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.
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.