Two months ago, I exited my leadership role at a media company.
Now I’m thinking about what I want to build next. And while the WHAT is still coming into focus, my mission is oh-so-clear: I want to build something that supports women in cultivating fulfilling careers, earning money and gaining power. Especially moms. Because we need more women in decision-making roles.
As I ponder the HOW behind that mission, I keep coming up against a big question.
What’s more effective for propelling women forward: pushing within our broken work system (the “traditional” way of working) and finding ways to improve it? Or going outside the traditional model of work and creating new options?
There is no doubt that our traditional work framework — the system the majority of our country functions within — is designed for men. And, the higher up you go in a company, it’s designed for men who have a wife who does the lion’s share of the work at home.
Despite this, some women are managing to navigate the system and become breadwinners. Others, frustrated with how hard it can be to have a traditional job while raising a family, are opting out of the mainstream to take a less-traditional path, growing a freelance career or building a part-time or flexible business from home.
I carry some shame about opting out of my leadership role, about admitting that I couldn’t couldn’t lead a large team while also being a mother with young kids and a working spouse.
Actually, that’s backwards; what I couldn’t manage was taking care of my family and myself while doing my best at work.
(I know, I know, I did it successfully for nearly four years, and working moms always feel like they’re failing no matter how much they accomplish… but in the end I just felt like this was a puzzle I couldn’t solve.)
This is hard to talk about because I had it so good, way better than most women who juggle a family and a job. My company was flexible and accommodating. I had a beautiful private space (with a sink!) for pumping at work. Our family income was enough to afford a nanny to watch our youngest son. My commute was short. I had a supportive and engaged partner at home.
Yet I still couldn’t make it work. In the end, I had to accept that working fewer hours from home on my own business is a better fit for our family right now.
I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I recently talked with another high achiever, a female leader in engineering who also left her job. Not because she didn’t like the job, but because she was running herself into the ground trying to work that job and take care of her family.
The thing is, not everyone knows how to make money without an employer. It can be really hard to get started. I was fortunate to have years of practice before having kids, so I had the know-how, the connections, a readership that might support whatever I built — and most importantly, the confidence that I would succeed. For others struggling within the conventional work model, those pieces aren’t always readily available.
Here’s what bothered me so much about leaving my job: I thought that if I wanted to change the system, wanted to normalize things like leaving at 4pm for school pickup or securing a private space to pump before going on stage for a speaking engagement, I had to stay within that system.
I so desperately wanted to be an example of a woman who could have kids and be a strong leader at work.
But now that I’m a few months into our new life, I’m starting to see it differently. I’m realizing that the worlds of traditional and non-traditional work aren’t perfectly delineated, and individuals don’t necessarily fall into one camp or the other; we’re not solely employees or entrepreneurs.
We transition between creating our own paycheck and relying on an employer for one, depending on what phase of life we’re in. Or we start in one place and learn, then move onto the other.
That’s my story; I worked at traditional news organizations, left to grow my own business, joined another company when my agency was acquired, then decided to go out on my own again.
And while I’m no longer in a “regular” job, I might actually be better positioned to push us forward now that I have more physical and mental energy, less rage, and a clearer head.
In this next phase, I want to help women who are launching businesses and thinking creatively about how to earn income. At the same time, I see lots of opportunities to support the women who are still in the old-school system, who are working their asses off to change it, beat it, win it.
Because to truly shift the balance of power and money, we need women leading within the traditional world of work as well as outside of it.
So here’s to chipping away in both directions — to pushing forward and reshaping the “typical” way of working, while building new ways of approaching work at the same time.