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Posts Tagged ‘committing to work’

I had a chance to have dinner with an old friend the other night. Once we got through the stories about how cute our kids are and the stories about what our mutual friends are now doing, we started comparing notes on the whole part-time working mom thing.

We both love working part time and really value the time that we get with our kids. We both love our jobs and have been very focused on our careers for many years before having kids and even once our kids were born. And we both feel that our jobs, in their current instantiations, are a little bit boring. More specifically, we both think that our jobs would be more interesting and engaging if we didn’t have the time/travel restrictions that we do.

I try to avoid traveling too often, limiting trips over a day to one a month and not traveling more than two weeks in a row. (Try is the operative word). She works a 26 hour work week, scattered over the course of four days. What this has meant for both of us is not going after opportunities that would otherwise interest us and not taking on challenging projects that would fully engage us and provide opportunities to grow and learn.

Both of us are in situations that many would envy – doing the work we love, part-time, while still taking time to focus on our growing families. It seems like a dream. But then there’s that boredom, that itch to do more even as you know that you don’t want to take on more.

My friend’s interpretation of our situation: the mommy track is alive and well. But that doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t feel like I’m being mommy tracked by my company. And I’m trying not to mommy track , making sure I stay engaged, am still learning, and continue to hone my art. Yet the feeling persists.

I’m constantly hearing and reading about “The end of work as we know it” and how traditional careers are becoming less common as people “customize”their careers. Yet as someone who’s trying to capitalize on/create those trends in the workplace, I’m finding challenges. Challenges that stem from my company and my client’s ideas of how much I should be putting into work, a little. But even more surprising and difficult to manage, challenges from my own ideas about what’s OK to do and not do,  what makes an engaging job, and what makes a job worth doing. 

Is the mommy track alive and well? And what can we mommies (and daddies, and artists, and…) do to make sure we’re not getting in our own way as we try and redefine what it means to have a successful career? 

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I’ve been working part time since the monkeys were born. When I first went back to work it was two days a week and over the last two years it’s slowly inched up to four days a week. That actually seems like the right amount for me to be able to feel somewhat successful in my career and also feel like I get to spend a lot of time with the monkeys.I say somewhat successful because it’s still a challenge. I can’t do everything I’d like to do and I have to really prioritize how I spend my time. I say no to a lot of requests. This is especially hard as I work for a small and growing consulting firm and there’s always more than enough work to go around. I’ve been with the company since it was really small, am a leader there, and am vested in its success. I often feel bad because I can’t do as much as I know needs to be done.I feel especially guilty when I see my colleagues and friends struggling with working many hours and having too much to do when I know that it is technically possible for me to take things off of their plates. But it’s not possible for me to do so and maintain my part time status, so I don’t.  For a while, this was really challenging for me. But I’ve recently decided not to stress over it, because it is what it is, and feeling guilty isn’t actually helping anyone. In fact, my friends and colleagues at work have told me not to feel so guilty, that they just accept that I give what I can and so should I. And I have indeed felt much less guilty about work lately (1 point self aware adult; 0 points Jewish heritage). And then there is the other guilt. Last week, I was in California for a couple of days for work. I hadn’t traveled in about a month, but it was to be the first of two longish trips to the West Coast in the course of two weeks. And it was my first trip since we lost our nanny. So I felt guilty just getting on the plane.

Of course, as I settled into my work, I forgot about the guilt and concentrated on what I was doing. I was immersed in my work and feeling pretty good about it. Until I got this text message from my husband: Monkey 2 has infections in both ears. Cue spiral into guilt and recrimination, vision of husband on sofa buried under two screaming kids, fantasies about quitting my job, vision of myself on sofa buried under two screaming kids,  worries about paying the mortgage, etc. Oh, and then off to lead a team of 15 people in a working session.

This other guilt is equally bad for my job, equally unhelpful to my husband and the monkeys, and equally unhealthy for me. Yet I can’t seem to figure out how to get past it. Is it even possible to not feel guilty over not being with your kids when they’re sick? If I can get over the guilt about traveling for work and leaving home and childcare responsibilities to my husband, does it make me a bad mom? If I was the dad, would I even be writing this post? I know this last question isn’t quite fair, just like I know that there are some moms who do travel for work without the guilt. What I’d really like to know is, what’s their secret – and can I get some?

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I read Marci Alboher’s Shifting Careers blog in the New York Times on Saturday, and have been thinking about her Friday post it all weekend.

She pointed to Marc Andreessen’s posts about creating a successful career.  He makes some interesting points in the entries. I especially like what he has to say about making sure that you expose yourself to opportunities to fail, so that you can learn how to handle tough situations.

He also says that his advice is “aimed at high-potential people who want to excel throughout their careers and make a significant impact on their fields and in the world. These posts are not (emphasis in original) appropriate for people for whom work/life balance is a high priority or for whom lifestyle is particularly important.”

This is the part that Marci takes issue with, writing “I believe that it is possible to make a significant impact in one’s field and in the world while also having at least some modicum of work/life balance, even if it may not feel like that every day.”

Now if you’re reading my blog, you know that I tend to agree with Marci that you shouldn’t have to choose career achievement orsatisfaction in other parts of your life. You should be able to have both. But Andreessen’s advice is directed at young people – people starting out in their careers, even folks who are still deciding where to go to college and what to major in. I wonder if the advice is appropriate for people in that stage of life.

To excel and make significant impact, don’t you need experience, skills, expertise and even wisdom? And to excel and make significant impact that before you’re 50, don’t you have to give your career your all during some part of your life, so that you have something to offer when you want to dial it down a bit?

Here’s where I’m coming from: There are some things that I’m really good at. I can do them better than almost anyone in my company, which is why I can do my intense, exciting and gratifying job only four days a week –  sometimes I do it so well that I do it better in four days than most other people would be able to do in five days. But I wasn’t always so good at all of these things. It took time, dedication, and commitment. In fact, it took almost all of my time for many years of my life.  

I work with a lot of young people, Millennials, who feel like they should be able to quickly rise in the working world without sacrificing other parts of their lives. Is it wrong to ask them to give up that belief? Is there really another way to excellence and impact than working your butt off?

One answer to these questions is to encourage young people to choose a career that they like doing enough that it doesn’t have to feel like a sacrifice when they give their jobs a lot of their time. That way it feels fun and good and compelling even when it does “take over your life” for a period of time. But is that a cop out? Is there, in fact, another approach, that you can take from the beginning of your career, that I and my generational cohort didn’t know about?

I’m not sure. I’d love to hear some other folks’ opinions.

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A funny thing about being a parent is that once you are one, you are one. There’s nothing (barring the insane and/or criminal) that you can do to not be a parent. You can, of course, choose to be a completely uninvolved parent, but still, there it is, your progeny roams the planet.

I sort of like that. Although I sometimes dream of the free-wheeling days before I was a parent, I never agonize about whether I want to continue to be one. It frees me up to focus my energy on thinking about what kind of parent I want to be. Not just in terms of being a good or bad parent, but how much do I want to structure our days vs. being flexible, how much I want to rely on existing guidelines vs. following my intuition, how much I want to work vs. be with the kids.

I’m going to try applying some of the same logic to other parts of my life. As many of my friends know, I’ve been waffling about staying in my job for almost as long as I’ve been doing the job. And five years is an awfully long time to waffle. So this year, instead of having ongoing conversation in my head about whether I’m going to stay in the job or not, I’m going to accept that I have my job and it just is, just like I am a parent and it just is. That way, I can focus on what kind of colleague/consultant/manager/ leader/salesperson/writer I want to be. Not necessarily easier, but a much more interesting, and more fruitful conversation, I hope.

Likewise, instead of wondering if I am going to go to yoga or not go to yoga, I’m going to try to think about when I’m going to go, and how I can cover off on work and childcare so that I can make it.

Finally, in one more domain, I’m going to try to act as if I am…allergic to cookies. Well, that might be going overboard.

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