When You Love Your Job, But It’s Unmanageable
Filed in: MM Forum
Welcome to the third installment of the MM Forum, an ongoing conversation with our readers about ambition, family, and the challenges and triumphs of your lives as professional women. Prior to each Forum, we’ll choose a theme, and ask people to send us stories and musings that stem from it (you may choose to be anonymous, if you like). We will then publish a selection of those submissions here on The M Dash.
This week, we’ve examined what it’s like to scale back—or go part-time—when work becomes truly unmanageable. Three women in the MM community have shared their experiences, below. You can find next week’s topic at the bottom of the post.
On Paper, My Career Was Great; In Reality, It Was Too Much
Last month, I made the decision to go part-time at work. For the last 3+ years, I’ve been the CMO at a startup in New York. While I love my job, I also have two children under five who I began to feel were getting the worst of me. The tired, stressed, distracted leftovers instead of the focused, energetic, thoughtful mom I want to be—the mom I wanted to be when I had kids, before my business took off. The company hasn’t had anyone scale back like this before (let alone a C-level employee), so I’m going to be a guinea pig of sorts, just as I was for their maternity policy when I had my second child two years ago.
The choice to work three days a week—and step down from my role as CMO, and into an executive brand strategy position—was an incredibly difficult one. It was also a huge relief. I made this choice to rebalance the time between my office and my family, so I could spend more quality time with the latter. I also made this choice to invest in myself; between work and kid commitments, I almost lost myself entirely. I’m a creative, expansive, joyful person, but in order to be all those things, I need more unstructured time and fewer petty distractions.
Yes, there’s a part of me that feels crazy for walking away from a fantastic career opportunity… but after spending a lot of time thinking about what I want—and for what reasons—I know this is the right thing to do. I was “having it all” and on paper, my life looked amazing. But I was so sad, so anxious. And when I stepped back and broke my life down into pieces—career, relationship, kids, self—I thought about what was motivating me to invest in each. If my motivation was me, my love and joy in pursuing a certain area of my life, then that was something I needed to keep investing in. If my motivation was external, something to prove or a chip on my shoulder or meeting some social need or expectation… well, I realized I would never feel fulfilled chasing some external definition of success, and that it wasn’t a pursuit worth going crazy for. And I have tried to scale those areas of my life back to something more manageable.
The hardest part of this process is letting go of all need for external validation. The choice I made is not going to win me accolades or press or invitations to panels or fawning I don’t know how she does it!-type statements. I may not be a role model for my generation, one that so badly wants to believe that we can and should “have it all.” Instead, I choose happiness, sanity, and with any luck, the chance to be my best self for the people who really matter.
-Branding executive, New York, NY
Going Part-time, With No Regrets
One morning in December 2011, the unthinkable happened. My husband of 17 years dropped dead, literally. I happened to be scheduled for an early start at work that day, and he was supposed to get our sons, then ages 8 and 11, through the morning routine.
I tried to carry on as usual. I had re-joined the working world as an engineer only three years prior, having been a stay-at-home mom who spent a considerable amount of time away from my chosen field of environmental engineering. Plus, I was being promoted. However, within a month or two of my husband’s death, a series of events made it clear that I was not going to be able to handle my grief, my boys’ grief, the boys’ regular activities, household tasks, and a full-time job. After much thought, I asked my manager and HR about going to a part-time status. My manager and HR were very supportive with my decision and continue to be.
Has this decision hurt my career? I don’t think it has. If anything, it has forced my managers to think creatively about how to best use the time that I put in, and some new opportunities have arisen as the result of my need for a flexible schedule. I believe that if a company values your contributions and you as a human being, it will make the attempt at finding a work arrangement that works for both of you.
My boys and I are doing well now, but I needed the extra time, especially for school meetings and counseling appointments. I have no regrets about my decision to reduce my work hours.
-Lori Lai Cox, engineer, Concord, NH
Sticking It Out, and Standing Up for Myself
Recognizing your limits is actually wisdom, not weakness.
After being asked to take over the workload of a colleague that abruptly quit, I quickly realized the amount was unsustainable; but, it wasn’t until I used a calendar to give my boss a visual representation of the workload that he finally understood what a burden it was. Because I kept saying “yes” no matter what he asked of me in order to be helpful, he couldn’t visualize the weight of the workload until I used the calendar to provide him with some concrete evidence. After seeing that it would literally take me six to eight weeks every single quarter to do everything he asked, a wave of recognition washed over his face, and the next day he began delegating some of the tasks to the rest of our team. If I didn’t have the courage to say something and lay it out for him in a manner that was visually impactful, he probably would have never realized it on his own.
It is so important to realize that everyone has a threshold. Working beyond that threshold just to “be helpful” is counterproductive, as exhaustion can foster underperformance, which isn’t actually helpful to anyone!
-Financial analyst, Chicago, IL
Want to weigh in? Our next topic is workplace re-entry. Have you ever taken a long break from your career, and then mounted a comeback? How did it go, and what did you learn from it? Please send your stories and thoughts (however brief or long) to TheMMForum@mmlafleur.com by Wednesday, February 1st.