Ambition does not and should not halt with the arrival of motherhood.
The year 2012 was a defining year for me: I was pregnant with my third child and was faced with a life-changing decision between my career and my family. We were living in Chicago at the time and my husband had a job change that required our family to move to the Bay Area of California.
I was working for an ad agency, at the forefront of ad tech and analytics, with the most amazing people, and had wonderful mentors who supported my growth professionally and who valued family. I traveled globally and I was thriving. At least that's what it felt like.
I felt like I myself again after having two kids. I was living the dream moms around me wanted: I was a successful career woman and a mom at the same time.
Suddenly, I experienced one of the toughest downfalls. Chasing the "balanced life" became a hot topic around our household. I felt the life I'd built for myself, my family and my colleagues was crashing down all around me. And it did.
Needless to say, we moved back to California while I was seven months pregnant. My company had offices in San Francisco, so I was able to transfer successfully—but my entire team remained in Chicago so I managed the team remotely. This proved difficult since my role entailed engaging with people globally on a daily basis. I was up at 5 am with colleagues in Europe and working late at night with others in Asia.
Keeping up with the two hour time difference between San Francisco and Chicago and then integrating that into my family became difficult to manage. And, in the midst of it all, I delivered my third child. But, I remained steadfast in my career, traveling extensively to Chicago, New York, then to Europe and Asia.
To effectively develop talent strategies and implement organizational changes (both huge parts of my job) engagement was a key component to the success of these efforts, so being onsite was important. Corporate behavior, culture, systems and mindset aren't channels that can be changed by remote control or the flip of a switch.
But I knew better. I knew once I made the decision to move back to California that this would be the end of my career. My gut felt it.
I ended up leaving my job in advertising shortly after moving back to San Francisco. I stopped traveling. I gave up a job I loved for my family. But, living in the Bay Area and supporting three kids meant we needed two incomes. So I went back to consulting, begrudgingly.
My fast-track career had been derailed. Yes, I was earning an income. Yes, I was spending more time with my kids—which was great, don't get me wrong. But was I supposed to love this new arrangement? Was this "it" for me? Was I a mom with a job that just paid the bills?
It has taken me a long time to get back on my feet. I have always been independent, ambitious and driven. It's my nature. If you ask me about leaning in or leaning out, I probably would say "lean in." But I realize this is really hard to do with kids, especially if you want to be an engaged parent. It feels like a no-win situation: you lean in, your family suffers because they don't see you as much. You lean out, and perhaps your " whole self" falls apart into pieces. Could there by another option?
In retrospect, going through this experience taught me ambition does not and should not halt with the arrival of motherhood. In fact, it made me realize the tremendous capabilities and the enormous capacity that mothers possess, and these should be treated as assets, not as liabilities.
My experience has now made me a huge advocate of breaking old paradigms and mindsets around women who want to have careers and a family. If I am going to tell my daughters that they can be anything they want to be, then we should have the infrastructure, systems, and policies to support them so they can thrive in their careers and beyond.
Because women play multiple roles: mothers, partners, daughters, sisters, career professionals and more. And we should all hold these titles with integrity, resilience and purpose.