I remember that week very clearly. I was a full-time working mom. I was managing 60 people, who in turn were managing a $5 Billion portfolio. Yep. Billion with a B. I had two brilliant young kids, who were loved from birth by both their parents and their daycare staff. My daughter was in 2nd grade, my little man in Kindergarten.
I was sitting in the woods…with my laptop open.
When managing so many people and when a bad day at work involved the Secret Service, office life had begun to creep into home life. When an employee was underperforming or a change was going to impact my team, I fretted; not just during the regular 50 hours I put in at the office, but well into the evening and over the weekend. After my husband and kids fell asleep, I would sit on my couch at my laptop and work more just to catch up. I would cry almost daily, closing my office door to dissolve into tears, then regain my composure and speak eloquently in front of a few hundred people as if I’d never lost my cool. The guilt was ever-present. I had 238 unread emails in my inbox. I would break out in hives from head to toe. I was a full-time working mom.
I was terrible at it.
We went on a fall vacation – a full week camping in Chattanooga. We had a lovely time, really we did; but I had a laptop and an air card. I could connect from anywhere on the planet, so I did – sitting at a picnic table, working while my kids played. When I finally closed the computer and watched them for a minute, it hit me like a ton of bricks. My son wasn’t a baby. He wasn’t a toddler. He was a full-blown little kid.
He could read and tie his shoes and hold his own on the playground. And I’d missed it.
Monday I walked into the office and said that I wouldn’t manage anymore. I’d always loved teaching, so I would train the team going forward; but I wouldn’t be the boss. Period. Furthermore, I was going to be there for my children daily. I was going to walk out the door at 2:30 and pick them up in the car loop. Yes, I was going to walk away from corporate stature and brave the dreaded car loop. (I actually ran a few dress rehearsals in the loop, but don’t tell anyone.) I stated simply that they could either facilitate this lifestyle change, or I’d put my résumé on Monster and happily train my replacement. I insisted genuinely that I wasn’t playing hardball. I was in survival mode. My world was undergoing a tooth-jarring, mind-blowing, utterly terrifying priority
restructure correction; they could have the new me, or they could hire a new old me.
As it ends up, they replaced me with two people (I may have done an I-told-you-so dance…maybe). I got the chance to do what I love – educate, empower and encourage people. Then I got the chance to leave the office (when the sun was still up!) and do what I love even more – parent my children. I taught them how to ride their bikes. I helped with homework. Dinner was on the table when my husband got home from work.
OK, that part is a lie. At least things were less hectic than they’d been previously.
Given my affinity for having and eating my cake simultaneously, I made sure to understand my employer’s definition of “full time.” Ends up you only have to work 35 hours to be considered full time at my company. With a hubby willing to take on morning duty solo (no lie!) and some creative scheduling, I figured out I could work “late” (5:30, which used to be early!) just one day a week and maintain my full time employee status. It required a change on everyone’s part. My family had to solve for the morning chaos without me. My co-workers had to learn that at 2:31 I was gone, or my kids would be standing pitifully alone on the curb at school. We had to budget for the cut in pay. I had to give up my coveted lunch hours away from the office and settle for cafeteria food at my desk.
Every single change was worth it. Every day was a gift instead of a grind. I had the joy of doing what I love, a salary to contribute to the family funds, and the benefit of adult conversation that many working moms cherish and stay-at-home moms sometimes crave. I had the fulfilling experience of enjoying my children while they were just that – children. I consider myself immeasurably blessed to have had this epiphany at such a young age. I was in my early 30’s and had figured out what was important. I wish it could come so early and at such a low cost for others.
When others heard about my schedule and my story, it became contagious. I got phone calls and emails from colleagues who decided to follow my Jerry Maguire-esque stance. Unlike Tom Cruise, I had more than a goldfish and Renee Zellweger coming with me. Some retired so they could start enjoying the lifestyle they’d worked so hard to earn. Some made similar corrections to their work/life balance and quickly saw a transformation in their families. Some simply started going home at 5:00 like they should have and took up hobbies that inspired and reenergized them. Some hadn’t quite gotten the courage to challenge their status quo, but envied my situation and were working their way toward a similar goal.
No one told me I’d been foolish. Nobody predicted I’d regret working less. Not a single person claimed I was getting it wrong. They all knew I’d done the right thing.
So if the “right thing” is so obvious when we see it, if correcting the work/life balance is clearly so satisfying, and if those making the leap never second guess that they’ve done a brave and rewarding thing…
Why aren’t we all doing it?
Resolve to correct the balance in 2015. Put in the time to research your HR policies. Exhaustively list the things you bring to the table at work. Convince yourself that the value you add is fairly matched to your compensation, and that both are scalable. Compile ideas on what you can reasonably do with your new free time, and what you can reasonably sacrifice to offset it. Practice your pitch in front of the mirror – the one you’ll give your family and the one you’ll give your boss. Then…