Ten years ago, I was in a Digital Marketing role at a large financial services firm. After a successful career building websites and digital experiences, I had a stomach churning feeling that I was ready for my next move. I knew I wanted something different, but I had no idea what it could be. I felt stuck, disappointed and like I should have this figured out already!
In that space of uncertainty, I decided to get involved in the many other activities available at my organization. I became active in the company’s women’s leadership development and networking group. While in the network, I connected with powerful, female leaders at all levels of the organization. A year into my work with these incredible women, I became pregnant with my first daughter, which sparked the idea to create a Workplace Flexibility event. We invited the most senior female leader in the organization at the time for a keynote speech, with a follow-up panel conversation about the organizational needs of working parents and the direction workplace flexibility was headed. I worked tirelessly to coordinate the event details and promotion on top of my day job. I was LIT UP by the process, the momentum and the excitement that grew with what seemed like a movement my colleagues and I were building.
The day of the event I was 9 months pregnant and feeling my strongest pregnancy symptom — EMOTION. I pinned the lavaliere mic on our keynote before her talk and walked to the back of the room to take in what I along with my co-conspirators had created. A standing room only, packed audience. An energy that was hopeful and supportive and HUNGRY to know more. Our speaker started her talk with a heartfelt working parent meltdown story in which her overwhelm had caused her to forget something for her son’s class. In that moment where priorities came into the foreground, she chose to spend the extra time doing right by her family instead of attending the senior level meeting to which she was already late.
I looked down at my growing belly, riveted by her words and taken with the intense energy of the room. I felt more alive that day than I had in many years of my digital career. Something shifted. All the clues for my next move were right in front of me, but I couldn’t see them. I was fearful for how I was going to juggle work and family in my own life.
After my daughter was born, I started a new Digital Marketing role that was part-time and flexible. I knew it was a safe move, but also that it was the right move for me at the time, given my priority shift. I was able to work with great people, use my strengths and years of expertise AND control my schedule. My friends who were struggling to stay afloat would remind me often that I had the dream situation for a working mom. And for the most part, that was true. But there was something nagging at me throughout this time. It showed up when I mentored some of my colleagues and coached my friends through their career challenges. It was there when I presented to a room of employees and felt comfortable being myself, sharing stories to demonstrate my point. Or when I obsessively read articles about the disparity between men and women in senior leadership roles and the gender pay gap. When Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” appeared in July 2012, it rocked my world and was all I could talk about for days. All the clues were there, but it took time and space, supportive people and running a marathon (yep, best rut-busting tool out there!) to get me to trust the evidence and build a case for my career transition.
When I work with clients who are seeking clarity about their next step, I say, “It’s OK not to know right now, but walk through your life with an openness to finding the clues, and when you find them, notice how they feel in your body.” If you’re stuck in your head, listen to what your body is telling you with butterflies, or fireworks or flow.
My clients create a list of past projects, programs, conversations and brief moments when they felt ignited, curious and alive. And then they open their eyes to the moments they brush off in their every day life as “silly” or “nothing.” They know those moments were something and by acknowledging them and giving them space to grow — who knows if that something can turn into THE thing.
Rachel Garrett is a Career and Leadership Coach with a mission to get more women into positions of power. Through 1:1 coaching, workshops and online programs, she supports women in up-leveling their leadership skills, ditching impostor syndrome, mastering the work-life juggle and actively lifting up other women as part of their respective journeys. Join her community @ http://rachelbgarrett.com