I was recently asked about the challenges I’ve experienced as a working mom and what advice I’d share with other women who are juggling both roles. I’m hardly the first (likely the millionth) woman to write about the challenges of parenting and pursuing a career, but the question really made me think about the obstacle I face most often: balancing ambition with responsibility. Parent or not, for anyone balancing these two conflicting behaviors, you know how mentally tough it can be when responsibility has to win out and career ambitions are placed on hold. For anyone in this boat with me, here is the positive advice I take myself:
The work world is constantly changing and there are infinite ways to keep up with it, so don’t be afraid that it will pass you by while your priorities shift elsewhere. That fear is likely caused from the loss of control you feel when the path you were on starts forking too often and you’re not sure which way to go because time is so precious. Keep learning. This is the part of your career you can control. (And it’s so nice to feel like you’re in control sometimes!) Free massive online open courses (MOOCs) are an excellent way to keep your mind active and open to anything you want to learn, from the humanities to software coding, and so much more. Some courses allow you to earn certifications or even begin a new degree at a reduced rate! Or, if committing to a class doesn’t fit your schedule right now, simply be mindful of what you choose to read. There is value in being worldlier than your Facebook feed. Being well read (and I don’t mean literary novels here, just the real goings-on in the world) helps you find commonality with others when you know a little something about their areas of interest.
Trust your past self
Recognize that you do the best you can with the information you have at hand. For me, I’m not quite where I want to be in my career and too often I question decisions I made that led me here. However, when thinking back on my past choices, I try to recognize that I made them with the information I had at the time; I didn’t know for sure what the outcomes would be. No one does and that is OK. Thinking in retrospect—or spending too much time visiting with our past self—can leave you circling the drain of regret. Though it’s important to self-reflect, it’s also important to not be so hard on ourselves. In my case, I remind myself that the answer to “why am I here” is because I made my choices with other goals in mind, such as wanting room for a social life and time for personal interests, to meet friends and, honestly, a husband, and most recently, a place with a maternity leave policy – all things that I fortunately had at the time in life I needed them. Venturing into the unknowns of my future career path with baby No. 2, I chose to eliminate the fear of future regret.
Which brings me to my last thought...
Don’t wait for perfect
The path to accomplishment is not always clear. There will be roadblocks, decisions, and challenges along the way – but no dead ends! As you’ve done countless times in your life, change course and adapt. As my No. 1 strength “Strategy” has taught me, there is not just one way to get where you want to go.
No matter what stage you're at, or what you’re balancing right now, we often have the answers we need to solve our biggest challenges. We just have to start listening to, trusting and consulting with our self.
Sue is a right- and left-brained thinker with an MBA. On her northbound commute to work each day, she drives by the lottery sign and imagines the businesses she would start to help others find professional and financial independence. She lives in South County, Rhode Island, with her husband, son, and baby to be, where they enjoy morning coffee(milk), a perpetually unsuccessful vegetable garden, and beach air.