Recently I spoke at the Monte Jade Annual Conference on the topic of women and leadership. During the panel portion, I was asked what was the most challenging professional situation I had faced. It was clear for me. My decision to leave Corporate America in the hopes of having children.
I was 34, the youngest VP at Polaroid at the time and it seemed I had “achieved”, and was assured further corporate success was ahead of me. The work was exciting. I loved my team. Yet, life was leading me towards a different path. Unknown to my work colleagues or manager, I had been attempting to get pregnant for 2 years at that point. My biological clock was “ticking”. The time had come. Yet no planning or medical intervention was working. I was traveling incessantly, as was my husband. Stress was high. Not the best “breeding” ground, huh?
It’s a unique experience for each woman who faces this point in their life. The breadth of choices and considerations. Fears and hopes. Looking back and looking forward. Consequences. Trade-offs. Our world of career (especially for us overachieving types) can suddenly collide with our hopes (and fantasy) of motherhood. The voices of our parents, our culture, our society gather around us. We become unsure what voice is ours and what voice is theirs. In all this, nonetheless, we make pivotal choices. Because when we choose to bring a little human being into our life, life changes.
Some women continue on in a similar mode and accommodate their children into their existing structure, some women adjust work to fit around their children; and, some like me, change our lives radically in the hopes of creating a completely new life.
In looking back, I now know that I had to leave my life “as it was” in order to create space for my children. My life, as it was, simply could not accommodate the kind of life I wanted for my children. Trust me, I was the most surprised of all. For most of my life, I thought I would have live-in nannies as I continued my ascent in Corporate America. Then the unexpected happened. The sudden death of my beloved father during business school changed everything. I was devastated. However his death revealed to me that the gift of parenting was not in the “things” but in the “being”. He was a father whose being was put into his children. And thus, when my turn came to be a mother, it became clear (to my subconscious) that my career trajectory and life as it had been, would not alllow me to be the parent I had come to want to be. Honestly, I had little conscious knowledge at that time. I only felt the dire frustration of not accomplishing my goal to bear a child. But within me, a new me was birthing, making a new nesting ground for my children.
While it was the most difficult professional decision in my life, it was a pivotal moment, when I listened to my deepest life voice rather than to my external, achieving self. I came to trust that life would fulfill my deepest hopes, if I simply followed its beckoning steps. After launching a new Polaroid business and with months of notice to my boss, I left Corporate America. I left a phase of my life I had worked so very hard (and loved) to create. I stepped into a whole new chapter, with no promises of children at that time. Yet as I followed the path of life, my children came. They are now 10 and 7.
This pivotal change was possible, in part, because of the immense support I had, from so many individuals, including my husband, a dear sherpa friend, my mother and also, one of my most-admired bosses who said one day when I divulged the truth of my dilemma, “you can always have a career, but you can’t always have a child”. Somehow this wisdom, from a male corporate insider made all the difference.
My career continues, in a way it could never had, had I not left. But most importantly, I have been blessed with choice as a career woman, to live my life in its fullest, in abundance. Looking back, no amount of logical analysis would have led to my decision. My decision came from listening to the wisdom of my life and trusting that, despite my intense fears, what laid ahead of me would be wonderful, creative and rewarding. Indeed, it has been nothing less than that.
These points are so deeply personal. But if you’re facing a life decision at the intersection of career and parenthood, may I invite you to include wisdom and intuition into your decision-making process. It not only has worked for me, but for many clients who have faced these moments. Trust your dreams. Follow their beckoning calls. They do come true.