Shonda Rhimes recently talked about how she balances having a successful career with being a mom to young children. She answered by simply saying she doesn’t. “Whenever you see me somewhere succeeding in one area of my life, that almost certainly means I am failing in another area of my life.” Personally, I’m experiencing the most success I have in my career while being an incredibly involved mother to two young children. Have I found some sort of balance that other parents have not or am I fooling myself in thinking I “have it all?”
First, let’s look at how I define professional success: I’m doing work that uses the skills I’ve built up through my career to make an impact on social justice issues that I care about. My salary allows me to support my family and have financial stability. As a mom, success is based on my ability to support my childrens’ physical, emotional, and academic growth and the time I spend with them savoring their childhood.
The term “having it all” has traditionally represented an unfair standard that involves working in a manner that ignores our responsibilities and identities outside of the workplace and defines motherhood by unrealistic standards. It conjures up a narrow image of success and evokes images of “girl bosses” in suits and heels climbing the corporate ladder. The key to my happiness and success is that I’ve rejected that image of success and come to an understanding that personal and professional success are inextricably linked. The key to my dual success is that I built the organization all parents deserve.
Parenthood is not a liability, it’s a superpower. Before motherhood, I was a passionate and dedicated advocate for social justice. Since becoming a mother my desire for change is is just as if not more fierce and my ability to manage my time and set boundaries that prevent burnout. I’ve seen this shift in many of my colleagues as they become parents. There is a more critical eye of where to spend time and resources, when travel is really necessary and when it is superfluous, and what projects and campaigns could be impactful enough to pursue. The work becomes more strategic and time is treated as the valuable resource that it is.
Success is measured by impact and not by time. In my 20s, I strived to be the person who was always working. I strived to be at every event no matter how minor, perform through the sleep deprivation (and sometimes tears) brought on by campaign hours, and always be connected. While I acknowledge that the long hours I put in early in my career have helped boost my current success, my worth is no longer tied to the hours I am online. My worth is what I add to my team, the innovativeness of our work, and vision with which I lead our organization. My kids are happiest when I’m trick or treating with them even if it means it’s in a store bought costume. They don’t care that I’m not the class mom but feel lucky that I’m able to volunteer in their classes. They understand that while there are family screen free times, mommy will sometimes send texts and emails while they are around.
Recognizing team members as whole people and not just cogs in an organizational machine produces the best work. Our team at Public Wise is made up of people from communities that are directly affected by the work we do. Ignoring the identities that make us passionate about our work is counterproductive. Allowing the space to flourish in all of our identities is key. Our pay scale reflects the rising costs of childcare and our leave policies allow for the flexibility to be active at our childrens’ schools, make medical appointments during the day, and take care of family responsibilities. We are responsible for meeting deadlines and contributing high quality work. Performance is assessed using those metrics as opposed to the hours spent logged in.
Motherhood is my superpower, but I am not immune to mommy guilt. This system is not infallible and I don’t feel at the top of my game every moment of every day. However, I genuinely feel that I am showing up as my best self as both a mom and an executive director. I believe the environment our team at Public Wise has created is possible and even beneficial across the advocacy space. I believe we can have it all.