the work-life balance dilemma.  Be that kind, supportive friend that understands the struggle, but won’t allow someone to quit their dreams.  Be the person not only to say, but to show, exactly what leaning in looks like.

 

 

Slay that Interview – Climb that Mountain

Career advancement can be a tricky thing, and for us 20- to 30-somethings, it can feel like an especially painful process. We can clearly see where we want to go, but the road to get there can seem confusing at the least, and absolutely Mt. St. Helens-type of daunting at the most.

altitude clouds cold daylight
Well, hello there, beautiful career mountain.

So how do we get there?  How do we scale the career mountain?  It’s as simple as to just keep taking that next best step. Be active and intentional with your future.  Actively identify what type of opportunity you are looking for next, take steps in the present to acquire the skills and education to qualify for that opportunity, and when the opportunity presents itself, jump at it.

It’s as simple as to just keep taking that next best step.

We often discount ourselves for opportunities when we do not yet check 100% of the qualifications for a position. Don’t make this mistake!  Take the risk, know your strengths and shortcomings, and apply anyway.

Interviewing and starting conversations with your peers and superiors about your interests and passions is an essential power move in reaching that end-goal. Interviews can be scary, and it’s hard to put yourself out there, but it is absolutely necessary.

So when that opportunity arrives, and you find yourself staring down the next hurdle on the path to your dream job, here’s some advice to slay that interview and present your best self:

  • Dress a level above what you imagine the position requires. If the position requires a casual professional dress, suit up (skirted suit/pants suit). If the position requires jeans, wear slacks or a dress/skirt. It sounds like the oldest advice in the book, but this one’s a keeper.  First impressions are lasting, and even when you’re interviewing with someone you’ve worked with before, allow them to see you in a new, more professional light.  On the same front, hair should be clean, and pulled up and back from your face. This allows the interviewer to clearly view your face and keeps you from playing/fussing with your hair if you get nervous.  Appearance matters.
  • Be on time! Show the interviewer that you respect their time, and when they’re ready to begin, you’re ready and waiting.
  • Stay positive! If your current position is a living hell, choose to take the high road. All of the negative things you feel and think about a current or past job may be true, but no prospective employer wants to hire an employee who slams their current employer. Be as honest as you can without going to a negative place. A great way to explain your move is to share that you’re looking for a better opportunity and/or striving for a position that aligns with your particular passions.
  • Study your prospective employer. Use the internet. Google, folks.  There is no excuse for not being fully educated about who the prospective company is, what their mission statement is, and what they’re looking to give back to their customers. Have a superior understanding of who it is that you’re trying to work for, and weave that information into your answers during the interview.
  • Practice. It feels awkward, but the old saying “practice makes perfect” is 100% truth when it comes to interviewing. Find a friend or colleague who will sit with you for an hour and give you interview questions. You may feel silly at first but you’ll warm up to the process quickly, and when the real deal comes, you’ll feel confident and prepared.
  • Breath.   It’s okay to pause and think during an interview. It’s difficult to fight the urge to immediately respond with a quick answer. But know that it is okay to pause, fill the space with a thoughtful “That’s a great question” comment, take a moment to think, and then give a great, well-thought-out answer versus a gut response.
  • Flip the interview.  Have a list of relevant questions prepared. Remember, you’re interviewing the employer to try to understand if the company is right for you, in just the same way that they are interviewing you. Think carefully about your short-term, intermediate-term and long-term goals, think about what you envision as success in the role, and ask questions that give you a better understanding as to whether this is the right opportunity to deliver your goals.
  • Last but certainly not least, the best advice for a great interview is to keep your focus on you and your strengths. Know what you have to offer. It’s easy to focus on the competition and try to combat the skills your competitor is bringing to the table. This is not a winning strategy. You can’t be something you’re not.  If you’re hired on the basis of portraying skills you don’t have, you’re unlikely to find long term success. Know what unique skills you can offer.  Understand and communicate what makes your background and perspective an ideal match for the position.  Rock that self-love, and show your interviewer why YOU truly are the best candidate.
woman wearing blue shawl lapel suit jacket
Yeah, you got this!

You will not receive every job opportunity you apply for. There will be times that there is a candidate who is simply better qualified for one reason or another. But if you can walk away from an interview knowing you have presented yourself at your absolute personal best, you have a success to tuck under your belt. With each interview you become more skilled and better prepared for the next great opportunity.

In the event that you don’t get the job, take the opportunity to learn from your interviewer what skills or traits they were looking for, and move forward with a focus to improve where needed. Every job interview is an opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself as a professional. Rejection is a necessary (albeit painful) part of growth. Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, reevaluate where you are today, and begin working toward your next goal with a more-seasoned and better-practiced self.

Every job interview is an opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself as a professional.

Even better…when you land the position, hit the role running, ready and capable, and give it your all!!! Here’s to all of the future success of the 20- to 30-somethings…see you at the top of the mountain!

Real Talk

Appearance.  We all appear to be so many things depending upon who is watching. To some, you may the positive one, the one who lifts others up, the one with just the right words when someone is in need. To some, maybe you’re the super mom/dad, volunteering at your kids’ school, finding time to make healthy lunches, covering homework duty, sports and bike rides. To others, you’re a doting wife or husband, supportive and caring and so in love…even after all these years. And still to others, you’re the consummate professional, striding forward in your career, furthering your education and experience, with your eyes on the prize.

beach ocean sand sea
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Some of these things might even be true about you. You may actually hit these marks most days. My hope is that you are happy and content and thankful in life. But know, that doesn’t mean you can’t also be sad, scared to death and heartbroken at the same time. And it’s okay….in fact, it is absolutely necessary and normal.

My hope is that your are happy and content and thankful in life. But know, that doesn’t mean you can’t also be sad, scared to death and heartbroken at the same time.

I feel the need to write this because the images the world sees, our outward appearance, the FB posts, the public persona, these are the things we choose to share of ourselves.  These tiny slivers of life are never our whole entire self. Not because we try to hide the ugly parts necessarily, but because it’s impossible to be so raw and vulnerable 100% of the time.

The problem this creates is that we as human beings begin to compare our entire lives, our whole entire raw selves, against what someone else chooses to present to the world. We hold our doubt, insecurity and failure apples up against someone else’s Instagram oranges. It’s not a fair comparison. It hurts our hearts and it holds us back from happiness.

We hold our doubt, insecurity and failure apples up against someone else’s Instagram oranges.

So let me give you some real talk about a moment in my life that the world didn’t see this week. I hit a point on Tuesday evening, after work, after the kids’ homework, after supper, after the dishes…I hit a moment when the stresses that I don’t share freely, the battles to just keep this life moving forward piled up for me.  Add to that the hormones of a 7-month pregnant lady, and I hit a moment when I didn’t want to hear the word “Mom” even one more time.  I didn’t want to make anyone ice cream or bathwater…I didn’t want to do anything but sit down and cry. So I did.

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Not at all glamorous. Not a proud moment. Not a strong moment. But a real moment. I stole away five minutes to cry and let myself feel exactly how I felt in the moment.

Here’s the deal. That five minutes and all of the difficult things that led me to that moment, are the things that the world doesn’t see. We all have these things, these heavy things, these hard seasons, but we seldom carry them into the light. This fact is why it’s so vital that we remember that what we see isn’t necessarily the full story. We get into dangerous territory when we begin to compare someone else’s sunshine story to our full time life. We all have troubles and difficulties…every single one of us.

Whatever you’re up against, chances are the person you admire has been there too. Take solace in knowing that there is no such thing as perfection. Perfection is an appearance, not a reality.  There is not a soul who has it all together. And let me tell you, if the queen of the PTA does in fact have it all perfectly together like she appears to, kudos to her…no need to bring her down.  However, the other 99% of the population will take comfort in the perfectly imperfect rest of us.

Perfection is an appearance, not a reality.

These hard moments build our character.  We are stronger for the battles we wage.  We are kinder for the hurt that we’ve felt.  We develop empathy and understanding and compassion.  And we learn to recognize how truly blessed we are for the good things in life.

img_2187

Let’s keep our heads up, be thankful, remind ourselves that our difficulties too shall pass, and never, ever compare ourselves to another human being. Imitation of another will rob us of our happiness. Only in embracing ourselves, our whole entire messy, ugly, crazy, perfectly designed, beautiful, awesome selves, can we find our path to fulfillment and happiness. So let’s do that…let’s get real and embrace our struggles as our path to becoming a better, stronger, more resilient person.