Soul Searching: What Defines You?

 2011-04-19

Since the time I was a little girl playing dress up with my baby-dolls, I knew one thing in life was certain: I was going to be a mother.  Growing up, I was not focused on a particular career and ended up in my Bachelor's Program on a dare (thanks Roger!) 

Little did I know that for the past 8+ years, I had been training myself to be a career woman.  I’ve always considered myself an over-achiever and knew that was one characteristic that set me apart from others – for better or for worse.  For example, I graduated with my under-graduate degree in Applied Mathematics in three years, obtained an internship and a full time job all before I was 20 years old.  I was the ONLY person not able to socialize with my co-workers at the weekly happy hour.  Bored from nothing to do in the evenings, I decided to pursue my graduate degree while navigating different positions at my Company.  Within four years, I was selected for a rotational Leadership Program, completed my Master’s degree and started a PhD program and obtained a full time position as a first line manager of 40+ direct reports.  In addition to all of my studies, I spent A LOT of time volunteering in the community.  In 2008, I was awarded the President’s Volunteer Silver Service Award for donating 250+ hours in the community and began speaking at various events including the Society of Women Engineer’s National Conference.

Why is all of this important?  Well, my goal in life was to be a mother.  Everything else was just a ‘filler’ until it was time to begin that phase of my life. I was actually quite convinced of that, even upon my return from maternity leave.  

I returned to work, still committed to doing my job and doing it well, but with a different focus.  I was a mother.  I was going to start at 8:00, leave promptly at 4:30 logging my 8 hours for the day with a half hour lunch break.  My family was first and I had intended in staying in my current role as a first line manager for as long as possible.  I was not interested in moving on in my career or moving up.  I wanted something familiar, something consistent. 

Well, two things happened that made me realize I was delusional in thinking that I could just STOP being an 'overachiever'.

My responsibility at work, in addition to managing the employees, was to manage our budget for the department.  With the recent focus on affordability, our Director was interested in a proposal of potential budget cuts to make the organization 'lean'.  My manager called me on a Thursday to ask if I could work the drill.  Originally, I would have jumped on the assignment, proposing a detailed report within a day (of course, I would have worked longer than normal hours to complete the assignment.)  Instead, I decided to put the 'Mom First, Career Second' focused foot forward, 'Sure, I can have that to you by next Thursday.'  That wasn't sufficient.  Tuesday?  Nope.  We were to review internally Monday which meant that I HAD to work on the tasking over the weekend.  I jumped in, worked all day Friday, Friday night after I put Roland to bed, and Saturday morning and had a draft to them to review by Saturday afternoon.  My first attempt to be 'Mom First, Career Second' failed.  

The second instance occurred three weeks after I returned from maternity leave.  As I mentioned earlier, I was not interested in moving on or moving up.  I wanted to stay in my job for a while.  One afternoon, I ran into one of my rotation managers from the Leadership Program.  He informed me that his program manager responsible for research and development (R&D), strategic planning and white space decided to take another job within the company and was transitioning in two weeks.  On top of that, they just received a contract for R&D work and he didn't have anyone to lead the effort.  Without thinking, I blurted out "I would LOVE that job!" At that moment, a huge internal struggle erupted inside of me...what was I doing?  On one hand, I wanted consistency.  I didn't want to go through a huge learning curve, I was happy where I was and couldn't handle another transition so soon.  On the other hand, this was my dream job, one with tremendous growth potential.  I also felt guilty returning from maternity leave and immediately transitioning to another role.  My employees were counting on me.  In the end, I decided to take the advice that we so often give our employees, "When opportunity knocks, answer the door!"  Within a month, I transitioned into the Program Manager role.  

In both cases, I realized that I cannot just give up my drive, motivation and desire for success at work....it defines who I am as a person.  In every aspect of life, I set stretch goals for myself to prove that I cannot only do a task, but do it well.  Being a super Mother and Wife AND having a career is possible and I am DETERMINED to make it work!  You just need to work WITH yourself instead of trying to change what defines YOU! 

WORKING MOTHERS: HOW DID YOU HANDLE THE TRANSITION BACK TO WORK? WERE YOU PRESENTED WITH A SIMILAR INTERNAL STRUGGLE? 

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