I was blessed and lucky to land at a great company, and work under wise and courageous senior leaders as a very young woman. They gave me responsibility and respect beyond my years. In time, I became the one of the youngest Vice Presidents, and the first woman to be promoted to VP in the company's history. The company grew at an amazing clip, and the hours and energy I gave it went along in tandem.
My career had some "learning spots" over my second decade with this great company. I transitioned into other roles, with other bosses, managed challenges, accomplished cool things, and was proud. I was blessed with a third child ten years after my first, and had by then mastered the world of establishing a super "at home team" to help with the children, the housework, and other life activities.
On nearing my 20th anniversary with the company, I had a dream that I would leave. The dream felt crazy, almost in an unbelievable psychedelic realm at the time. Then again, in the web 2.0 world, my brand had grown outside of the company's walls. I was speaking at least once a month on podiums around the country on leading edge work. I was leaning outside of the company, as much as I was leaning in. Ultimately, when the "knock on my door" came from the head of HR, I was intellectually and emotionally ready. I was offered the opportunity to take on, or design, a new role at the company, or ... and it wasn't said outright, there was the option to negotiate a departure. Oddly, I had to bury my smile on the thought of leaving, and doing something new. I didn't launch a political battle like I would have in the past. I didn't even ask any clarifying questions. In a matter of days I simply negotiated my exit, hugged the HR leader, and traveled the building sharing my gratitude and warm good-byes.
And just like that, my new job began -- with a clear if bewildering magnetic pull.
It was actually a job I thought I knew, and had held for 15 years.
This new chapter of momhood started out like a warm and gentle breeze. I took the opportunity to take the final four weeks of summer off and spend them with the kids and hubby. The full-time nanny was still in place. I set up an office in a lovely space above my husband's restaurant. I booked new speaking engagements. I hung out a shingle on LinkedIn announcing my consulting and speaking venture. I continued to blog.
Then the bewildering part happened. I became more interested in my mom life than I did in my professional life.
When the nanny gave her notice, I didn't follow up with a single applicant on her replacement. I still haven't.
I signed up to help in the kids classrooms, joined my first book club, the local gym, and started learning what the life of a stay-at-home mom was all about.
I remember thinking how much harder this life was -- truly. Three kids, three different schools, three different bus times, activity schedules, homework, friendships and dramas, and other life demands. Day begins at sunrise, and ends after 9pm. Squeeze in some professional work in the middle, while learning the new cultural norms and dialect* of stay-at-home moms, and the day is LONG.
While I was learning this new job -- the "most important job you'll have have," yada yada yada ... I was consumed with guilt. Guilt for not working more. Guilt for what felt like letting my professional persona atrophy. Guilt for not working on stuff as cool as my professional friends. Guilt for not getting on Twitter, for not blogging often, for hardly ever getting on email.
People that mattered to me in my professional life told me to "Stop feeling guilty!" To live life, and enjoy.
It all became scary. Would I ever want to apply myself professionally again? Would I always feel allergic to a keyboard? Why is my garden of more interest to me than the flow of conversation among my professional peers on Twitter? Why was I not horribly bored with the chatter of the suburban ladies?
The Epiphany and The Power
A year and a half into this "mom life," accompanied throughout by a very part-time professional career, I had an epiphany. I came to realize it would have been unconscionable for me to have jumped into another full-time job. I had been given a gift. My negotiated exit from the great company left me free of near-term financial worry. Thus, I had a powerful ability to be with my children -- if I could find the courage to take the time off from professional work, and risk all I had achieved. I took that power.
The Power to Be a Mom
Who says that? Who thinks that? ... in professional circles, that is.
Well, I did. Being a mom is powerful. How sad, I think now, that I might have gone through my life without knowing the full dimension of momness. To be ALL IN IT. ... When they were still of the age to need me. ... When I still had the energy to be with them, fully.
Perhaps to some readers of this blog, the actions I made toward embracing this "mom opportunity" would be a big "so what."
But to me, finding the courage to do what felt like throwing away all you had loved for the prior two decades about your work, and potentially all you had achieved, was a very, very big deal. I'm still mustering the courage to keep doing my current job, majoring in momness.
I'm a bit afraid I've let too much time slip. I've let professional relationships slide. I might not be as marketable as I was. And then there are the forward planning worries, about things like money.
At the same time, I'm proud of this time.
- My 16 year-old daughter has brought me great joy. This past year and a half, I've been "all in it" with the onset of a boyfriend, college prep navigation, drivers ed, and helping give her the courage to follow her professional dreams. My eyes well up now as I watch this once shy child sing in front of stunned crowds.
- My 9 year-old daughter has surprised me by being an amazingly diligent student, a dedicated money-maker on her reward "star chart;" and shocked me by being a bossy and often demanding kid around the house. When she was two years old, I nicknamed her the CEO. Well, I'm seeing the trend continue.
- My 6 year-old son has been the biggest learning. Boys are different, #1. Secondly, school doesn't come as easily to him so our days begin with 1x1 reading time together. What was fully "out of my toolbox" a year ago, teaching a bucking boy to read and care about schoolwork, has become my favorite part of the day.
It has been powerful, indeed. Unexpected, too. I keep asking outloud, "Who is this person?" But then I laugh it off as an adventure, a risk, a challenge, and a time filled with love. The type of things that the Polly I know gets a kick out of.
Happy International Women's Day from a woman blazing an unexpected journey, and working hard to remind herself just how powerful this time is. Worry never got anyone anywhere, right?
-------------- TALK BACK -------------
I welcome your take. And I also welcome more professional women coming out of the mom closet to profess their passion for that part of their life, too. All too often, we hide our "momness."
* RE: dialect of stay-at-home moms. I had a friend once tell me that I often acted "half-man," understandable, she said, given all the time I spend with men in the workplace. She was right. I had to un-man and learn to be much more womanly if I wanted to hang out more with gal-pals.
-- Polly Pearson
@PollyPearson on Twitter