Sheryl Sandberg describes careers as climbing jungle gyms instead of proverbial ladders. I resemble that description. When I set off to start a career at 22, I thought the end game must be that big shiny office with a mahogany desk and some fancy artwork on the walls. Being in Corporate America had to mean we all wanted to become that VP, Senior VP, or hell … why not the CEO? Right?
At 27 I was told that I had the characteristics to become a VP and was offered my first management role. "Yay for me," I thought. I was on that track to get the shiny office someday. It sounded fantastic until life happened a few months later. I was a newlywed, building a new home, and found out that I was pregnant. I was beating myself up by spending 12+ hours/day in the office, and I had a one-hour commute each way in addition to that. I was working hard to make sure my team was the top producing team. I had to repeatedly prove myself, especially since all my peer leaders were men. When I learned I was pregnant, I couldn't imagine taking more than six weeks off after my baby was born. The company and my team needed me. "The team will collapse without me," I thought. Calgon take me away!
And then it happened. This miraculous, perfect human being came into the world and all of my energy turned to him. I spent the next few years trying to be the perfect manager and the perfect mom. I felt like a failure in both roles. Then one day I was offered an individual contributor, work from home position at a new company. The new role included a significant pay cut and I jumped at the chance. My family thought I was crazy. They wondered, "Who would do that?" The answer: ME!
My priorities changed. But instead of beating myself up, I embraced the change and thrived in my new role. It was as if a 300 lb. boulder had been lifted off me. I could now be my best in all of my roles and be present in the moment. I knew in my heart that I could jump back in to a leadership role down the road. And I did just that many years later, on my terms, and when I was ready. Sometimes we just need to take a step back and give ourselves a break!
Laurie Fontaine is a Director in a Software Sales organization.
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