Passionate, Driven, Ambitious, Most Likely to be CEO are words I heard often when I was in my 20s. It seemed quite achievable to me because I was smart, hardworking and enjoyed the process of learning and mastering anything you threw at me. What has been interesting to observe is the transition I went through as I got older, got married, had kids. That 20-something unstoppable woman turned into a cautious, measured and compromising 40-year-old woman. I don’t regret any of my choices in life. I have learned to embrace them.
I stumbled onto this great interview with Indra Nooyi from a few years ago. This is a great reminder that as women we just can’t have it all. It sounds awful but it’s important for us to make peace with it. She says,“If I had to write a letter to myself as a younger person, I’d say, ‘Be careful about all the choices you’re making, because you will look back and it will hurt like hell.’”
If you are a woman who is passionate, driven, ambitious, most likely to be CEO and you have made the choice to focus on yourself, your family, your children, your interests outside of “work” then –
a. You are not alone. This is a silent revolution. There are many women (and some men) like us who are making the choice to scale back from traditional “work” roles to focus on what’s important to us. In my case, the wake-up call came in the form of a cancer diagnosis. But I consider it a blessing in disguise. If it wasn’t for a health crisis, I would have never stopped and perhaps wouldn’t be here to write this post.
b. There is no age limit to achieving great things in life. You can do it at 20, you can do it at 50. There are plenty of people who have demonstrated this.
c. Women need to help other women. If you are a mom, then you have most likely interacted with other moms at your kids’ school. Have you noticed how moms help each other? We are a network so strong and so powerful that if you were to put a $ value to it (as it often happens in silicon valley with everything we do measure in terms of $’s) it would be worth billions. I don’t think you can put a price on it. It is – priceless. The mommy network is a lifeline, it’s powerful, it’s what connects the community. Why don’t we see this in the work environment? I personally have been on both sides and can assure you that I have never experienced the kind of connection, efficiency, willingness to help that exists today in the mommy network anywhere else.
d. Own your choices. I would be lying if I told you that I don’t have days when I beat myself up for not giving it my all. I often ask myself, ‘Did I throw away 16 years of hard work?’, ‘Am I not talented enough for a big title?’, ‘Am I a quitter?’. As a freelancer, I often bring my best to the table with any client I work for. This eventually leads to new opportunities. I often get asked if I would like to convert to full time and my answer is always a polite ‘No’. I am aware of what I am capable of doing but I am also very aware of the implications my choices have on my life right now. I know what I need to do right now. As hard as it can be sometimes, I have to own my choices and live with it.
e. Peaks and Valleys. At an especially low point in my life, my dad said something really profound to me. He is a third generation businessman who gave up his dreams to take up his family business. He was a university topper with a degree in engineering, all set to take on a new life in the land of opportunity – the US. Instead, he chose to take over a failing business and turn it into a successful one, reinventing it many times over during his 40-year tenure. He was barely 24 at the time. So this guy is familiar with the territory of making choices, embracing your personal sacrifices and ongoing personal reinvention. What he said to me was this. He said that when you are down in the dumps it’s like you are in a valley. But the valleys can turn into peaks. That’s life. You have peaks and valleys. What’s important is knowing how to navigate them. I did just that. I have (and am still learning) how to navigate my peaks and valleys.
f. Keep learning. You know that kid who is excited to be at school every single day? That was me. I loved school. I loved learning. I still do. I approach new things with the same enthusiasm I felt when learning cursive in elementary school. If there are two things that can bring a sparkle in my eye – 1. Shoes 2. Learning something new. Yes, shoes are #1. Sue me.
g. Work-Life Balance. I have been part of many passionate discussions on the topic of the ever so elusive ‘Work-Life Balance’. What fun it is to be part of animated discussions on whether to lean in, lean back, can or can’t you have it all. My take is that any kind of balance in your life has to come from YOU and the choices you make. If you choose to work all the time and ignore your health, that is on you. If you choose to skip your child’s parent-teacher meeting for a work meeting, that is on you. My point is, find what’s right for you. Therein lies the balance. It’s what works for you. If you are unhappy with the choices you are making, its time to rethink them. Simple.
The point of writing this post is to get the dialogue going. Not many women are talking about this and I am not quite sure why. What I have realized is that the more people I talk to, the more I learn that I am not alone.
What’s your story? I want to hear from you. Hope this post helps you make and own your choices. Man. Woman. Everyone.