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Cynthia Gallagher Headshot

Guilt

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Guilt -- what a cruel word. There are not many words that can immediately turn a delightful situation into a miserable one. The simple five-letter word "guilt" can do just that.

Guilt will slow you down, it will present itself as a roadblock to success and it will have you second -guessing every decision you make. Sheryl Sandberg's latest book and online venture Lean In has sparked another level of conversation around the concept of guilt.

As a young executive with two small children, there is no room in my life for guilt and there is nothing more frustrating to me than hearing women talk about feeling guilty for decisions they've made in their life. If a mom, or for that matter a dad, chooses to work-at-home, they should not be made to feel insecure or inferior to their working counterparts. In the same manner, a mom working outside of the home should not be made to feel as if she is any less of a mother than her work-at-home counterparts.

Both decisions are right. Both decisions give moms and dads an opportunity to define their own success.

When my youngest (now 2) was 4 months old, I was asked to travel to India. I was asked to help lead this particular initiative because of the strengths I brought to the project. Instead of feeling guilty about leaving my 4-month-old behind, I was honored to be presented with the opportunity. I reframed any thoughts of guilt and began preparing for an 18-hour flight and full week away from a solely breastfed infant. I turned the challenge of travel into a mission to continue breast feeding, figuring out the logistics of pumping on a plane and freezing bags of milk at the hotel. Incredibly, the plan worked and I arrived home with a cooler full of still-frozen milk. My 2-year-old is no different from other toddlers in our neighborhood because of the decision I made. He is just as healthy, loving and active as anyone else. My decision to take this trip did not make me feel guilty. Rather, it made me feel strong and successful, and I am certain that my children feel this, too.

To me, it's simple:

1. Be proud of the decisions you've made in life. These decisions are yours, not your neighbors.

2. Only you can define happiness, don't let others define it for you. Live your life for you and your family, not for what you read in the media or what others tell you should be doing.

3. Behind every door is a new opportunity -- open the door.

4. Opportunities are like gifts; they don't come every day and you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

5. The definition of a "superwomen/man" or "supermom/dad" is what you make of it, don't let others define it for you.

In the end, I guess the question is this: Why do we have different standards for men versus women? Why does it matter if one chooses to work-at-home or both parents choose to work outside of the home? Success and happiness should be defined by each of us individually, regardless of gender and regardless of family situations. I would love to see conversations move from a demographic conversation to a broader cultural conversation about what we are doing to lift each other up, versus putting everyone in silos with predefined metrics for success.