Going small to make space for a family — years before becoming pregnant — can be a career-limiting decision.
“Are you using birth control?” I asked a beloved coaching client, a junior executive on the East Coast.
There was a shocked silence on the other end of the phone line. After a pause, she allowed that she is on the pill.
She had two offers on the table: a VP role leading a large organization and a senior manager role without direct reports.
She’s also thinking about having her first baby.
“So you have a couple of months to decide to go off the pill, a couple of months for your body to adjust to being off the pill, a couple of months to actually get pregnant if everything goes well — that’s maybe a year right there,” I calculated. “And then the actual pregnancy.”
You could be two years from a baby, plus or minus a year,” I told her. “Two years could be a wealth of time.”
I read Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In,” one summer afternoon in the hammock in my backyard (once my kids were old enough to allow me to read all afternoon!). Years later, the themes in her book still resonate: to go for it until the decision to take a step back (if that’s what you want to do) is right in front of you, cooing and crying and lovely. Not to step back from developing your career years and years before that baby is in your arms.
“Lean In” is exactly what my client was thinking about.
This client is highly ambitious, qualified, educated, credentialed, skilled, brilliant (totally intimidating, actually). She has the intellectual and emotional capacity for a big, demanding job — and she’s hungry for it.
But she’s thinking about taking a smaller role as she plans out the next several years of her life. The best laid plans of mice and mothers …
“How are you with being bored?” I asked her. She answered with phrases like “soul crushing” and “chew off my right arm.”
“I’m worried that the manager role might be a little boring, but that might be good as I figure out a baby,” she mused.
In my office, I have seen many things that can go awry in a job — serious mistakes, ambivalent managers, poor fit, for example — and boredom is right up there among the worst offenders.
Boredom is exhausting, enervating and debilitating for a driven professional. Feeling under-utilized and under-appreciated gnaws at your self-confidence, your self-esteem, your drive.
Boredom is insidious because it seems like having that extra time, breathing room and lower stress would be a great solution. Over and over, I have seen with my coaching clients that this is not the case.
“Tell me if I’m following,” I asked my client. “You’re considering a role that you think might be boring because you might get pregnant in the next couple of years. You’re considering walking away from a role that you think might be super interesting because you can’t figure out right now how you would fit a baby into it. Am I tracking?” (I didn’t go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income and the opportunity costs and the heartbreak of potentially not getting pregnant.)
There was silence on the other end of the line.
“I could probably get a lot done in two years,” she said.