Somewhere along the way, growing up as a girl in modern society, for me it feels you have to choose your path — you are either a career woman or a mom type. Like cattle being branded, it seems binary and permanent.
The decision was easy for me. I’m a career woman. Born and bred.
As a child, I played business-owner and banker over house or dolls. Combine that with watching key women in my life search for purpose outside of kids, and I was firm on my position — I’m all work all the time.
That was, until my life turned upside down and I found out I was pregnant — completely unplanned, unexpected and (dare I say) a tiny bit unwanted. I was 31 years old, financially secure and in a loving relationship so this wasn’t a disaster. But I had recently accepted a position to move across the country, a symbol that I am doubling down on my career and leaving the kid debate for three to five years down the road.
Nope. It happens now.
White knuckling my identity
As reality of my pregnancy set in, I was determined to stay relevant at work and maintain my people-pleasing, over-achieving, hard-working reputation. I initially told my firm that I was going to take a short leave — less than what they offered at full salary. I signed up for a project that required I fly to the Middle East twice a month. While pregnant. That seemed like a good idea at the time (yes, feel free to roll your eyes — I do too now).
On my last day in the office, I looked my boss in the eyes and said, “when I get back, I’ll be ready to hit the ground running. I want that promotion and I plan to travel.” And I meant it.
To my surprise
I loved being home with my baby girl. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, and it changed me. I finally felt sweet release from pressure I’d placed on myself, historically grounding my purpose solely on work achievements. While I was out, I saw there was joy in something other than external validation. There was no stress of whether clients liked me and would buy more work from me. There was no self-doubt after a tense meeting. To be fair, I had plenty of other new stress-inducing situations, but this was the first time I saw a different way of existing and it felt good.
My entire life had been built on the notion that I’m only valuable if I’m crushing it at work so what happens to EVERYTHING if my willingness to give so much of my time and energy has changed?
Death of a two-tone existence
The rumble of a changing identity is a tricky thing. I used to call it an identity shift, but I now see it was an identity expansion. It’s like an addition you make to a house. It is bigger, utterly more, with fresh new features but the rest of the house — with all the memories in it — is still there. My ambition didn’t go away or even lessen, it’s just that I now have more in my life that matters.
My challenge wasn’t trying to shoehorn mommyhood into my old identity and life. My challenge was to find an environment where my ambition can thrive without detriment to my family life.
This idea that we must have a clear one-or-the-other identity does not serve greater womankind and, instead, holds us in the narrow confines of an antiquated gender-biased existence. We can, should be, and are changing, energetic beings who exist in multiple dimensions and have the freedom to flourish in many priority permutations.
My reconciliation came when I realized my job had to shift in order for me to have the home life I want. So it did. I found a company comprised of other moms and dads and a position that allowed me minimal travel but high-impact work with a mission-driven company at headquarters five minutes from my house.
I’m only two months in to this working mom adventure, but I already see that I can be and am both a loving, involved mom who treasures bedtime cuddles and a badass creator able to lead change, make decisions and own a room.
This post was written by Layla Kajer, Director, Internal Communications and Engagement at Ultragenyx Pharmaceutical Inc.
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