Want to know how I went from shushing my kids on every zoom call and throwing M&Ms at them to literally changing a poopy diaper during a meeting while not missing a bullet on PowerPoint?
I didn’t get here overnight. In fact, I found out I was pregnant with my second kid in March of 2020, during the beginning of the pandemic, which was also the same month that my oldest kid’s daycare permanently closed. The juggling act I was doing to maintain a sense of normalcy for my employer rivaled that of a Cirque du Soleil performer. It all ended up being for naught, as I was laid off (with millions of other Americans) a few weeks later.
I was a now full-time mom standing at the dawn of quarantine, pregnant, and without a job. Unemployment was months away from processing my request. I spent months in front of my computer endlessly searching for jobs, but roles began to disappear (and my belly continued to grow).
First lesson – Embrace the change.
I had whiplash as a result of how fast my daily life did a 180, and I spent a lot of energy and focus desperately trying to push it back to the way it was.
The inner turmoil I experienced was solely from not accepting the present, from fighting against my reality. And then there was the added guilt of not feeling like I was using my time productively enough. I wasn’t learning another language or baking a pie.
When I reflect on this time, I was barely hanging on. I was tired, stressed, and anxious. If I could do it again, I would focus on what I could control, and release what I couldn’t.
Here was some of what I could control
- How much time I spent searching for work
- How much time I spent on social media
- Quality time with my daughter
- Nourishment and movement for my body
- My outlook and attitude
Here was some of things completely out of my control, and I needed to let go of
- When my next opportunity would present itself
- When the pandemic or quarantine would end
- How other people behaved as a result of the pandemic/quarantine
If I could also give myself an affirmation for this time, it would be “I am enough. I attract all good things. Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.”
Second lesson – Bring your whole self to work.
I was big, BIG on apologizing for myself and my kids if it interrupted work. I was always sorry that the baby cried during a call or my toddler came on camera to see who I was talking to.
I was apologizing for the loud noises, for needing to reschedule a call because of a personal conflict, for eating during a call, or for literally every disruption that I deemed outside of the standard for professionalism. I tried to hide parts of me. Before the pandemic, I was in an office, and the different realms of my life had layers of separation. Now, everything was blended together in what I can only describe as a Jackson Pollock painting – beautiful but messy.
What saved me was the forward-thinking female leaders that I worked with. The ones who looked forward to my kids popping on camera, who were also eating lunch on the call with me, or who casually mentioned that they had a therapy session later in the afternoon. They courageously let me know that it was okay to be me, that I didn’t need to hide anything, and that my whole self was welcome.
Because of that energy, I was able to focus on the work at hand, instead of using part of my brain to think of ways to cover things up. Are there crumbs on my laptop? Yes. Are the kids playing under my desk? Definitely. Am I smiling? For sure.
Third lesson – Don’t sacrifice yourself for work.
I had been out of the 9-5 game for over a year, and when I finally got a job offer (with my desired title and salary) I jumped at the opportunity. In fact, I was so elated that I ignored several glaring red flags. The balance I had worked to achieve in my personal and professional life went out the window as I immersed myself into this new role.
The shifts in my behavior started out slowly. I would work through lunch, and then I would sign on again in the evening. I had Slack notifications on my phone, and would check them at all hours. I started being late to meet my kids for drop-off from daycare. Dinner was later and later (and sometimes burnt), and I would be checking my emails throughout the evening.
I was scared to set boundaries with work, and because of that, work became my life. I also set the precedent that I was up for any ask, no matter the time, and was always on and available.
This. Was. Not. Healthy. Or. Sustainable.
I burned out after 6 months and ended up parting ways with the company. When I reflect on that time, there are definitely things I would’ve done differently.
Hold fast to my values
Support from leadership. Psychological safety. Inclusivity. Transparency. These are just a few. Had I returned to these pillars I would’ve seen that I was a square peg, and the company was a round hole, and there was no need to force something that wasn’t working.
Set boundaries upfront
Here’s what’s important to me: Dinner with my kids, exercising in the middle of the day, and meeting-free Fridays (I know that last one isn’t always possible). Boundaries help me take care of myself, and in turn do a better job as a parent, friend, and also an employee.
Know when to go
It was difficult to let go of something that I worked long and hard to get. However, nothing is worth sacrificing your mental and physical well-being over, or your morals. There were moments where I chose work over myself and my family, and that was absolutely the wrong choice.
Final lesson – Give yourself and others so much grace.
Be patient with everyone (especially your kids if you have them). We are all navigating dozens of changes in real-time. I have received so much grace from colleagues and leaders who I look up to. What they have taught me is that no one is perfect, and we all make mistakes.
I know that isn’t the first time you’ve heard or read that, but it has new meaning in 2022. In spaces where we used to brush over our errors, we can now share them openly and focus what we learned from them. The shame is removed, and falling forward is encouraged. It is, after all, how we learn what we are truly capable of.
Oftentimes it feels like the lessons I give to my kids are the ones I also need to give to myself, so I’ll share them with you too.
Your words have power, make sure you speak kindly to yourself and others.
You can do hard things.
It’s okay to be scared and brave at the same time.
Eat your vegetables.