I am an overachiever. A type-A, needs to be the best at everything I do, workaholic. I’ve been known to pull an all-nighter to meet a tight deadline. I’ve had the luxury of turning down job offers because I’ve received three at a time. I’ve done work that I’m proud of, that I truly believe makes a difference. For most of my adult life, I’ve defined success by professional wins, demonstrable value, and not to be forgotten, paychecks.
I knew things would change when I became a mom. And, of course, was naive to the realities of a working mom. But I imagined I’d figure out a way to do it. To achieve that elusive reverie. To have “it all.” To continue on my path to greatness, speaking for national audiences, advising community leaders, and having dinner on the table for my family each night. To demonstrate to my 21st century daughter that yes, you can be whatever you want, do whatever you set your mind to, make a difference in this world.
I’ll never forget the conversation. I’d been back at work maybe two weeks after she was born. I was having lunch in the “exclusive” senior staff dining room with my boss – a powerful executive at a major institution, a recognized leader in her field both locally and nationally. She’s the type of role model that most young women look to as an example. Leading in a male dominated industry. Key adviser to nationally recognized c-suite execs. Respected by leaders throughout our community at home, and across the country for the tremendous impact of her work. And mom and role model to two grown daughters. Winning at home and at work. She was my future.
I imagined myself as her 20 years later.
She asked how the transition back to work was going. Still barely treading water both at home and work, I admitted defeat. It was impossible to figure this working mom thing out. She shared with me her own trials. The many evenings spent with her disappointed children, upset that she’d missed a sporting event or academic achievement. The countless times she’d explained that sometimes her work took precedent to the sidelines.
Sitting there in hormone-induced tears, a switch flipped: not me. Telling my daughter that my work was more important than wherever she thought I was needed? After just 12-weeks, she’d already accomplished so much. I’d reveled in her amazing feats, like smiling, rolling to her tummy, and giggling. Clearly she was a prodigy, we were blessed. I could never exonerate myself for missing one of her many future achievements.
It was time for a new plan. For many reasons – including the aforementioned type-A tendencies, our comfortable two-income lifestyle, and my continued desire to show my daughter that yes, a mommy can have a career – I needed to work. But, it was time to chart a new course. One where mommy has a career but is also there when she wins the spelling bee, plays her first flute solo, or hits her first home run.
A year-and-a-half later, I found myself at a part-time consulting gig with a flexible schedule. Some days I go to my downtown office donned in pencil skirts and stilettos. I drink a piping hot cup of tea, lead meetings and meet deadlines. I race out the door to get to preschool pickup, where she’d prefer to continue to play on the playground. I make dinner for my family, which is eaten in a chaotic charade that lasts no more than 10 minutes before food is tossed to the dog.
Other days I put on my finest yoga pants, go to swimming lessons, take a tour around Target, and arrange afternoon play dates. I use nap time to drink my forgotten, room temperature cup of tea, check my email and put out fires. When she goes to kindergarten, I will rearrange my schedule to greet the bus. To take her to dance lessons. To do “it all.”
Be that as it may, I have a constant inner struggle. On the surface, I’ve accomplished what I set out to: to have a career and be a mom. To make room for both. To “have it all!” But in doing so, I’ve been forced to set aside some of my professional goals. To leave a potential leadership path I won’t soon reclaim. To leave a field for which I felt great passion and purpose, for work that is interesting and fun, but not making the impact to which I once felt such great connection.
Sometimes I sit at my desk and wonder if I made a mistake. After all, my kid would prefer the preschool playground to her boring playroom full of toys. Would it be so bad if she was there a little more? If it meant I was making a difference? If I was achieving great things? If I could tell her one day to look back at what mommy accomplished?
Of course, my struggles are lucky ones. First world problems, if you will. I can’t begin to count the ways in which I am, in fact, blessed. These as the questions I’m forced to ask?
But I struggle nonetheless. Especially when other working mommies continue to make the professional strides I always imagined I’d be making today. And also, when I see the stay-at-home-mommies, and the amazing opportunities they get with their kiddos. In the great fight for work-life balance, did I dilute them both? I don’t think these are struggles that I’ll ever fully resolve. I’d imagine that we all have our own.
This mommy gig, it’s a hard one. But sometimes the stars align, a deadline passes, and I awake to the early morning holler “mommy come back!” And I realize, at least for the moment, that that’s all the success I need.
Jori is a working mama who loves a good day-planner, old fashioned politics, late night grocery shopping, and toddler hugs. She believes that the old adage, “if you want something done, give it to a busy person,” was written for her. After complications during childbirth, Jori has developed a passion for promoting efforts to reduce infant and maternal mortality across the globe. She’s working to embrace her free-spirited, adventurous side, which sometimes likes to go on sabbatical.
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