It’s hard to believe that after 17 years with my agency, today was my last. I’ve decided to stay at home so I can spend more time with my family. It’s a bittersweet decision as I love agency life and my career is a big part of my identity. But being a working mom is a constant balancing act, and it got to the point where I had too many balls in the air. So I felt like I had to choose. I should mention that I’m in a unique situation because I’m the only part-time person in my department (at least that I know of). I sit on both sides of the fence: being at home and a part of the workforce. Many saw it as an enviable position. I saw it as the perfect solution. And it was, for a while. So how’d I get here? From having the best of both worlds to feeling like they were spinning out of control? It’s hard to pinpoint a particular moment, so I’ll start with the beginning.
I stayed in the workforce for many reasons: to pay the bills, our mortgage, extra curriculars, a lot of functional reasons you’d expect. But I also stayed because I like being challenged, inspired, and felt it set a good example for my kids, my daughter in particular. I like to tell them they can be anything they want if they work hard and I believe in leading by example. I always knew in college that I wanted to work in advertising. I love being around creative people and thought there was nothing better than to be in the ideas business. I had my sights set on working at Leo Burnett, primarily because of its reputation in the industry. They took one applicant from my college, which wasn’t me. It wasn’t even someone who majored in advertising. I was crushed. But it was meant to be because years later that’s where I ended up as the result of a merger. And it’s where I stayed.
I loved being a part of the Leo Burnett Group. But once I got pregnant I had a mental shift. Up until then my life had been about my career. Even once I was married I was still driven by a desire to succeed and get promoted to the next level. Then I had my daughter and the realization hit me that my life was bigger than just me. And the goals I had looked very different. I remember having such anxiety the weeks leading up to my return from mat leave. I shed numerous tears wondering how I could leave my daughter in someone else’s care. But at the time we needed the dual income and my benefits, so there really wasn’t much of a choice. There was a woman on my team who worked part-time, three days a week. I envied her and wanted the same. So I figured the only way to find out if it was an option was to ask. I met with my boss and she was open to the idea. She asked me to think about what I envisioned the role to be, which wasn’t too hard. I proposed tackling all the things I never got around to doing in the day-to-day grind. So we tried it out.
My role grew over time and I became a team-wide resource. I work in Account Management and a big part of my role is being a liaison with the client. But it’s difficult to do that on a three-day schedule, so I was internal facing. Think of it as a support role that handled training, team IP, intelligence gathering and the like. I enjoyed the role and the flexibility it provided, but after about five years it ran its course and I wanted something more. Fortunately I work on the P&G business with a number of brands, and there was a small one that seemed to be a good fit if I were to go back on the client side. So I did. I enjoyed being back in the saddle and part of a brand team. Even though it was a smaller piece of business, it wasn’t a part-time role. There were key meetings on my off days, creative that needed approval, and as the Director of the business there were things I needed to see before they went out the door if I was ultimately accountable. But I made it work. Because the most important thing to me was having a flexible schedule. So I was willing to take calls, travel, and essentially always make myself available if that meant I could keep having two days at home. But after a while it began to take its toll. My husband took a new job that involved frequent travel. Having to manage a commute downtown with two separate drop offs/pick-ups added a layer of stress. But still I held out.
Then this past fall I was put on another piece of business. Things with my account were up in the air and a big retailer came knocking on our door. Perhaps the largest in the world. I knew it was a good opportunity—and that I really didn’t have a choice. So I took that on as well. And that’s when things began to truly unravel. It’s a very demanding piece of business. What started as a few projects on a reasonable timeline became a series of fire drills. We didn’t have a scope of work and with that comes the ability to staff properly. I was leaving early in the morning, usually before my kids were up, and coming home after dinner hour every night. I’d walk in the door and scarf down a meal as I was attempting to help out with homework, bath, and bedtime. My kids hated that I was coming home so late. I did too but I kept thinking, at least I’ll be home tomorrow or the next day. But that wasn’t a consolation. What about today?
So I was stressed and often took my frustration out on family, which I know isn’t fair. And I felt like I could never turn it off. There were countless nights that I had to get back online to do work after my kids went to bed, never having a moment to just unwind. One night I got home well past nine and then was trading text messages with our agency partners at eleven about a presentation we had the next day. I realized I had worked a 14-hour day as even my commute was spent sending emails. I have a large bandwidth and I don’t think in my career I’ve ever said that I’ve hit my limit. But I had. So I raised my hand, asking for help, but unfortunately there just wasn’t anyone available. And because I’m part of a public company there is an intricate hiring process that doesn’t happen overnight.
So there I was working long hours and continuing to put in time on my days off, which I wasn’t being paid for. And there was no chance of a promotion because my company won’t promote part-time employees. (By the way the only real shot at any sort of meaningful merit increase is with a promotion). I won’t say that it didn’t bother me being stuck without an opportunity for advancement. But I saw it as yet another sacrifice I was willing to make to have a flexible schedule. And I started realizing that I was making a lot of sacrifices. In addition, my husband’s travel was heating up. He was gone frequently and was arranging his meetings around me, often leaving on a 9:00 pm flight so I could get home from work. So I had to ask myself a tough question: is it worth it?
I was at a crossroads. Constantly thinking about leaving but never pulling the trigger. And then I saw a friend post the below quote on Facebook.
I realized that was me. Overwhelmed and doing a lot of talking but not taking any action. So after a lot of discussion with my husband I decided something needed to change. I either had to increase my schedule or walk away. The plan had always been to come back full-time. But something shifted along the way and I lost my spark. I recognized that the circumstances changed from when I started. The business needs no longer supported a part-time position. The account wasn’t the right fit for me, and from having previous conversations with HR I knew there weren’t any part-time opportunities elsewhere in the agency. So I chose to leave my career behind—at least for now. I know people were disappointed with my decision but I honestly think it’s best for all parties in the long-term. I’m truly sad that things didn’t work out. Not only for me but for the future generation of agency moms. When I shared the news of my departure with someone on my team she was bummed because she wanted to have a part-time role someday. And if I couldn’t make it work then what hope was there for her?
I had a great run and worked with brilliant people who pushed me to become a better marketer. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances that led me to this position. I somewhat blame myself as well for not speaking up. I so wanted to make things work that I think I did it at my own expense. Taking calls on my off days, always being accessible and at my client’s beck and call. I remember one Friday last summer where I was home with my son. He loves playing with the garden hose and watering the plants. We had been outside for no more than ten minutes when I got a text from my client. “Can you talk now?” We had a call later that afternoon but he needed to push it earlier. I told him to give me five minutes and frantically tried to usher my son inside. That didn’t go over so well. Once I calmed him down I put on a show and he was fine. But there were countless instances like that where I was revolving my schedule around work and catering to everyone else. Which kind of defeated the whole purpose of being home so I could spend time with my kids.
During my exit interview I shared some of my experiences with HR. I recognize it’s not easy to have someone who is client facing in a part-time role. So if they want to make it work they need to have an infrastructure in place to support it. I think she took it to heart as there are a lot of moms in the workplace who are looking for more flexibility. I hope they can figure out a solution so women don’t feel like they have to choose.
Why shouldn’t we be able to have it all? Some women do. But for my particular situation having it all came with too high a price.
I feel fortunate I was able to make it work for as long as I did: seven years. And while things were headed in this direction, my family circumstances weren’t there until now where I could feel secure staying home. Because it’s a luxury in this day and age that not everyone can afford to do. So once again I consider myself lucky. I’d like to think that work will always be there. But I can’t get this time back while my kids are young. And still want me around! I’m looking forward to this next chapter, whatever it may bring.