The Ambition Question
In 2012, I had to make a choice between career ambition and family. My husband had a job change that required a return from Chicago to the Bay Area. People closest to me were saying things like, “You shouldn't make your career define who you are,” and, “Family always comes first.” But in essence, isn’t that why I had a career? Besides, I absolutely loved my job - I had a great team, wonderful mentors, and I got to travel globally, meet the most fascinating people, and continue learning. I felt good. I felt like I was myself again after having two kids; like I could be a mom and successful career woman at the same time.
Suddenly, I experienced one of the toughest downfalls. Chasing the “balanced life” became a hot topic around our household. I felt the life I’d built for myself, my family and my colleagues was crashing down all around me.
Needless to say, we moved back to California. My company had offices in San Francisco, so I was able to transfer successfully—but my entire team remained in Chicago. I managed the team remotely and this proved difficult since my job entailed dealing and engaging with people globally on a daily basis. I was up at 5 a.m. with clients in Europe and working late at night with others in Asia. Keeping up with the two hour time difference between San Francisco and Chicago was complicated. I ended up traveling extensively, because I had to go to Chicago on top of global travel. While pregnant with our third child, my role required being onsite to effectively develop talent strategies and implement organizational changes. Corporate behavior, culture, systems and mindset aren’t channels that can be changed by remote control or the flip of a switch.
You guessed the ending to the story: I left my job a few months after baby girl number three arrived. But living in the Bay Area and supporting three kids meant we needed two incomes. So I went back to consulting, begrudgingly. My fast-track career had been derailed. Yes, I was earning an income. Yes, I was spending more time with my kids - which was great. But was I supposed to love this new role? Was this it for me? Was I a mom with a job that only paid the bills?
It has taken me a long time to get back on my feet. I have always been independent, ambitious and driven. I still think about what would have happened if I stayed in my job and we didn’t move back. Understand this: my profession is important to me. That’s how I am built. No judgements, please - it’s who I am. If you ask me about leaning in or leaning out, I probably would say “lean in.” I realize this is really hard to do with kids, especially if you want to be an engaged parent. It feels like a no-win situation: you lean in, your family suffers because they don’t see you as much. You lean out, and perhaps your “ whole self” falls apart into pieces.
But, what I’ve learned going through this internal process is that ambition does not halt with the arrival of motherhood. In fact, having kids puts things in perspective. It has taught me to be selfless; but also to take care of my needs because that makes me not just a better person but a better mom. It took time to get to this point, but I’m glad I got here. It is no longer about leaning in or leaning out. Instead, it is owning who you are. This is why MomWarrior is so important. I know we play multiple roles: a mother, partner, daughter, sister, career professional and more. And we all hold this with integrity, resilience and purpose.