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Forget About Work-Life Balance; Life Is A Puzzle: Reflections From A Decade Of Career And Motherhood

Today, my oldest son turns 10. It’s a big birthday for him, but it’s an even bigger milestone for me.

Today marks a decade of motherhood.

I wanted to reflect on this milestone, as well as my experience of motherhood in context of life and career.

I don’t believe in work-life balance.

The word ‘balance’ seems binary and implies taking from one in favor of another. I think of life as a puzzle.

Time is limited, so I carefully choose the most important pieces to craft the kind of life I want to live, and everything else stays on the table.

This puzzle changes. Life has seasons.

I don’t believe in the “having it all” paradigm, especially when it means “doing it all at the same time”.

An element of time and prioritization is missing.

My MBA at Harvard was all about personal development and professional learning. It was about discovering my career path and building meaningful relationships that still matter a great deal today.

My pre-kids professional career was an all-in endeavor of learning and achievement.

Different priorities after becoming a mother

Once I had my first child, the puzzle changed completely.

I chose to take time off work and jumped into motherhood deeply. I soaked in the precious moments of babyhood and struggled with sleepless nights.

I lost my ambitious professional self, but I found a new, deeper love that took over my heart.

Initially, I took a 12-month leave, only to pick up my head at month 11 and realize that I hadn’t thought or cared about work at all. The strangest thing, since that world used to matter so much.

My experience as a mother was so all-encompassing, and my babies needed me so much, I could not reconcile going back to full-time work with my experience of motherhood, while being married to a surgery resident.

The decision to set aside my career indefinitely wasn’t easy, but it was the right one for me. I wanted to take this time and live this chapter fully and without regret.

When my oldest went to kindergarten and my youngest headed to pre-school, I yearned for more than motherhood. I was ready for the next season.

Back to work with a new focus

The puzzle pieces came together in a new way. I had the opportunity to jump back into professional life after a 5-year break. I won’t tell you my return to working life was easy, but it wasn’t a struggle either. It was calibrated to the season.

As life’s seasons change, so does the puzzle. The trick is to be thoughtful about what matters most and ruthless about everything else.

Today, my choices are as much about what I choose to do, as they are about what I choose not to do.

At work, I focus on key priorities and deliver on those with excellence. I take time to build genuine relationships with key people. I don’t participate in extracurricular work groups, softball tournaments, Halloween decoration parties or beer fests.

Having hard edges to my day brings the kind of focus and intensity I didn’t have before I was a mother. It brings clarity and prioritization, leaving no time to procrastinate or finesse inconsequential details.

I am the primary caregiver at home. I manage family schedules and doctor’s appointments, and drive my kids to and from school and soccer practices.

My husband is pretty involved as well, but being an emergency surgeon, he cannot be relied upon for life’s logistics.

We eat dinner as a family at 6pm every night, with rare exceptions. We cook most meals at home, because food and nutrition are super important to us. We discuss our days and wade into life’s learning moments.

My key role at home is to provide a loving and supportive foundation. I stay close on my children’s learning and development needs, crafting their enrichment schedules and helping navigate life situations.

I don’t make school lunches, participate in PTA, chaperone school trips or bake cookies for school fundraisers.

I spend time with my husband, enjoying a show at the end of the day, and going on hikes and fancy dinner dates.

I hang out with a small handful of friends. I exercise. I read. I sleep. That’s it.

I don’t volunteer, have a hobby, or Facebook. My time is precious, my bucket is full, and my puzzle is right for me for right now.

I don’t work because I have to.

I have a career because I love what I do and because it gives me purpose. It allows me to learn and grow, and to have an impact beyond myself.

I don’t think of myself as a working mother. I am a mother, a professional, a wife, and a friend.

Over the past decade I’ve learned a lot about myself, about motherhood, and about life. Most importantly, I gained confidence to live my life the way I want to and not try to fit someone else’s definition of perfection.

Featured top image: Kacey Wyrick Photography

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