I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
It’s not working. I’m not working. This isn’t working.
The track of frustrations was playing on and on in my head when I stepped out into a new career, and I was stuck. My mentor leaned in to me and said something like, “I know you’re frustrated. But this will come to you like motherhood and apple pie.” I remember looking straight ahead and thinking “oh, shit”, because I am literally the worst at both motherhood AND apple pie. We all know what struggles a mom goes through as she works to get the hang of growing, raising, and keeping a tiny human alive...and most of us have experienced the disaster of pie making. This isn’t going to be good.
When I thought about why that phrase didn’t settle my tormented soul (drama added naturally—you’re welcome), I realized that there’s good reason for this. I am an achiever. An activator. A strategist. I find ways to create things. Build things. Fix things. Professionally, I get to get up every day and use each one of my signature strengths to be the architect of my career, the author of my success, and the determiner of my boundaries. As a well-educated and driven boss babe, I knew that I had capacity, capabilities, and options. It was all about balance for me. I was stressed. Frustrated. Feeling guilty all the time. I needed to step away from what I knew and look for something better. Did I have the right ingredients?
For me, the role didn’t matter. People excited me. I worked in a boutique firm, constantly redefining priorities and services. It should have been perfect for a working mother—enough flexibility to parent, enough challenges to never be bored. Prior to all of this, I spent years in a leadership role in a huge organization, but it didn’t quite fill this need that I had to develop people whole-person, not just performing functions. In my early career, I dedicated years to developing others—I was made to be a coach. I also pounded on doors to get them to open up enough for opportunities to become within reach for the communities and populations I was serving. I truly did love working hard, and I still do. I enjoyed giving more, going further, and bringing others along. For she who leads like me, bless your heart. Burnout is right around the corner, waiting for you to trip in those fabulously appointed heels and wide-leg dress pants.
Career success, options, and opportunities were there for me. I was proud of my accomplishments and nearly defined myself by them. Until the realization of another dream of mine was on the horizon. Starting a family had always been on my mind. When I met and married my husband, who happens to be adopted, I really wanted to give him a child; “someone with his DNA” I always said. It sped up my timeline for parenthood, and I was happy for that. Exactly ten months after our wedding, our first son was born. About two years later, the second. And then things got really crazy. My priorities were shifting. My drive for success professionally hadn’t changed, but my willingness to sacrifice motherhood to meet the growing demands certainly did. I could keep pushing, keep working, and keep trying, or I could settle in to the stay at home mom gig. Constantly, people asked me if that is what I was going to do next. No offense to those who choose it, but I was offended that people thought that was what I was going to do. I mean, hadn’t they seen me crush goals before? The tension I experienced in finding some balance or harmony between the motherhood I had wanted and gotten, and the professional success I was craving, became too much to bear. I threw myself into work and felt guilty all the time. It made no sense to me then, and still doesn’t today. How can this be what I, and many other working moms, experience? The choices should really be easy. Afterall, I had wanted a family for all these years—and now that I had one, was I going to really just work my time away? Or worse, was I going to resent the people I loved because I desired to work? I did the only thing that I knew how to do: work harder, push more, go further outside of what felt natural to me and keep trying.
So yes, I started to doubt myself, and if I was cut out for any of this. There were loads of tears at this point. Back to motherhood and apple pie: I suck at making apple pies. I can cut the apples. I can mix the dough. But...the chilling of the dough to JUST the right temperature…the rolling and rolling and rolling—so tedious. The lattice, come on now. The pre-baking the apple slices—WHAT? Forget it. My apple pies look more like an unfortunate glass dish of apple mush and cinnamon.
At some point, the women around me caught wind of my struggle. Through a lot of long walks, late-night text conversations, and video chats with my mom-tribe, I felt like it was okay to confess that I was struggling, failing, drowning. Just letting that out, breaking out of the “keeping it all together” facade, was actually helping me sort through the working mom/stay at home mom tug-of-war. And that’s how it clicked for me. I didn’t (and still don’t) have to choose one over the other. I don’t have to fake it. What I needed to do was find some harmony and purpose. The freedom that I experienced when I realized that I didn’t have to fit into someone else’s cubicle or crib still gives me hope. And it should give you some hope too. But before that sense of freedom, there was a lot of meticulous following of someone else’s recipe. And reading of blogs. And listening to podcasts. And crying in the bathroom. Motherhood and apple pie wasn’t natural for me. But developing people, and getting behind them, beside them, and looking for obstacles that might trip them up WAS for me.
It’s kind of working in motherhood, but definitely working professionally. I have nothing further to offer on apple pie. There’s no fun recipe here. Go to Eat’n Park. They have great pies.
My hope for you: that you will create your own recipe for success based on the ingredients you are bringing to the table. That you will recognize that the way you are made is not a mistake and these traits are not setbacks. For she who leads, learning how to harness your strengths and apply them to the work before you will do you well in life, and in business, opening the door for the things you desire most.
Motivated to pursue my own career by design, and use my strengths to solve problems, I pressed on in my own path. I did the entrepreneurial thing for a while, and then I went back into non-profit work because I needed that pace and consistency. I realized that I can be patient with myself. I said this earlier, but my God it bears repeating: the myth of having a work-life balance frustrated me. As a working parent, I felt like I was constantly taking from one box to put in another. And keeping track. And measuring. And feeling guilty when I had success in one area. And getting frustrated. I was already doing KETO and measuring all those damn MACROS, I couldn’t track one more thing. The frustration was real. This also may explain why I wasn’t loving the whole apple pie analogy. I haven’t had pie in so long…
I’ve noticed this wasn’t just my problem though—more and more people I encountered professionally were experiencing the same thing. We all wanted something more. Don’t you? Don’t you want something more for yourself and all the other women that keep striving and struggling and succeeding quietly? We have so much to learn from each other.
Having the right ingredients is one thing, but using them as part of the recipe for success is another. “A leader needs to know his strengths as a carpenter knows his tools, or as a physician knows the instruments at her disposal. What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strength—and can call on the right strength at the right time.”
–Don Clifton, psychologist and business executive