"Show me a woman without guilt and I'll show you a man." Marie Wilson, founder of the White House Project, quoted in Lean In.
*Note: I'm traveling for work, which of course means I'm once again questioning my priorities, feeling guilty and missing my kids. Feel free to skip this post if you've grown weary of my internal struggles.
I am an ambitious person, and I want to be a good mother. Sometimes I feel like those two phrases don't belong in the same sentence, the two thoughts don't belong together in my mind. It is easy for me to tune into Sheryl Sandberg's message to Lean In - it goes with the grain, feels natural. I'm leaning in, sitting at the table, raising my hand. I'm not leaving before I leave.
I leaned way in to get to where I am now in my career, much of the heavy leaning occurring prior to my having kids. Baby brain and new mom struggles clouded my career path for a while. But Sandberg's message tapped into my dormant ambition and fired up the feminist that silently but persistently lurked in the shadows for the past several years.
It feels good to lean in. It is empowering to know you can positively impact your career trajectory through your own words and actions. I sat at the table with the leader of my institution just this week and had the opportunity to tell him about my professional goals for women in leadership. It felt good to have a voice and to be heard. Ambition can be heady stuff and make you want to reach for more opportunities, more chances to be heard and to make a difference.
I want to be a good mother, and I am an ambitious person. The phrases read differently when you shuffle the order. It begs the question, can we ever truly have it all? The answer to that question is no. I've never heard anyone say yes. Women will answer yes but....not at the same time. It is a qualified yes. I read an article yesterday that made me think about how timing plays into this question and whether I am at the right time in my life to lean in. Maybe I should be less ambitious and happy with a life that is 'good enough.' Time goes so fast. Charlie will be heading to kindergarten next year and things will forever shift. I will blink and he will be grown.
Lately I've been leaning in to the point of falling over. Too many balls in the air, too few hours of sleep every night. And when I lean in, it impacts my entire family. To make sure I don't miss a meeting or a class, I send a sick kid to school or call a grandparent for the umpteenth time this month for help. I made my early morning meeting this week, but I missed a few extra minutes with my kids over breakfast.
I've missed my kids all day, all week. I'm missing a level of detail in their every day - I completely blanked on the school's Spring fundraiser, we haven't made a trip to the city library since last Fall, and my pick up times at the end of the day keep getting later and later. The reality is leaning in doesn't come without sacrifice and I can't be in two places at the same time.
How do I reconcile motherhood and ambition? Can I lean in and not miss out on the million little (and big) things going on in my children's lives? Sandberg admits to being on and available 24/7, answering emails at 5am, working after the kids are in bed well past midnight. I have the potential to easily fall into that pattern, to walk that path. I've done it before, I'm just about there now.
But it's harder now and I feel torn. There are people on my life path - a husband and two kids - that weren't there before. They aren't blocking my path, only I can do that. But they make me want to walk the path a bit slower. And isn't that in effect, leaning back? The very thing Sandberg is telling us we shouldn't do?
At the end of the day, it is not Sandberg I am answering to. It is my own and my family's happiness that matters most. To be continued...
P.S. Though it may seem like I'm spending my few quiet moments away on my own feeling guilty and miserable, I am relaxing in my hotel room with a glass of wine and the worst reality tv. And I always feel better putting my thoughts into words, it is my therapy and never fails to bring clarity. In fact, I already feel more positive as I'm shaping how I will remedy my situation and have some ideas...I will share them soon.