Lean in, Gurl.
Or 3 ways becoming a mom made me better at my job.
I’ve loved working at Skillshare since my very first day on the job (2011) so I spent a good deal of time fretting over what turn my team and career would take when I learned I was pregnant. The narrative I understood was that motherhood would have an either/or relationship with professional impact.
Working off a bunch of advice I’d found at the bottom of the mommy-blog Internet, I prepared myself to feel divested from my work and disengaged from my team. Especially so since I’d be returning to a leadership role at a high-growth, venture-backed startup. I offered to start looking for other opportunities to keep the team on track.
Fast forwarding to today, it’s worth pointing out that I found none of that advice to be true. I feel more invested than ever in my work and team. And Skillshare — the company and the individuals — are playing a big part in that.
But the much more worthwhile takeaway is that there is no singular narrative for how motherhood and career intersect. I feel silly for thinking otherwise and believe it would be a disservice to let that one narrative go uninterrupted when I’m sure in this community alone we can surface plenty of alternatives.
In my case, becoming a mom made me more effective at my job.
Since returning from maternity leave, my workday ends at 6:15pm, and my workweek ends on Fridays, without exception. I assumed limiting my workday and shrinking my workweek would result in proportional cuts in productivity. But au contraire! Working 12-hour days 6-7 days a week was a crutch I’d used for years to draw out tough decisions. In reality, more time has never helped me close in on a solution to our hardest, ugliest strategic challenges. Severe time constraints paired with prioritization of the questions I’m uniquely suited to answer has.
Spending more time on the challenges I’m uniquely suited to solve means creating a vacuum around the myriad of challenges for which that isn’t the case. A vacuum I wish I’d activated with more intention even earlier. In a reality where I’m simply around less, decisions are decentralized and my team’s resourcefulness is off the charts. Problems are solved (ownership) and experiments are run (proactivity) before I can catch up on slack. With a strong jolt from circumstance, I shifted my management style from controlling the chaos to empowering it and again, I wish I’d done it sooner.
Parenthood in general is accompanied by a lot of… feelings. A universe of new things to expend mental energy on crowd out things that at one time seemed like worthwhile reasons for worry. As a veteran employee of a startup I care very much about, I’ve spent many restless nights preoccupied with the infinite set of things that didn’t go right that day. But almost as soon as I found out I was pregnant I felt a renewed perspective on where to invest that preoccupation. I stopped treating all failures equally.
There are no more than a handful of foundational strategies and tactics the success of which will determine the success of the business. Failures impacting the outcome of these “bets” (as we refer to them) account for <1% of all the things that go wrong in a given week. It’s freeing to focus on keeping graphs trending up even if, zoomed in, the upward curve is really bumpy. Encouraging the team to learn from and push past the bumps (a deal that didn’t come through, a campaign that underperformed etc.) has been both freeing and motivating.
There’s plenty more to say on the topic (like how working at Skillshare probably makes me a better parent, or how having a kid reinterprets the “mission” of your mission-driven startup …) but perhaps those are later posts. To simplify this piece, I just want to say that rounding the corner on 1 year of parenthood and 4 years of Skillshare is feeling like a great decision and I wish I’d spent less time being so worried about it.
An obvious caveat here, of course, is how accommodating my team at Skillshare has been (both upward and downward). The luxury of working in an environment that values impact over hours punched in is not lost on me — it’s a values-driven culture I sought out years before anything remotely close to family planning crossed my mind and has paid dividends on this topic and countless others since. If there was a second takeaway to this post it would be to overweight culture as a key factor in your future career decisions — you can’t predict where or how it will make the difference in your narrative, but I’d urge you to assume it will.