Women@Work: Competing Paradigms, Scrambled Brains and Michelle Obama

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“For me, being a mother made me a better professional, because coming home every night to my girls reminded me what I was working for. And being a professional made me a better mother, because by pursuing my dreams, I was modeling for my girls how to pursue their dreams.” ~ Michelle Obama

Although I am finding Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, generally interesting, it only became truly relatable for me when she spoke about her experience as a working mum and how she felt like her brain was constantly being scrambled by the competing paradigms of work and home. She reached 2 decades back in time and told of an experience that speaks to my present-day one.

I have not yet reached my ultimate career goals. I also have not even begun to scratch the surface of my parenting goals. Neither can wait for the other. They must co-exist. Growing a career in my mind, much like growing corn, has stages. Some stages are easier and others are harder. There is identifying and claiming the right piece of land (the right employer) investing in the rights seeds and fertiliser (self-investment). Then there is clearing the land, tilling and planting (working hard or smart to show your capabilities. Delivering on your promise). Then there is rain or drought (the things we have no control over. This requires understand that a lot of other people from the tea lady to your parents, teachers, mentors and bosses have a hand in your success. Their contribution must be respected) and the seeds may start to sprout (the beginning of visible progress) and the plants grow  (career growth) with continuing rain and weeding (things you can’t control that move you forward balanced with proactive consistency) towards what you truly want… a harvest (recognition, reward, and money).

This analogy applies to a career as a whole and also to the different stages within the journey. Career-wise, my 2019 is all about clearing the land, buying and planting the right seeds and using the right fertiliser. It’s taxing work but there is absolutely no moving forward without it. It’s long working hours and endless meetings. It’s a limited social life and constant planning and execution. It’s eating while working and forfeiting social media time. It’s talking to the right people about the right things and always learning. It’s identifying and weeding out what doesn’t work quickly and ruthlessly. It’s consistency. It’s working really hard because I really want the harvest so I can do more for my children than my parents could do for me so that my children can do even more than I ever could. Isn’t that every generation’s hope?

You know what else 2019 is? It’s also the year my baby is in key developmental stages. It’s when he has started to understand that mummy is or is not here. That he can take my phone out of my hand and give me a hug (this caused me to cry by the way). It’s hearing a shuffle on the baby monitor instead of crying and going to check on him to find he has let himself down from the bed and he is waiting for me at the door…. quietly. I’m not used to that yet.  It’s tantrum season. It’s first words season. It’s swimming lesson season. It’s being the present parent I have always wanted to be. It’s blocking off night routine time and putting my phones of silent so that I can give him the best of me before he goes to bed. It’s thinking about buying tomatoes to make baby gravy while I am discussing budgets for the year. It’s sitting down to work after the baby goes to sleep.

It’s falling into bed exhausted most nights knowing I have not finished but I can’t take one more step that day. It’s setting the alarm for 4am because that’s the only way to add productive hours to my day. It’s sometimes feeling scrambled and overwhelmed by the competing paradigms at times. It’s celebrating the little wins and learning from the little losses along the way. In the end, it is just trying my hardest. And what Michelle Obama herself is telling me is that that is alright because that is what she did and look how that turned out?

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