Have you ever found yourself out of a job? Statistically, more of you will probably nod in the affirmative than say "not I," though when it happens it’s hard not to face it with a certain sense of incredulity that comes to those who have felt buffered by their talent and sense of company worth. Of course, as a buffer, pure competence alone is today about as effective as Swiss cheese— it’s almost impossible to be immune from the shifting winds and whims of the working world.
It happened to me last year. As aggressively as I had been wooed months before to join this company, it meant little when the company wound up in chapter 11. I learned that there was some fine print I had neglected to read in the treatise on "Risks"* (*they are actually risky). And most dramatically as a result, I found myself going from executive, to more senior executive, to no longer having a job at all.
Here has been the emotional cycle: Disbelief, followed by a surprising sense of euphoria (i.e. "who needed this? I’m free!"), followed since by continually shifting riptides of terror, optimism, depression, humility, terror, excitement, exhaustion, self-doubt, neediness, loathing of neediness… repeat.
And mixed has come the unique wrinkle to being a mother in this situation—in the midst of all the self-reflection, it is unavoidable not to wonder, "should I just be dropping the ‘executive’ part of my ‘executive mom’ equation for good?"
What happens when you think these thoughts and have actually built an organization and reputation defined by being a working mother?
I realize how much I love taking my daughter to school every morning…but then I realize how much I want to be taking her to school all dressed up and ready to go off with a sense of career purpose from there. I realize how much I do indeed define myself both by being a professional and by being a mother. I miss the stimulation, the challenge, even the pace and pressure of the insane amount needed to get done that I often would (and expect will again) bemoan. And, there is the small matter of our mortgage needing to be paid. I’m struck anew by the results of the very first survey we fielded, in which 70% of the women we asked said they work BOTH because they want to emotionally and need to financially. Being an "executive mom" isn’t just derived from a set of circumstances… it is more of an innate state of being, for many women, including me.
One day, perhaps Executive Moms the organization will be able to fully sustain my own "executive" piece. For now, though, I find myself summoning new resolve each morning to push past my own uneasiness for "bothering" people and my as-yet-unconquered fear of rejection and facing the phone and email with the same confidence in myself in which my family friends have been so unwavering… and know that, inevitable pitfalls like this one aside, once an Executive Mom, always one.