Leaning In To My Own Light
I have a confession to make. When Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, was released in March of 2013, I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Here I was flourishing in my career, working in a global media agency in NYC, doing what I always thought I wanted to do. For some reason, though, I was terribly unhappy and not performing at the level I knew I was capable of so I resented this whole ‘leaning in’ concept. Almost every day, I felt like I wasn’t fulfilling my role at work or at home no matter how hard I was working at either role.
I should back up and tell you that I had chosen to stay home with my older son when he was born. Money was tight, but I knew that this was what I really wanted to do for my family and myself. When he was two, I was fortunate enough to be connected to Sandi Webster and Peggy McHale, the Principals of C2G, and I worked for them part-time until my younger son was born. At that time, I again chose to stay home for some time with him. About 18 months later, my husband lost his job and I was feeling the itch to get back to work and came back to the workforce at that point. I remember taking that job and thinking, “As soon as he gets a job, I’m quitting, even if it’s two months from now.” Well, the saying, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans,” couldn’t have been truer. I ended up loving that job and getting divorced a year later. So there I was needing to work to support my family, but getting so much fulfillment from my work and colleagues that it was a win-win. It also helped tremendously that I was able to work from home two days per week!
Things were great for 3+ years, but in classic overachiever mode, I wanted more. I was about to turn 40 and thought I wasn’t getting any younger, my younger son was going to full-day Kindergarten, so I thought it was the perfect time to go back to work in the city at an ad agency. I landed a great job, through a referral, and was super excited to start my new role. Five months into it, I told my boyfriend (who is now my husband) that I needed to stick it out for two years at my level. Five months in and I was miserable, but I stuck it out for 2 years, 3 months, and 6 days. I stayed that long because I couldn’t admit that I wasn’t cut out for it. I wasn’t being true to myself. I read an article recently about Amy Poheler’s book, Yes, Please, and she says that your career can’t always be “that light inside you that drives you.” I can tell you that I was not in a situation that let the real me shine through and that was my own fault.
I learned so much in that role and worked on things I never thought I’d work on (i.e. one of the biggest media client wins in advertising history), but the toll it was taking on me physically and emotionally were too great a price to pay. What I learned about myself will stay with me forever, and I am sharing the three top things with you:
- I’m not built to be away from my kids for 60+ hours per week. I had always kept in touch with Sandi and Peggy and I reached out asking to meet with them to discuss my potentially coming back to C2G.
- Work hard, contribute high. I’ve been back now for 6 months and I finally feel like I’m back to being me. I work hard, contribute at a high level, but I have balance in my life too. The balance tips from day to day, but it’s there when I need it. The environment at C2G is one where it’s ok to tell Peggy or Sandi that you have to go to a school event in the middle of the day because they never make you feel like it’s not ok.
- Making a change is not impossible. For anyone contemplating making that change, please don’t think it’s impossible. I am proof that you can nurture your career without killing yourself and your family as its sacrifice. I am off the blood pressure medicine I had been on since 2000 because I can now have better perspective on what’s truly stressful vs. what isn’t worth the increased heart rate. I get regular exercise that was impossible as a single mom commuting to the city every day. I eat dinner with my family most nights – something that I grew up doing and was killing me not to do previously.
As women, we need to create more opportunities for other women who don’t want the same things as the women who choose to lean in as their way of life. I really admire these women; I’m just not one of them and that doesn’t make me one bit less ambitious than them. I just have ambition and drive to be more present with my family, and that’s not something I’m ashamed to admit anymore. Maybe if more of us admit it, we can be the start of something great for us career-focused women who also don’t want or can’t afford to stay at home full-time. Life isn’t black and white, and I no longer see my career being as simple as leaning in or leaning out. More so, the burden of thinking it should be that way is no longer mine.
Jen Klotz is the Vice President of Human Resources at Consultants 2 Go.