My Definition of Me

My husband and I got engaged over 19 years ago. I was so thankful to hear that he had asked my father for permission to marry me before popping the question, not because I was my father’s property of course, but because I respected that my father had been first in my life up until that point, and now this man would be stepping into the role of the man that I would love above all others. I remember my then baby-faced fiancé telling me that my father had told him only, “She’s fragile, you have to take good care of her.”

At the time, and even today, that sentence makes my heart squeeze. I had lived on my own for a few years by that point. I had paid my own bills, got myself from point A to point B with no assistance, and often been the person others went to for guidance. I was a helper, and hardly saw myself as helpless, let alone fragile. But there was something in those words that resonated with me, and yes, at that time, maybe that’s what I wanted, someone I could be fragile with, someone who would take care of me.

Over the years, marriage didn’t go quite as I expected. My parents have a very traditional relationship, with my mom staying home and taking care of most of the domestic things, and my dad going to work and filling the provider role. My parents are attached at the hip, and it doesn’t matter if it’s grocery shopping or a trip to the BMV, they do it together. My in-laws on the other hand, each worked outside of the household and we’re relatively independent of each other, enjoying their own circles of friends and hobbies. Unknowingly, my husband and I each brought these very different expectations of what a normal marriage looks like into our own relationship. These definitions of a “normal” husband/wife were the rules we measured one another by.

There are so many moments I remember thinking of my husband, “You were told I was fragile. You said you’d take care of me. What is happening here?” The moments when he allowed me to mow our grass…shouldn’t he come and take the handle of this mower from my hands and let me go sip some lemonade??? The moment he didn’t hold the door for me, or left me to accomplish a task on my own, or when he expected me to assemble our furniture or shelving. I felt puzzled by this, and not because I didn’t want to do these things, but because I hadn’t expected I would have to. It wasn’t the story I had told myself about marriage.

There’s something else here too that was happening in my heart and mind. All my life other people had defined me. I had been defined by those around me as smart, as funny, as pretty, I was nice, I was the baby in my family, I was fragile. There were negative stories too, the “I wasn’t”. I wasn’t athletic, I wasn’t independent, I wasn’t brave…all of these definitions creeped in and made up the person I thought I had to be.

Our loved ones see a lot of who we are. They see us from a perspective that we don’t see ourselves, and often they are privy to strengths and weaknesses that we may not even be aware of. But even our mothers, fathers, siblings or spouses don’t see all of us. They view us through their own lenses, the lenses of their relationship with us, the lenses of their life experience and the lenses of their personality. There’s truly only one person on this planet that can define us, who we are, who we’re capable of being…and that’s ourselves. We decide who we will be.

34 years of life and 13 years of marriage have taught me a lot about…well, about me. While our spouses don’t define us, I truly believe God puts our partners in our lives for very particular reasons. They teach us so much about ourselves. My husband often believed I was stronger than I thought I was. He thought I was more capable than I had dreamed of. And although he was once told I was fragile, there are still times in our life together, that I wonder if he thinks I am unbreakable.

Through these circumstances, through his faith in me, his expectations of me, I have found some very powerful truths about myself. The woman I am today is very different than the girl that stood at the alter all those years ago. I may still be nice and funny and all of those things, but I am not fragile and I’m not interested in having anyone take care of me.

Through this life, through all of the hard, impossible, heartbreaking things, through all of the joyous, amazing, life changing moments, through all of the quiet, mundane, everyday happenings, I have found myself. My definition of me.

Strong. Stable. Sure. Powerful. Determined. Positive. Reserved. Loving. Kind. Happy.

I have also learned that my character summations of those around me don’t define them either. My husband, my children, my parents, my siblings, my friends….they’re capable of more than I could ever dream for them. I am careful of what labels I give them, knowing that I see only a small part of them. They are more than they show the world.

What if we gave every person this freedom? The freedom to define themselves. The freedom to be just who they are made to be. What if we each gave ourselves this freedom, a life for ourselves without definition from others? What could we be capable of?

I ask my readers, what label has someone, maybe even someone who loves you and means well, what label have they given you that you will shed and leave behind today? Begin today redefining yourself and become the person you are capable of being, not the person you feel you have to be.

From Entitled to Empowered

Have you ever been surprised by your own thoughts? I consider myself extremely self-aware, and all of the nerdy personality tests, that I love so very much, have said the same thing about me. But a few weeks ago, a thought leaped out of my mind with such veracity that I was totally and completely shocked.

My thought was this, “Why should I have to wash the dishes?” It could have been any thought really. Why do I have to fold the laundry? Why do I have to run the report? Why do I have to pick up grandma? It’s that routine thought that runs through our minds a million times every week as we exhaust ourselves beyond all repair, and we wonder why this responsibility or that task falls on our shoulders…and more importantly, we wonder why it doesn’t fall on our spouse’s shoulders, on our friends’ shoulders, or on co-worker Susie’s shoulders. These thoughts aren’t shocking, and I expect we all have them. At least I hope I’m not the only one.

The thought that I had directly after the “dishes” thought, the epiphany I had, was, “Why shouldn’t I have to wash the dishes?” How do I say this without offending every person who has ever thought, “Why should I have to?” I’m going to just put this out there. I realized I was making myself a victim. I had been indulging in a sort of entitlement that whispered in my ear that I deserved something more than simply taking care of my responsibilities, truth be told, my blessings. Those thoughts, those negative, whiny, victim-y thoughts did not serve me. They did not serve my marriage. They did not serve my relationships or my personal development. What those thoughts did is foster resentment inside of my soul. They made me feel like I was doing more than my fair share. They bolstered up my self-worth above those I love and depend upon in this life.

And then I had another thought. My idea was what would happen if I changed the thought, “Why should I?” to “I’m thankful I can.” What if I gave gratitude that this day allows me to wash the dishes and care for my home? What if I offered up gratitude every time I need to and am able to make my bed, help my kids with their homework, read a bedtime story, take out the trash, or let the dogs out. Something strange happened in that moment. I felt empowered. And it’s the feeling I’ve been left with ever since.

Photo by Carl Attard on Pexels.com

So many things become work because we feel like this or that isn’t our sole responsibility. That may be the truth. For those of us with a spouse, the dishes, the trash, the vacuuming, the billion things we do for our children…none of that is solely our responsibility. We are fortunate enough to have a partner to help us. But what I found in myself, as embarrassing as it is, is that I was spending too much time keeping a tally. Avoiding a chore or task because I hoped someone else (a-hem, husband?), would get to it first. Or avoiding it because I resented the fact that it is something he just doesn’t do. “Why should I have to if he doesn’t have to?” kind-of-type-of-thing.

This thinking is toxic. So I flipped the script in my own mind. I give grace to my partner, and I know he is doing the best he can to support our family and our life together. And I give thanks that, for today, I can wash the stinkin-unending-mindnumbing-stack of dishes.

Is this something you’ve experienced? Have you gone from entitled to empowered? We all have our own ways of thinking, and sometimes we get so wrapped up in the way we see the world, it can be difficult to gain perspective. For me, I’m finding again and again that gratitude is the true differentiator. If we can just be thankful for today, we start to see that even our most hated chore is also our blessing. Hello 17 loads of laundry that mean I have a happy family!

I Am Reminded

It is amazing that no matter how prepared I think I am, regardless of what I think life is going to bring me, what actually awaits me around the corner is a total and complete surprise.

I delivered my third child a little over seven weeks ago. Adding her to our sweet family was the happiest of all of my life’s surprises, but my pregnancy felt long and agonizing. I was so happy to have another child, but as much as I appreciated having a healthy pregnancy, I felt physically and emotionally drained…especially in the last three weeks (little Miss decided to come over a week late!). I was happy one moment, crying the next, and trying to continue to move forward in my career, while raising a six- and ten-year old. I was ready for this pregnancy to end so I could enjoy my maternity leave, and run immediately back to work.

I love my career, and I would readily call myself professionally driven. When I found out I was pregnant with my third child, one of my first thoughts was of how the timing of the pregnancy would affect my career. I had decided our baby-having days were over, and I was fully focused on advancing in the workplace. So when I became pregnant, I was ecstatic, but also sure that my career-focus would remain strictly in place. While on maternity leave, I had planned to read professional books, listen to my Human Resource podcasts, and go to several work-related meetings. I thought I knew how I would feel. Heck, I had done this “momming” thing twice before…right???? I should know what to expect.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time with my first two children…but I felt very ready to return to work when the time came. I missed the challenge that my career offered me, I missed the routine…probably most of all, I missed talking to real, adult people…I had some great conversations with my tiny little tots, but they didn’t add a lot of content aside from a few giggles, gurgles and bodily gas sounds. So I thought this maternity leave would be the same. I thought I remembered how I felt and what I thought. I was wrong.

I love my job, and I am so extremely grateful to be working where I am and in the position that I am in. I know that when I return to work, I will fall right back into that excitement and passion that drive me to do what I do professionally. But in this moment, this moment only a few short weeks out from dropping my baby off and leaving her every weekday for nine plus hours….for the rest of her life…I don’t feel excited. I feel sad. The overwhelming thought that I keep having is of the first time she opens her eyes from a nap, looking to see me, and I won’t be there, and the thought gives me a tremendous guilt.

And this experience…this mix of reality, joy and heartbreak, is exactly what it is like to be a mom. I’m wondering if maybe I did have these feelings with my first two children, and much like the pain of childbirth, those memories faded with time, and all I remember is the happiness of the time with my children and the satisfaction I found in my work when I returned. Could that be? How do we forget the feelings that come with this stage in life?

I am so passionate about supporting women, whether it be in the workplace, at home, or in the community. But I must admit that I had forgotten about the difficulties of pregnancy. I had forgotten about the physical exhaustion and sickness that comes with the first trimester. About the sleepless nights in the third trimester when you can’t roll over and have to take a bathroom break every thirty minutes. About the absolute inability to think of anything but your child’s arrival in those last few weeks before baby comes. And now, about the absolute joy of having a newborn…and the pain that comes from separating yourself from them to return to life….my life outside of being Mom.

I had no idea I still had nearly two weeks of pregnancy left!

Now, after this unexpected third maternity leave, I am reminded. I am reminded of the beauty and difficulty that comes with having children…actually birthing, nursing, diapering, rocking, bathing…whispering sweet songs to, stealing midnight smiles from, holding close to your chest, living in your bubble where all that exists is you and them for just a moment…I am reminded.

In a few weeks, I will return to work. I will return to my routine of working mom. I will find joy in my work as I always have. My baby won’t remember this time we’ve had together, so she won’t even know to miss me two weeks down the road. I will provide for my family financially. I will set an example for my children of what hard work and dedication can bring them. I will soak up every free moment that I have with them after work and on weekends and vacations. But I hope not to forget this feeling I am having right now…and all of the feelings I’ve had over the past year. I hope I can use these memories to lift up and support my co-workers as they go through the same moments, that I can be a better friend and mentor because of my experiences.

It is impossible to understand the feelings that a parent experiences until you’ve walked in their shoes…and even after that, it is easy to forget and minimize these moments. But these moments matter.

As for me, I hope to enjoy every sleepy grin, every midnight feeding, every unintelligible jabber while this time slips away. I will be thankful for this time that I never expected, my third maternity leave that I never hoped for, and now could not live without.

New Year, New Baby, New Body

It’s a new year, and the long awaited Baby Hafele has finally arrived!  Born on my birthday (one week plus one day overdue), Jema Mae made her arrival, and it couldn’t have been a more wonderful and beautiful experience.

Proud Mommy right here!

For those of you who follow my blog, you may recall that last year on my birthday in my Blog 5 Things I’m just so OVER in my 30s, I made a declaration  that for all future birthdays I was claiming my special day as my own, for just me. I’m going to channel Alanis Morissette for a moment and say, “Isn’t it just IRONIC???!!!!”  My birthday will never be about just me again…and to my own surprise, I’m ecstatic about it.

As I lay in the hospital in labor on my birthday, I looked at the clock and watched the hours go by….there goes the hour I had scheduled a massage for myself….there goes the hour that I had planned a much needed hair appointment.  Then at 3:11 p.m. a tiny little child was placed on my chest. She was crying, red-faced and covered in newborn goo, and she was so beautiful, so unbelievably precious, that I felt my heart explode in happiness.  There is not one thing better than the birth of your child, not a thing in this world that can compete with that incredible blessing.  So my birthdays will not be about me anymore; they will be about “we”, me and Jema, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Many joint birthday celebrations to come

I am now a week into being a mother of three.  It has been heartwarming to watch my older two children fall in love with their little sister, to watch their excitement in holding her each and every time, to listen to them read her stories, to watch our family grow in such a special way.  And my husband…is there anything that makes a wife love her husband more than watching him with their newborn baby?  I don’t think so.  I think the birth of a baby is a gift to a marriage, a reminder of the absolute best in our partner.  Believe me, there are difficulties…the trials of breastfeeding, the sleep schedule, the adjustment of the homework and cooking and cleaning…it’s not easy, but it is SO WORTH IT.

Now a week in, I’m beginning to shift gears to give some focus to my health and fitness.  My six-year old daughter is quite confused as to why I still look pregnant, which she has bluntly asked me about several times.  I can’t help but think of how many times person after person said to me “You’re all baby!”  They lied!  I’m grateful for this still pregnant-looking body and all that it did for me and our family over the past 10 months.  It is truly incredible when you think about it.  I don’t expect to be back to pre-pregnancy weight a week postpartum by any means.  But if I didn’t say it is a challenge to look in the mirror and see a body so foreign to my past fit-self, I’d be lying.

All baby????

With a focus on fitness, not thinness, I’m moving forward into the new year.  I’d love to hear about what fitness goals my readers have committed to for the new year.  What are you doing to feel good in 2019?  I started with a healthy diet on Monday.  Buh-bye Little Debbie!  Hello green smoothie!  I have to take special care of my diet since I am nursing my daughter.  I want her to have the best, nutrient rich milk possible.  Given that she is a week old and has already surpassed her birth weight by six ounces tells me I’m doing okay.  She’s my little chubba-wubba, and I love that SO MUCH!  I’m sharing below some of my smoothie recipes, and I’d love to hear all about yours.  My smoothies are a bit high in sugar, so I’d love to hear how you combat that challenge and don’t give up on taste (I share these with my kiddos and don’t want to lose the opportunity of getting a full cup of spinach into their bodies because their smoothie tastes like dirt!).  I have also started working out once a day mixing light PiYo workouts with walking workouts.  I’m taking it easy and listening to my body, but excited for the transformation to come, and can’t wait to increase my energy level to be able to play at my 10-year old’s level again.  He’s counting the days until we can go on a run together!

Please leave me your wellness resolutions, physical and mental.  I’m thinking about starting a closed accountability group where we can share recipes and workouts and encourage one another.  Please leave a comment if you are interested.  Free and positive is the name of the game. So thankful for my many blessings and looking forward to giving my husband and children my best self this year.  Let’s do this 2019!

Mixed Fruit Smoothie

  • 382 Calories Per Serving
  • Serves 2
  • 2 Cups Spinach
  • 1 Cup Classic Frozen Fruit Medley
  • 1 Cup Blended Lowfat Vanilla Yogurt
  • 1/2 Cup Classic Applesauce
  • 1 Cup Orange Juice
  • 2 Tbsp Flax Chia Blend
  • 1 Tbsp Honey
  • 1 Cup Milk

Green Iron Smoothie

  • 314 Calories
  • Serves 1
  • 2 Tangerines
  • 2 Cups Spinach
  • 1/2 Frozen Banana
  • 2 Tbsp Flax Chia Blend
  • 1/4 Cup Blended Lowfat Vanilla Yogurt
  • 1/2 Cup Orange Juice
  • 3 Ice Cubes

Blueberry Smoothie

  • 312 Calories Per Serving
  • Servies 2
  • 2 Cups Spinach
  • 1 Cup Light Cranberry Juice
  • 1 Cup frozen Blueberries
  • 1/2 Cup Classic Applesauce
  • 1 Cup Blended Lowfat Vanilla Yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp Flax Chia Blend
  • 1 Tbsp Honey
  • 1 Cup Milk

Letting Go

Happy 2019, Folks.  I pitifully spent much of my evening last night watching everyone’s celebrations from the comfort of my cozy bed in my pajamas.  I also sat and timed contractions for 36 minutes that were around seven minutes apart and lasted for 45 seconds at a time.  I waited anxiously for the contractions to get closer together, more painful or last longer…but to no avail.  At 40 weeks and five days pregnant, I am truly beginning to feel like round, uncomfortable and tired is my new permanent state of being.  I’ve actually googled to see if there is a possibility that I will never go into labor.  The internet says no, but I’m having my doubts.

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I’ve spent the last few days trying to get a handle on the past year, and what this particular new year means to me.  I have always been a big fan of the new year season with all of its potential and promise, but this year, I’ve had a difficult time coming to terms with what the previous year meant to me and what I want the coming year to be.  For me 2018 is a bit of a blur with both tremendous moments and terrible heartache.  Such is life.

When I focus on the good, I see that I graduated with my Master’s Degree, I made a career move that I’m ecstatic about, and I made a human being (who is currently stubbornly refusing to be born).  These are big moments which I should be excited and proud of….and I am, but I find that I feel a little detached from these accomplishments, as though they  happened to someone else.

Maybe that is the true value of reflection.  We work incredibly hard to reach our goals, and then when all of that work translates to the end goal, we’re done.  It’s over.  We move on to the next thing and the past months or years of focus and dedication fade quickly to the background as life’s next dilemma or joy takes over.

As I move into 2019, I will take the time here to reflect not only on my successes, but also on what those successes taught me:

  • Finishing my MBA taught me that I have a unique kind of perseverance that allows me to stay the course when things become especially difficult.  I learned that I truly love to learn, and without a learning process of some sort in my life, I feel stale and stagnated.  I learned that to succeed, I need the support of my friends and family.  I learned that even when it feels impossible to do, I have to make my children and family my number one priority.
  • Moving into the Recruiting/Human Resource Field taught me the importance of living for the experience, not the final outcome.  I experienced some bumps and bruises along the path to my current position.  There were moments that I felt angry and bitter about the process, and I could have allowed myself to sit in that moment.  Instead, I chose to value what each experience taught me and move forward with that sentiment in mind.  Although I couldn’t see how things would work out, I had faith that they would.  That faith carried me through to the place where I am today, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to start a new professional adventure this year.
  • I made a human, ya’ll. 2018 has brought the unexpected, and the greatest of all of my 33 years of life’s surprises has to be the blessing of my third child. This pregnancy has taught me that my plans don’t matter.  Talk about a humbling experience.  My 2018 plans included maintaining a healthy, vegan diet, completing a half marathon, and focusing 100% on my career.  My 2018 reality included pregnancy food aversions so severe and pregnancy induced anemia which made me so sick, that I became desperate enough to eat anything my body would tolerate, including meat, dairy and eggs.  The year included fifty pounds of weight gain that have made walking to the refrigerator a challenge, let alone the thought of running anywhere.  2018 brought the realization that my career will never, and should never, be the center of my focus.  I am a wife, a mom, a daughter, a sister, a friend.  My career is important to me, but none of that success matters if I’m not the person I need to be at home.

Even as I write this, I am coming to terms with an epiphany that what this year has really taught me is that I need to appreciate the moments in life and spend less energy in a future that isn’t promised.  That for all it’s worth and although I will always be a “planner”, this life is not a planned event.  That I have no control over what is next or what 2019 will bring (although I’m hoping that the most immediate arrival for the new year will be this baby!).  And that while this life is difficult and beautiful at the same time, the very best thing I can do is to get down on my knees and put it all in God’s hands.

I need to appreciate the moments in life and spend less energy in a future that isn’t promised

close up of hands

For the New Year, for 2019, my resolution will be to trust, to pray every day to let go and let God, to focus on the moment and enjoy each second for what it is.  I hope to get back into shape, to put some energy into my art work, continue to write and journal, continue to find those parts of myself that have taken a back seat while I’ve worked to build a career and family over the past decade…but most importantly, I hope to remember and be thankful for the fact that I am not in control.  I certainly lost sight of this in 2018, and it is liberating to let it go in 2019.

I hope to remember and be thankful for the fact that I am not in control

I am wishing my readers a blessed year full of love and all of life’s happiness.  I hope that faith and family carry you through the difficult times ahead, and that you are present and engaged for all of the joyous miracles that are in store for you.  Take the time to reflect today on what has been, and how it has changed you.  Every experience holds a lesson for us.  My hope for you is that you take those lessons and spend a moment in thankfulness for them.  Happy New Year!

I leave you with some of my happiest 2018 moments:

Heaven is a Place on Earth

It’s hard to believe that December is in full swing.  This is always a crazy busy time of year for each of us, but this year in December, I will be welcoming our third child to the world.  I am on the countdown, and with two weeks and four days left until my due date, I am ready.  Or so I thought…

red ceramic mug on white mat beside notebook

This morning in particular was pure chaos.  My older two children had their annual Christmas play at church.  With the best of intentions we called it an early night last night, knowing we would need to be up bright and early to prepare.  Five pregnant lady bathroom breaks and two and a half hours of insomnia at 2 a.m. later, it was morning, and I found myself struggling to roll my round little belly out of bed to start the day.  When I finally made it to my feet, I woke to find the mountain of dishes I had ignored the day before still waiting on me. With no clean forks to my name, I had to start my day with dishes just so I could feed my kids breakfast.  Forty minutes later I was cooking eggs over-easy, just the way the kiddos like them, and to my dismay, I broke two yolks which never happens.  Eventually breakfast was served, kids were dressed, we were ten minutes late to Sunday School but we prevailed and we made it.  I had ended up with an entire fifteen minutes to shower myself, dress, makeup, and do something with my hair before rushing out the door.

And it was then that it hit me…in two weeks, I will still have all of these things to do PLUS a newborn baby to nurse and dress and care for.  How had this not dawned on me before 37 weeks of pregnancy?  I had spent months picturing the snuggles, knowing I had sleepless nights coming, knowing having a newborn after all of this time will be an adjustment, but it hadn’t become reality until this morning.

In my anxiousness, my grouchiness, and waddling in nine-months-pregnant-glory into church, I was having the “Oh sh*t” moment of realization of what is to come.  I sat in the pew this morning, finally having delivered my children to their posts for the Christmas program, and then I began to watch them, donning white alter robes, angel wings and halos.

I watched my ten-year-old son sing each song, although at his age, he hates being on stage dressed as an angel with every fiber of his being.  My heart grew just knowing what a truly good boy my husband and I have raised.  Then I watched my six-year-old sing with all her heart, the gaps where her recently lost teeth belong, peeping out behind her sweet little lips with every note.  She had her first speaking part in which she grasped the microphone and said, “Wow, I’ll never forget this night. Heaven is a place on Earth.”  From the mouths of babes.  I knew in that moment, in this moment now, that she is right.

In the haste of the season, in all of the to-dos, it is so easy to lose our focus.  We get so caught up in the decorations, in the gifts and wrapping, in the carrying on of tradition, in the “have-to’s” and “need-to’s” that we can’t see the heaven that is right in front of us.  As much as I was cursing inside my head the entire morning as I let the hustle of the day erode my patience, I am so thankful for the gift of watching my children this morning, serving in our church in the most beautiful way, bringing to mind the purpose of the season, and reminding us all that heaven is truly a place on Earth.

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In two weeks, or two days….who knows….I will become a mother for the third time.  Things will be difficult, I will be tired beyond words, I will have less time for myself, for my husband, for my other two kids, but what I will gain is immeasurable.  And the truth is that no matter how much I “ready” myself, we are never truly ready for God’s greatest gifts in our lives…and that is what makes them so incredibly remarkable.

My hope for you this holiday season is that each of you experience the joys of this Christmas with as little stress, anxiety and worry as possible.  That in the moments of feeling overwhelmed, you are able to look for the everyday miracles that we are given…after all, heaven truly is a place on Earth.

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.

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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.