Leaning In, Similarly Yet Differently

I have been linked to one of my best friends for some twenty-plus years now. We met in high school because we were both in Advanced Placement classes. Then, and now, we have similar interests like culture, history, art and traveling. Then, and now, we have an easy connection and way between us.

I think I've always known that Kate has a bit of an edge on me on the pure intelligence front. I am just smart enough to keep up with Kate's wit and conversation pacing, but eventually, the topic always lands in a place, fact or statistic that I am not totally sharp on. On the other hand, I think I've always known that I have an ever so slight edge on her on the cheerful front. When we get to that point where her knowledge surpasses mine, I'm able to make a joke, give a laugh or offer a sarcastic remark so we're distracted and onto something else.

After high school, we went to the same college and studied similar topics, but had different class line-ups. We both studied abroad in Europe, but at different times and in slightly different ways. We struck a good balance of continuing to enjoy each other's friendship while we both made new friends. Sometimes our activities overlapped, sometimes they didn't. Sometimes our social circles overlapped, sometimes they didn't.

I think its safe to say that Kate and I have always been aware of each other's comings, goings, studies and friendships. We support one another and aren't threatened by the other. Kate and I have never found ourselves in direct competition academically, professionally or socially... perhaps by chance, perhaps by subconscious choice. Either way, we have maintained a very peaceful co-existence.

After college we both were recruited for marketing-related jobs in separate cities. I was transferred from city to city. She was transferred from a different city to another different city. I met friends in my cities. She met friends in her cities. At some point, I was in love with a man who became my husband. At some point, she was in love with a man who did not become her husband. I received promotions and raises. She received promotions and raises. We both thrived... in our careers, and in our lives.

Again, co-existing on parallel paths that were similar, yet different and never overlapped.

As Kate was being promoted again, I also received a promotion and a few months later, a child. I had plans to return to work. My plans changed unexpectedly thanks (and I do mean thanks) to some medical issues my child faced as an infant. I took maternity leave, then returned to work. A short time later, I resigned before taking a position that allowed me to work part-time from home, while settling into my new role as mother.

Kate and I were each happily moving forward on our paths, but our paths were starting to take off in different directions.

Kate worked her tail off and received her MBA, on top of being promoted and transferred again. I worked my tail off as a new mom.

I was now in a position where my husband's income became the primary decision-maker for our family and we moved across the country to follow his career path towards Chicago. I was no longer able to work from home for my previous employer.

A tree had fallen, blocking my career path. While the block caused an initial startle, it was OK. I could have stepped over the tree and continued on my way, but instead, I took a side turn and headed full-force down a different path... the stay-at-home mom path. For a few years I was full-time at home, parenting and conceiving. And a few years later, I'd settle into another part-time, work-from-home situation. My path was steep, hard and unpredictable.

Kate's path was going in a different direction, but it too was steep, hard and unpredictable. She was tapped to an executive leadership council and transferred to London. London! Kate had done it. Kate would be working and living in London... she had made her dream come true!!

Working in London was my dream too. And to be honest, it still kind of is. But just as Kate and I have co-existed, I have a few different dreams that have co-existed most of my life. There is the high-powered career woman in London/New York dream... and then there is the dream of raising my children at home, volunteering in their school, coaching their teams and living simply in an All-American, family-friendly town.

I can't speak for Kate, or for any other woman. But I believe that many of us do have a few different dreams that co-exist. Choice, circumstance, hard work and making your own luck... we all end up on our own unique path, going our own unique direction. The important thing isn't to compare your path to others, but to take your path to one of your dreams and to have fun along the way.

Right before she left for the UK, Kate came and visited. Together, we sat on my front porch in the suburbs and while my kids climbed all over us, she told me about her role at her company. I once bought a picture book during a trip to London and still keep it displayed front and center on my bookshelf... almost as a bit of a wink to myself as I move about the daily clutter of a household with children. I listened intently to stories about the international transfer and I pulled out my London book so she could show me on a map where her flat would be. We were interrupted at least ten times by the request of a child wanting water, a snack or needing their bottom wiped.

When she was back stateside, my husband and I and our three kids drove a minivan from Chicago to New York, where we stayed in Kate's apartment on the Upper West Side. We took the kids to see the Statue of Liberty (they were equally impressed with the special grocery cart escalators at the Trader Joe's near Lincoln Center). Kate made all of her beds up with beautiful, high-thread count linens and put out slippers for each of the kids. I was nervous that the kids would have accidents in those sheets. I astonished her doorman when we unpacked our stroller pack-n-play and tote bag after tote bag... after tote bag.

A few months later, Kate was promoted and transferred back to London, where she makes regular trips around the world: Egypt, India, Vietnam and Norway. She sends me pictures of her trips and answers all of my questions about the cultures. I flip through the online photo album while I sit in a rocking chair nursing a baby at 2 a.m.. Both experiences can be heavenly and both experiences can be grueling.

Again, we loaded up the crew and this time, flew across the pond and visited Kate in London. It was a few days before Christmas, so she set up a special tree and the kids played on her rooftop overlooking the decorations in Hyde Park. She arrived home from an international holiday party and told us stories of the people she manages in Italy and Germany. The kids told her stories about their favorite part of the airplane ride. She told us about the World War II bomb shelters in London and we told her that J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, once lived in her neighborhood. We gave her a ceramic ornament painted with the kids' handprints, she gave us souvenirs from her world travels.

Next week, Kate is being promoted and transferred again. This time, to Chicago. She is living in a great part of the city. She has amazing views of Lake Michigan and walkability to famous shopping areas. I am living in a great Chicago suburb. I have amazing schools and walkability to parks. I'm glad to have easier access to her so I can revel in her adventures of the world, as I know she will be amused with our adventures of the playground. Our paths are returning to a parallel position. But now, our paths are really very different... or are they?

Kate has moved from London to New York City, then back to London. I've had another baby, taken on more parent volunteer activities and increased my daily carpool runs. There are times when a flash of envy strikes when I hear about Kate's life. And I'm sure she has that same envy flash at times. But that flash is immediately replaced by a wave of gratitude for my path and my dream, and pride for Kate, and Kate's path and Kate's dream. Just as I'm sure she feels gratitude for hers and pride for mine.

Thanks to the women who came before us, there is space for a variety of co-existing paths and dreams in today's world.

Kate is now the Global Key Accounts Director at a major international corporation. I am now mommy to three children. There is great value and importance in what we are both doing. Therefore, I think we are both leaning in to our own ambitions and doing a pretty good job at it.

This post originally appeared on www.carissak.com. You can read more on facebook at www.facebook.com/carissakwriter and on Twitter @CarissaK.