The Five Stages of Grief for my Fast-Tracked Career

In typical first-born type-A raised-by-a-tiger-mom fashion, if I wanted to do something, I HAD to be the BEST. This was especially true of my career. Over the years, I gave a LOT to be on that “high potential” list at work to get the attention of our leaders for the next big gig. I temporarily moved to Bakersfield, CA to co-locate with the client. I earned my MBA in the evenings whilst working full-time {heyyyy, Jones School!}. I worked tirelessly on Sundays {shh…don’t tell my priest}, holidays, and even vacations.

Kristine at the Jones School Investiture

Years worth of investment finally started to come to fruition last year when I had a career highlight of presenting my work to top company executives. I was going out on maternity leave with a BANG. I was on fire. I was unstoppable.

Until I stopped.

I now find myself placed in a job that is not at all aligned with my career aspirations. What happened? A perfect storm of events occurred. I gave birth to my beloved daughter, Kara, and chose to extend my maternity leave. The company restructured while I was out. Then, the price of oil crashed. I mean, I’m lucky to still have a job, right?

Hu Family Portrait with newborn Kara

{{Let me say that I am fortunate enough to work for a company that allowed me to take additional time off to bond with my baby and still return to a job that is of equal pay grade. I was also privileged to take advantage of part-time employment while I transitioned to full-time. I am grateful for that. Continuing….}}

I had a choice to make. I could change my job situation or I could suck it up and embrace the work/life balance that was imposed upon me. On the extremes, pre-baby Kristine said, “GO FIND A JOB ELSEWHERE!” while Mommy Kristine said, “Who are you kidding? You can’t give 60 hours a week to a new job AND continue to breastfeed!”

I eventually listened to Mommy Kristine. My definition of being the BEST had to change. While I didn’t completely bench my career, I had to make room for motherhood. The trade-offs and switching costs of finding a better job didn’t support what I wanted in life. Yes, I could channel my inner Sheryl Sandberg and make it work. But, after years of sprinting from one finish line to another, I was tired, and we’ve still got a lifelong marathon ahead of us. I knew I was on the edge of a burn-out. Something had to give.

While that decision seems simple enough, it was actually a multi-month process for me to accept that I could not give everything to my career right now. My husband sacrificed a lot the last decade so I could invest in my career and myself. It was my turn to shift more focus to our marriage and our family. The transition has been a hard adjustment.

Queue the five stages of grief for my fast-tracked career.

Denial

I didn’t want to believe it. I was holding out and expecting my old boss to rescue me. They were going to move me to another job once the dust settled from the restructure. Well.. I’m still here.

Anger

It seemed as if all that hard work went down the drain.  While pregnant, I would excuse myself from meetings to deal with the morning sickness and promptly return without skipping a beat. If I had just taken sick days and watched reruns of Friends, I would’ve ended up in the same spot. It just didn’t seem fair. I cycled between denial and anger for a few months.

Bargaining

I thought, well maybe I could turn this job into something larger and grander than it actually is. I was trying to sell my bosses on it. I quickly realized it was distracting me from my given responsibilities, and I wasn’t getting anything done.

Depression

The reality of my situation kicked-in. I was not clinically depressed, but I was really sad. I prolonged goodbyes to my beloved in the mornings. Not because I didn’t want to leave. It was because I didn’t want to go to work. The simplest assigned tasks were huge hits to my ego.

Acceptance

My new boss is very insightful and told me that I need to stop being so hard on myself. I thought I could be the outlier and manage my career-building and childbearing years exceptionally well. What I’ve learned is what other women have said before, I can have it all, but not all at once. I get it now. I’ll eventually reach my career goals. I just have a few more variables to work with and may not do it by 40 as I thought I would. I am encouraged and inspired by the women who are my mentors. They have weathered the stormy parts of their careers, are still very influential women in my company, and are great moms. Plus, it’s not all about working hard. It’s about working SMART.

haveitall

So long story short — to all the mommas out there going through these stages of grief, hang in there. Know that you’re not alone and you are doing the best you can. Be nice to yourself and allow for the mourning of the old you. The new you is a work in progress so enjoy the journey. I bet one day we will look back on this and be thankful for the experience that made us better women, partners, and mothers.

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7 Responses to The Five Stages of Grief for my Fast-Tracked Career

  1. John Burns March 27, 2015 at 10:00 am #

    I remember our classmate Omar saying something similar in business school. He was used to being a straight A student, but after they had a baby during the program, he realized that his family was more important. He still worked hard but academics weren’t his top priority.

  2. jillie bean March 27, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

    GREAT article! Sure to be helpful to many other mommies out there. Thanks for sharing your experience. 🙂

  3. Amanda March 27, 2015 at 8:24 pm #

    This is perfect. I’m successful at work and a mom of two preschoolers. So much focuses on should we work or be at home, but this more eloquently described my dilemma – not what do I do, but do what degree do I do it? The balance as any kind of mom is hard! I struggle so much at not being able to keep up with my coworkers in a different stage of life. Glad my reminders of what makes motherhood wonderful are so noisy. 🙂

  4. Jenn L
    Jenn L March 30, 2015 at 9:23 pm #

    So beautifully said! So glad you put this out there for so many people who relate!

  5. Lindsay July 1, 2015 at 7:26 am #

    Based on the cose words in your article, I worked for the same O&G supermajor last year. Had my daughter last September, took off the rest of the year (they were very understanding, of course), then ended up quitting when my leave was ending in January.
    I also have PCOS. We had a couple miscarriages and some fertility issues ans after trying for a couple years and in the workforce for 10 years, I finally accepted my decision to stay home. And now I’m so glad I did! We are young. We have plenty years left to go back to work of we want! And if we don’t want, that’s okay too.
    Good luck and enjoy your sweet baby!

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