Last month, I attended a City Arts lecture featuring Sheryl Sandberg, the ubiquitous COO of Facebook and author of
The release of the book and Ms. Sandberg’s subsequent book tour has sparked a flurry of public discourse on whether women really can “have it all” (and what that actually means). But rather than be yet another talking head in that debate, I would like to share the theme from her book lecture that resonated with me the most, and something I wish I knew a long time ago.
“Don’t leave before you leave.”
Ms. Sandberg told the story of a young woman at Facebook who peppered her with questions about how she balanced her work and family. As it turned out, this employee was not only not pregnant, but was not married and did not even have a boyfriend!
Like the woman in Ms. Sandberg’s story, I started thinking about having a child (and the implications of that on my career) way too early. In 2011, when I was debating a move to the next level in product management in a group that was much more fast-paced than my current team, I hesitated. My husband and I had started thinking about having a child, and I found myself wondering, “What if I get the job? What if I got pregnant right after? What if I can’t handle raising a child while in this new job?!”
I ultimately accepted the position after a wise person (also a working mother) asked me simply, “Would you be wondering this if you were a man?” She was absolutely right. Why was I setting limitations on my career based on something that wasn’t even close to happening yet? Even if I did get pregnant on the first day in my new role, I still had a full nine months before I went on leave!
As fate would have it, I did get pregnant later that year, and had my son last June. But I am so glad I decided to step outside my comfort zone to take a position that has been equally demanding and rewarding. Was it hard returning back to work after a four-and-a-half month maternity leave? Absolutely. But that would’ve been true in any job, new or not. Has working full-time while raising a child been challenging? Of course! But first-time parenting is a crazy, wonderful, ridiculously fulfilling experience, and is a challenge no matter who you are and what you do.
While it’s obviously too late to tell my younger professional self to stop planning for things that haven’t happened yet, it’s still advice that I take to heart as my husband and I consider having another child. That’s still a ways away, but even if it wasn’t, I’ve already made a commitment to myself not to leave before I leave this time around.
* For those of you (men and women) who are interested in what Ms. Sandberg has to say but aren’t able to read her book, this TED Talk is a great “cliff notes” version: http://ed.ted.com/lessons/sheryl-sandberg-why-we-have-too-few-women-leaders