Guilty, beyond a shadow of a doubt

I remember reading a study a few years back that asserted the age at which women reported being happiest in their lives was 33. I remember thinking “GREAT!” I have something to look forward to. Fast forward a few years and at 33, I have never been happier in my life, it’s true. A mid level professional with aspirations to grow and evolve in my career, I am also a mom to an adorable 2 year-old, happily married to a wonderful, well rounded, loving partner. At 33, I feel comfortable enough in my own skin to voice my opinion, having learned from past experience, but young (and lucky!) enough to enjoy good health, looking forward to a fulfilling life full of adventures and surprises ahead.

But behind the blessed, joyful moments of mama pride, behind the satisfaction of leading meaningful and successful projects, behind the anniversaries two roads girlof marital bliss, there is a persistent element of guilt. Perhaps not the type of guilt that requires a trip to the confessional, but the type that gnaws away at the existential level: am I devoting too much time to my career? Am I sacrificing my own and my family’s well-being spending late nights and weekends on reports, (blogs!) and emails? Instead of taking a lunch time conference call, should I be looking online for a nutritious home cooked recipe or going to the gym? Instead of writing the perfect executive summary, should I be more concerned about whether my toddler is getting enough vegetables or reading more story books at bed time?

And so the cycle continues. This is the type of guilt that comes from not being able to give 100% to either career, or family. The type of guilt that that makes me think I cannot have it all. So I asked around. What does one do with this guilt? How does one deal with it? What kind of balance should I strike?

One mentor, who happens to be a senior administrator, told me: “Guilt is a given. Especially in the Jewish culture! What you choose to do with it is not.”

Another Senior Administrator said that she believes the notion of work life balance itself is a myth; an illusion that is truly unattainable. The only salient decision making factor between work and family is your level of happiness. Some people are happier when they are fully invested in their work and others, when they are focused on their family. If your work is your passion and makes you happy, you will be a better partner, a better mother, a better individual.

Yet others have said they really cherished and valued being able to take a break from their careers while they had young ones to truly focus on providing the best they could to their children and their families, in a more traditional role. Being able to be present at PTA meetings, attend school field trips and bake home-made cookies for snack time was a priceless experience that they cherished.

As for me, I am a happier mother and person because I have a career. But that is my choice. My child will learn a different set of values from seeing a mom so invested in her career. I love what I do, I have drive and ambition but now that I have started a family with intentions to grow it, I am at a crossroads.

Do I hold back on taking on more responsibilities at work and focus on being the best mother and partner I can be? Do I give up exciting portfolios in exchange for time spent planning stimulating and educational outings for my little one and booking play dates? Or, do I forge ahead and focus on establishing my career, working late nights, content with frozen meals every now and then, relying on my partner to chip in when I am away at week long conferences?

The answer is I don’t know. I will wing it and see. I will trust my gut and when things don’t feel right, I will make adjustments but for the moment, I will tell my guilt to sit down, take a backseat and let me focus on my family and career, because even though I can’t fully give to both, I will, gosh darn it, try my best.

I guess my suggestion to 20 years olds on this journey is this: do some introspection. Think about your values. Think about what will make you happy and then experiment. It is only by trying that you will start figuring it out. And above all, trust that there will always be some guilt, and that guilt can be overcome. Choose your partner carefully to find someone who is supportive and emotionally stable to handle an ambitious yet doting mom – if children are in the cards for you. Also, think about the logistics related to your career choices: will you be on call 24 hrs a day or will you require extensive travel away from home? Don’t forget to explore flexible work options such as working from home and taking lieu time. Most importantly, know that 33 is just around the corner and after that, there’s 43, 53, 63, 73, 83, 93 and beyond! Each decade brings with it a unique package of joy, strife and guilt. And that guilt can be overcome by doing what makes you happy. And if all else fails, there are always confessionals!

MH HeadshotA higher education professional and process consultant, change agent and catalyst, passionate about engaging all levels in transformative change. Also a mother with a master’s degree in organizational development with 13+ years experience in the private, public and non-profit sector. A dabbler in visual art, poetry, philosophy and French literature. Interested in neuroscience, social psychology, futurology, semiotics and transcendental consciousness. Also a fan of yoga, muay thai and hockey. Follow her on Twitter: @mariambrian

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