We are so thrilled to be featuring guest bloggers all year long. These individuals have navigated their own way through the journey that is being a working mom. This month, we hear from Rebecca Griggs, GVP at a healthcare organization. Thank you, Rebecca!
Looking back, it seems so obvious now. And I don’t know what story I made up that convinced me that I had to make an unwavering, lifelong decision that I wouldn’t be able to revisit. Especially one that I made with unusual hormone levels and a severe lack of sleep. I suppose it may have been grounded in my loyal nature. It’s more likely, though, that I thought that’s what everyone expected.
With the benefit of time (including, three kids that somehow emerged into awkward teenagers), and paying closer attention to leaders I admire, I wish I would have learned sooner to give myself permission to change my mind and make decisions on shorter time horizons.
During my first maternity leave, I suffered through an annoying inner talk track that wasn’t particularly helpful or productive. I somehow thought if I “took my foot off the gas” that it meant I couldn’t put my foot back on the gas. Or, that if I chose to work from home three days a week to stay close to my first baby, that I couldn’t change my mind with my 3rd child to travel every other week for a day or two so I could get a full night’s sleep. Or, my favorite, that if I openly admitted that I wanted to be an amazing mom that I would forever be dropped from relevant conversations and overlooked for interesting projects or opportunities.
In hindsight, this may also be the point in my life where I developed the habit of always doing more than expected because I didn’t want there to be any doubt that I was capable of simultaneously being a great wife, mom and leader. That could be an entirely separate story.
Please don’t confuse my insight as endorsing a non-committal approach to career-planning or only doing the minimum required. Instead, consider clarity and precision as a gift – to you, your family and organization. More specifically, I had to develop the discipline to be intentionally precise in asking for what I needed and for how long, and then enjoying the clarity that comes from that decision.
The key was putting a time boundary around it. Not for a period of time that determines the entire course of my career, or for a period of time that ruins my credibility as a mom… just for a period of time that allowed me to be confident and comfortable with the decision so I could set aside the second-guessing.
For me, the second-guessing was exhausting. Would I regret it? Was I being too emotional… ambitious… confusing? Was the uncertainty and indecision hurting my credibility? It turns out, none of those were true, I just missed an opportunity.
A practical example might help –
I had my second son just short of two years after my first son. Those two years were an incredible learning experience – not only as a new mom, but also as a trial for what I wanted to professionally redo if I were lucky enough to be blessed with more children. Lesson number one, don’t use sinus medication when you are trying to breastfeed. Lesson number two, plan bigger decisions on shorter time horizons.
Instead of heading into maternity leave having made a decision for the foreseeable future about my work schedule or specifically having a conversation with my manager about “not forgetting about me if future opportunities came up while I’m out,” I specifically decided that I wasn’t going to pursue anything professionally for 3 months after returning to work. And, during that time it was important to me to have the flexibility to work from home three days a week. Yes, there would likely be interesting projects and opportunities that would come up… and, I might want to come into the office more often. And, they would not create lifelong regret. So, I took that decision, set it on the shelf of my mental library and made a conscious reminder to pull it back off the shelf in 3 months when I would need to decide if I wanted to adjust.
So. Liberating. No ambiguous pre-maternity leave discussions or second-guessing. There was also limited self-talk, and much more enjoyment of a precious period of time because I intentionally weighed the pros and cons, committed to that decision and communicated it clearly. So much benefit from simply giving myself permission to change my mind, yet doing it in a way that was transparent and could be planned around for my manager.
Although I wish I would have known sooner, it’s a helpful tactic that I’m glad I learned. I’ve often under-estimated how comforting it can be to find examples of people who have successfully made it to the other side of a phase of life. The gift of perspective – to receive it and to give it – is priceless.
~Rebecca Griggs, GVP