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I Left a Coveted Job and a Six-Figure Salary to Chip Away at the Glass Ceiling -- One Lunge at a Time

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MELONIEDEROSEANDKID
Melonie DeRose

It was 2:30 a.m.., and I was seven months pregnant when I slipped and fell in my law firm's parking lot.

Before the fall, I remember looking up from my computer after spending six hours drafting a client agreement for a private-equity deal. It occurred to me that I hadn't eaten dinner. Other than the occasional glance over to my trash can (thanks to my morning/afternoon/nighttime sickness), my eyes had been glued to my screen. I forgot to call home to say goodnight to my daughter; I winced at the memory of leaving her crying in my husband's arms, in the driveway, as I sped away for a meeting one morning earlier that week. My husband had no clue when I was coming home. (Yet another night where he had to be super dad). When was the last time I worked out? What day was it? Had the bills been paid that month? Oh wait, I need to write down my time since I'm taking a mental break. Wait, I don't have time for a mental break. Back to the equity deal. There has to be a better way.

When I fell, I was stumbling through the parking garage in high heels (because I stubbornly refused to wear flats). It was a hard fall, and I remember my first thought was, "Oh my God, I am going into labor," and my second thought was, "Oh no, I can't 'do this' to my client -- I have to be OK until this business deal is over."

The baby was fine, but physically, I felt like I belonged in an old-folks home. I had not been able to exercise in weeks because it wasn't feasible to get to the gym with my long work hours. And frankly, I didn't have the motivation, time or the interest to gear up for the same, uninspired workout DVDs.

And then my mind went back to the impending work deadline. I spent years living a life where my professional life totally consumed me, and I realized on that drive home that the idea of a work-life balance was just that -- an idea. There had to be another way for busy women who are not trying to "have it all" but simply trying to make it day-to-day. In that moment, I realized I needed to make significant changes in my life.

Don't get me wrong, working as a corporate lawyer at an international law firm can be a very lucrative and rewarding career. But when it came to my "work-life" balance, the scales were weighted heavily in one direction. That meant I was continuously sacrificing the most important things in my life: my family, my health and my well-being. There was never time to just exhale and be present. For me, working out isn't just about my physical health. It's also about the mental benefits of taking time for myself to clear my head and recharge. It was time to get back in sync -- especially with another child on the way.

I decided I wanted to do something to help women, like me, who were too busy to prioritize their health and wellness. Your well-being makes you a better mom, a better partner, a better working professional, a better you. While I know first-hand that work-life balance is demanding, I knew I didn't want to send a message that women can't have it all or that they must choose one over the other. One thing is for sure: Moms are women first. We have to take time for ourselves in order to bring our best selves forward for our family and careers. We have to take time to just unwind or stretch or sweat.

With my newfound clarity, I was on a mission. I wanted to help women by providing a tool to make navigating life easier. Chipping away at the glass ceiling means first finding a way to help women help themselves. And from there, I teamed up with a good friend, Renee Tarlton (physical therapist and also a mother of two with similar struggles) and jumped in head first to co-found a health and fitness start-up company for women, Fé Fit. We wanted to find a way to help women lessen the guilt that so many of us, myself included, associate with taking "me time." Feeling guilty for not directing every minute somewhere else is actually counterproductive.

To say it's been an adventure is an understatement. My schedule hasn't changed much, but it's on my terms doing something that I'm truly passionate about. I'm still burning the midnight oil with my business partner trying to launch this company and get the word out about our product, because only through success can we help more women. As an entrepreneur, you can't rely on anyone else to control your success. That's a scary realization. Even scarier is walking away from a stable, six-figure salary. I find myself asking, "Is the risk worth it?"

Yes, it is. If we can provide something for women that allows them to make health and wellness a priority, then we're doing a good thing. When a customer tells us our program has changed her life -- that kind of gratification is unparalleled.

Personally, I am a firm believer in helping women -- especially moms -- tear down the guilt they associate with taking time for themselves, because I've lived it. It took me a long time to realize that you have to take care of yourself first if you want to be in a position to take care of anyone or anything else.

I'm not sure where this company will go, but I'm determined to give it all that I've got because I'm passionate about what we're doing. When your 4-year-old daughter grabs her paper towel rolls for her weights, attempts a push-up or asks to make a kale smoothie -- I realize this isn't all for naught. We'll never chip away at the glass ceiling if we can't first address the impediments to achieving a realistic work-life balance.