MBA or baby?
I recently chose to have a baby instead of going back to school, and my career has never been better. I am a tech leader with roots in strategy consulting, and I love my job. As of twelve months ago, I am a mother and I love this role too. I consider myself a lifelong learner, and I seek out as many professional and personal development opportunities as I can get my hands on. So, naturally, I had considered going back to school. But then my husband and I decided the time was right for us to start a family. Hence, my predicament: MBA or baby? The two options seemed completely at odds with one another. “Am I going to prioritize my career or my family?” seemed to be the real question I was asking myself.
Then I asked myself a different question: what do I want to learn? I wanted to learn how to be a good leader — to ask the right questions, to solve challenging problems, and to inspire others to do the same. I realized then that the most transformational leadership experience I could embark on was becoming a mother. I decided not to pursue an MBA because I discovered another way to achieve my leadership goals: parenthood.
Here are five ways I am a stronger leader after the first year of my daughter’s life:
1. Connection — being empathic with and relatable to my team and colleagues.
Connecting with my new daughter was an evolution: first she opened her eyes to see me, then she cried out when she needed to eat or sleep or be comforted, and pretty soon she began smiling when she saw my face and trusting that I was there for her.
Connecting with new team members at work is a similarly earned journey. Initially, I share who I am and my personal leadership philosophy. Then I meet with each team member biweekly to show them I care about them and the work they are doing. Before long, they begin to trust me to support them through solving our toughest problems.
All human relationships are based on empathy for the other human’s experience and trust that you will be there when the going gets tough. Sometimes just knowing that a leader has a family role can make them more relatable. One of the best leaders I worked with frequently left the office by 5:00 pm to be home for the family bedtime routine with his three children. This made me feel that being a great business leader while being a great parent at the same time was possible. I work with many people today who are parents, and I know that sharing my own experience as a parent and being able to listen to their family stories in a new way has strengthened my connections with my coworkers.
2. Efficiency — doing the right things in the time I have.
Fact: I have more things on my to-do list now than I did before I had my daughter. Fact: there aren’t any more hours in a day than before. So, maximizing my impact during the day is now essential rather than aspirational.
First, I need to figure out the right things to do. I always ask myself, “What are we trying to achieve here?” and encourage my team to do the same. Next, I need to figure out how I/we make the most of my/our time. For example, I have become ruthless about setting objectives and agendas for any meeting I attend. Finally, I ask, “Is this the best way to achieve what we need to achieve?” All easier said than done. This discipline is a constant practice that I am still mastering — but now I recognize how essential this efficiency is to make both my professional and personal lives work.
3. Personal joy — accessing my own happiness inspires it in other people.
When my daughter smiles and laughs, it is pure happiness. Even when I am not with her, simply talking about these “pure-happiness” moments makes me smile. I find myself talking about her with people at work all of the time (what did I even talk about before?). Every time I leave the conversation smiling — and so do they. I find I am also more conscious of my headspace when I am at home. Am I stewing on that meeting that didn’t go well? Or am I paying attention when my daughter offers me her block? I make more of an effort to be in the moment around my daughter, and we are both happier for it.
4. Freedom — letting go to move forward.
“Life is like the monkey bars; you have to let go to move forward.”
— Leah Busque, the founder of TaskRabbit
Early in my pregnancy, we thought we might lose our baby. Everything ended up being ok, but for a while it was really scary. My mother gave me the best advice to get through it. She said, “Welcome to parenthood. From the moment you are pregnant onward, you will always have something to worry about.” And rather than feel hopeless, I realized in that moment that I had a choice. I could live the rest of my life trying to control the uncontrollable or I could let go to move forward. I found freedom from my natural (and not always helpful) tendency to control. As a parent and as a leader, relaxing my at-times tight grip is a practice I work on every day.
5. Purpose — I have the ultimate reason to elevate the world I live in: my daughter’s life depends on it.
I consider myself a purpose-driven leader. This means I invest time and energy to understand my own purpose and that I like to work with others who do the same. My purpose is to elevate the world by solving big problems together with other lifelong learners. I do this because I believe it is possible for my daughter to experience an even better world than the one I experience today.
I have not heard of an MBA program that could offer me this level of professional growth. I feel grateful for both the purpose I have newly discovered and the sense of self I have reaffirmed through my experience of parenthood so far. I know I will ask better questions, solve bigger problems, and inspire others because I bring connection, efficiency, personal joy, freedom, and purpose to my job every day. I am fortunate and grateful to have worked for companies and with people who appreciate these purpose-driven values. Many more businesses are recognizing the value of these traits and are actively seeking people to lead consciously into the future.
MBA or baby?
I know I am not alone in facing this kind of decision. And, of course, there is no one right answer for everyone. For some the answer is neither or both. I have always carried much of my self-identity in my career, and the thought of having a baby felt like a threat to that identity. Before my daughter was born, I had many fears about losing steam on my career track because I knew becoming a parent would be a major life change. And it is: becoming a parent is a gruelling journey of self-development in its own right. But the benefits don’t need to be exclusive to your personal life; they can translate to your career. I believe I have developed as a leader and will have a better career because I became a parent, not despite it. I hope my story will inspire others to see how parenthood can bring new purpose to both home and work.