If you are in a demanding job – perhaps long hours, a crazy commute – you may ask yourself whether to step back in your career after having children. Whether your priorities have shifted, at least for now. Whether you’ll ever make it to that role you once dreamed of having. Joining me today is Kelly McCann, an accountant who faced this exact dilemma and wound up taking a winding path to the C-Suite. Her story will inspire and reassure you.
It was exit interview day. The day when I would have to face that inevitable question. The one I’d been grappling with since considering leaving my corporate management position for another role. I had spent four years of university, two years studying for and passing my professional accounting exams, and nine years moving up through the ranks at my multinational employer with plenty of amazing career opportunities. And the question I would finally have to answer was: “Why would you choose to leave for a position that was actually a step back in your career?”
By the time that exit interview call occurred, however, I had come to terms with the fact that I was drowning. I was drowning both at work and at home. Work buried me in client requests, phone calls and meetings. And when I arrived home, I buried myself in mom guilt.
I remember even on the days I could manage to get out of the office immediately at 5pm, I’d arrive home shortly before 6pm. Just in time to see my husband finish feeding our 3 year old son and 1 year old daughter their dinner. And knowing I’d just get an hour or so with them before they crashed into bed, exhausted from a full day of daycare.
I was sad. I was missing out. And I knew I needed to find a solution, so I wouldn’t look back on their childhood and regret not being there more.
So I jumped. I jumped for a job with hundreds of hours less overtime required. One that reduced my daily commute by about 40 minutes. Taking this new job was stepping back in my career in every way. I accepted a cut in pay, one week less of vacation time, and no direct reports. While I was hired to support the CFO in her financial and regulatory responsibilities, this new finance role was replacing the executive assistant position that the company had decided they no longer needed. But old habits proved to die hard for the President. The first time he asked me to get him a coffee…I had to look over my shoulder to confirm he was actually speaking to me.
I suspect as a reader of Lori’s Mindful Return content, you are a new mom wondering if it’s possible to find the balance between a successful, challenging career while still being available physically and emotionally for your children.
I’m not writing this post to say it can’t be done. But it sometimes doesn’t look the way we envisioned it would when we decided to have children.
By “leaning out” from my career, I got the time with family that I was seeking. And I got the clean break of starting a new job that was less demanding. One that allowed me to consciously create the habit of leaving work at work. I was able to focus all of my energy on my kids and husband when I was home. And while I knew I was living my priorities, leaning away from the career I’d worked so hard for was not easy. I discovered my identity was pretty tied to my career, and figuring out who I was without it took far more time than expected.
I’ve been with this new organization for just over eight years now. In those eight years, my children have changed considerably – growing from toddlers into tweens. They need me far less to function in their day-to-day lives now. So, as they transitioned into more independent little people, my role began to transition at work as well.
In a few short months, I will be stepping into the CFO position when our existing CFO retires.
My path to the C-Suite was certainly not the route I envisioned when I graduated university. But, I am grateful for what the winding path provided me that the more direct route may not have allowed.
I understand that as women we often feel frustrated that we need to sacrifice our careers so that we can be the moms we want to be. But is that really a sacrifice? Isn’t it simply a choice?
Ladies, when you return to work after maternity leave, things will be different. But my advice would be to give it a go and see how it feels for you, because it does feel different for each of us.
Allow yourself check-in points after your return to work where you can be truly honest with yourself. Is your career path still fulfilling you the way it did before kids? Are there any tweaks you could make to your schedule or to how you do your work that would allow you to feel as fulfilled as possible at home too?
The advice I wish I’d heard when I was struggling with my decision to step back from my career was that there really are no wrong decisions when you listen to your heart. We know what is right for us. We just have to be brave enough to follow that path, even when it’s veering away from the one we’ve been working so hard to get on, and we aren’t quite sure where it’s going to lead.
Kelly McCann lives in Ontario with her husband and two kids. She works full time out of the home as a professional accountant. In her free-time, she helps other working moms create systems for their responsibilities. Her mission is to help other ladies living chaotic lives create a formula for the things they have to do so that they have more space for the things they really want to do.
Need help with the logistics of your return to work after maternity leave? Join the next session of Mindful Return, and meet other new mamas grappling with the same issues.
This is exactly how I feel. Thank you for sharing and helping me see that I actually want to down shift and that it will be ok.
So glad this resonated, Melissa. Yes, whatever you chose *will* be okay, mama.
Thank you Lori and Kelly for sharing your story! I can’t wait until this unconventional, winding path to career success (however you define it), becomes the norm for our society for both men and women. Thank you both for being a part of that narrative!
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Sharon. Here’s to using narrative to normalize all these different paths. The “long road” and the “baby pace” (https://www.mindfulreturn.com/baby-pace/) are all part of this beautiful thing called life.
I just want to thank you for this article. I am sitting at my desk right now trying to decide when the right time is to have the conversation with my boss about stepping back. I am in a C-suite role currently and feel like I am failing everywhere. With a 4 and 1 year old at home it is time to shift my priorities. I appreciate you sharing your story and helping me to see that it is a choice to step back, and that I can always climb back up the ladder when I am ready. Thank you!