Ten years ago this month I graduated from Northwestern University with my M.S. in Integrated Marketing Communications. I knew what I wanted and I had it -- a great job back in DC with a large, high-profile and powerful trade association, applying much of what I'd learned in grad school. I was newly married and we were living in the city, but knew we wanted to buy a place. I had life by the horns.
Eight years ago this month I was on maternity leave with my first baby girl. I knew I wanted and needed to go back to work. I roamed the cold streets of my neighborhood, lonely and wondered if this child would ever sleep. I cringed at the days that were too cold to walk and didn't know a thing yet about worrying about decent child care, managing work and babies or even handling unexpected sick days. I was only weeks into parenthood, but I had tremendous clarity that being a working mom was right for me.
Five years ago this month, I was on maternity leave with my second baby girl. I knew I didn't want to keep working full-time, I didn't know if I could handle being home full-time or what that would even involve or if it would fly in the face of my college minor in Women's Studies. I knew I had the courage to quit the job I had after maternity leave, but I didn't know if I had the courage to walk away from my career completely.
So, where am I today? How does it fit with where I thought I'd be 10, eight and five years ago?
Today's post is for anyone who once had certainty and no longer does.
Today's post is for anyone who doesn't have a label to call themselves.
Today's post is hopefully also for anyone who isn't sure they have the courage to make a big decision about their family and career.
Five years ago, after I walked away from the career I'd spent 12 years carefully and methodically establishing, I really had no plan. This was not like me. But a different kind of opportunity knocked than I'd ever planned for, the kind that said we could make changes and afford for me to quit working full-time, so I took it. I took it with no other clear job in sight. Not even a shell of a plan.
For a short time, I just stayed home. Note I mean that very sarcastically, because until you've spent prolonged amounts of time home alone with your children -- without a spouse or partner or nanny or mom or anyone else there -- you honestly cannot appreciate it or how difficult, stressful and exhausting it is. This isn't a jab at anyone or a judgement at all -- it is fact. Pure and simple.
Then I started dabbling in other things along with being home. I started writing a parenting blog for Washingtonian Magazine, which opened some doors to events and activities I otherwise would have had to pay for. After six months, they stopped the blog and I faced my first big fork in the road -- should I try to keep it going on my own platform or should I quit?
I decided I'm not a quitter and if I started it, despite a wounded ego and disappointment, I should keep going. So I kept going and rebranded my blog as the beloved and world-famous (obviously) Wired Momma.
Pretty much no one actually considered blogging work, especially then. Sure, we got tickets to free things and to me that was like income, but well, there was no weekly payroll, no benefits. People thought I just "got things" instead of realizing how much work went into building an audience and writing material that would make you want to come back and read me again. That takes work. As does learning how to build an audience on social media, how to engage with people effectively on social media and how to write content that will get noticed in searches. But again, to most people, mom bloggers just get free tickets.
Then I started becoming more aware of these labels we cling too everywhere we go. No work clothes? No steady pay check?
She stays home.
Totally a fad. Check out her lounge wear.
Meanwhile, back in reality land, I felt like I was working my ass off. I loved writing, I loved blogging, I loved having access to events (which again, as any blogger knows, you work very hard for) but what was I doing, where was it going, why was I doing it?
I still didn't know but I just kept doing it. I also realized just how much I was learning about my own profession, which was public affairs/public relations, by actively blogging and tinkering on social media on a regular basis for WM.
At this point, I was also on the board of our preschool, I was maintaining a weekly newsletter for my old job, keeping the blog going and had the kids. But still, there's no label, so I was a stay-at-home mom.
More time passed and freelance projects grew from a weekly newsletter to writing materials for other clients, to advising clients on social media strategy until bit by bit, I found myself with a legitimate company. I realized that my lack of a plan, my no real direction, quietly and slowly took the shape of a very real, strategic and smart direction: I had gained and developed an invaluable skill set on social media by being active in it as I wrote about my kids, my life and my experiences in DC. I kept working by doing, all those years.
By last year, I'd purchased a domain and named my company SOMA Strategies, worked more aggressively to build up my client base and essentially began working full-time, squeezed into part-time preschool hours, from my house, wearing whatever I felt like it, sometimes wishing I did have an office to go to or a consistent outlet for childcare because business hours most certainly do not align with preschool hours. But like everyone else managing work and career and family, I wing it.
Who am I now?
I am a small business owner in yoga pants sitting at my kitchen table.
I am a social media strategist, blogger and mom.
What do I seem to others?
I don't care anymore.
I've noticed over the last five years how dramatically the preschool parking lot and playground has changed. There are so many more dads. There are fancy bags tossed over the shoulder of lounge wear.
I've noticed that if you pay attention, nothing is at it seems and even in a company town like Washington, where most people wear their work identity on their sleeve, you actually have no idea if a suit or no suit means anything in the work department. Nor does it matter.
The most important lesson I've learned is no matter how clear your path once was, if you are open to opportunity, if you are willing to put yourself out there, if you can handle rejection and keep going, your career really can be a long, windy journey that ebbs and flows at your own direction.
Also, my somewhat anal self has learned that in life, you actually don't always need a plan. You just always need confidence and you have to be hungry and want it more than anyone else in the room. You also have to see how differently opportunity can knock.
What's your work identity as a mom? Do you care? Is there a label? Has your direction changed course?
Follow Monica Gallagher Sakala on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@wired_momma