Career Confusion and the Paradox of Choice

This month marks one year since I took a new job, returning to full time work after a year of part time while my daughter was a baby. My daughter is 28 months old now, and I am halfway through pregnancy with my son.

This past year has been one of the toughest years for my professional life. I’d say it’s rivaled only by the quarter-life crisis years that I experienced in my mid 20s. I’m 32 now, so those pains have faded somewhat, though I’ve carried their memory as a grounding that helps me see the good in the roles I’ve had since then.

That difficult professional time resolved when I moved from chemical engineering to software product management. I’d been spanning both areas for a few years while I worked a day job in environmental remediation and an all-the-other-time job with my husband on our startup, but at the start of 2011, at 27, I made the switch to software for my day job. I was relieved that I had found the right career track for me, one which used my analytical skill and passion for technology and had abundant career options in NYC.

While there have been challenges since then for sure, I can’t remember a period of such sustained professional stress as I’ve had since I took my current job.

So many nights I’ve been so preoccupied and worried about work that I had insomnia. In the fall I had to up my therapy from biweekly to weekly, a frequency I hadn’t needed for a few years. I’ve cried at the office or over work more times than I can count.

And that’s all just from my feelings about this job, not even going into how I feel about working full time while my daughter is under school age (not that the two emotional drivers can be fully separated).

I’m extremely fortunate to be in a career that has more jobs than qualified candidates, but one consequence of this is that I am aware that I have choices and don’t have to be where I am if it’s not the right fit for me. I tested the waters, speaking to recruiters and interviewing at another company a few months back. Already pregnant and feeling I didn’t have enough time with my daughter, I decided to test if I could find a new job while still positioning myself for the work-life balance I sought.

I came close to an offer in a role that was exciting and felt like a sweet spot for me in terms of the product and company culture, but they were only willing to go as far as one day working from home. Working from home with a toddler is either not caring for the toddler or not working. So when my boss finally agreed to my request for a 4 day work week (at 80% pay), I decided to stay at my company, at least for now.

At first that brought renewed peace and confidence that I was at the right place for my values at this point in my life. But the following months saw a lot of change in my role, with a new boss taking over a large portion of my responsibilities, and a lot of stress with the remaining ones. Luckily my old and new boss are really open to finding me a spot that better matches my schedule, strengths, and desires.

So I’ve been soul searching again, assessing what is stressing me out about this job.

I’ve learned a lot this past year, and I believe I’m stronger professionally from these experiences. I’ve learned how a different company works, operationally and culturally, and tried my skills in a new pool of office politics, which were things I sought. But I feel a lot of my distress comes from not liking what I’ve found. I’m plagued by the thought that no matter what the role, this company isn’t the right fit for me.

The amount of discontent I have and the amount I see around me in the peers I admire even has me questioning whether product management is the right discipline for me as I advance in my career. I suspect that it’s not the discipline but the flavor of it that seems expected here that I’m unhappy with. I want to be somewhere where my core motivators of creating great user experiences and working with exciting technology don’t feel like they’re so often compromised.

Perhaps I could find a better fit on a different team here. Is it the role or the company itself that I need to get away from?

And then there’s the question of how much I can stand being away from my daughter and our new son after maternity leave, which should be the last 3 months of this year. Last time I had a really tough time even being away 2 days per week when my daughter was only 3 months old. I think from around 6 months to 16 months I was very happy with the 20 hours per week, 2 days in the office work-life balance. But if I can’t get my hours reduced that much, I might rather stay home full time than be away from home more days than I am there. It would be tough on our finances but I would be willing to take on the things needed to make it work, and my husband says he would support that. I suspect he might even be grateful for it, except for the lack of paycheck.

There are so many options, which I’m grateful for. But with it there are so many questions. And I feel like I’m in some sort of limbo, where I’m in a confusingly ambiguous role and just biding my time until my son is born. I tell myself how fortunate I am to have these options, but it’s tough to be happy when I’m feeling emotionally triggered in meetings, conversations, and emails from my coworkers day in and day out. I’m so thankful that my daughter and husband are there to keep me grounded at the end of each day. I only hope that I’ll be able to make the right career choices for me, and that I can be present for them and enjoy this time together until our family grows.

Of all the things I haven’t written

I haven’t written much this past year. I wrote a post nearly a year ago about returning to full time work (from the part time schedule I’d had since my daughter was born), and I think the strain the full time work has put on me is a large part of why I haven’t written much. It’s not only more time away from my daughter, but it’s also just a stressful job – without a doubt the hardest job I’ve ever had!

When I’m not working, I want to be with my daughter or vegging out or out with my husband. I just haven’t had the mental energy to write, which saddens me because I value writing as an outlet and a way to stay connected with others online. And there are things I could have written about, like how hard I find parenting a toddler to be, the horrible night terrors my daughter had, the 3 month long menstrual cycle I had after having my IUI removed, how that ended in the briefest of pregnancies that ended during a major product launch at said stressful job, or how I got to starting a 4 day/week schedule last week.

But of all the updates I could share, I’ve been nagged by not having written yet about one thing in particular – we have a baby boy due in late September!

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This pregnancy has been more exhausting and trying than the first was, but it’s hard for me to say if that’s the pregnancy or the fact that I’ve already got a toddler who demands near constant attention from me. Now that I’m 18 weeks along, the exhaustion, emotion, and nausea of the first trimester have somewhat subsided and I feel the baby move sometimes, so I’m feeling more excited.

Our daughter has been pretty amazing with the news so far. Our nanny is pregnant too, due in July, so there’s a lot of pregnancy around her. She loves babies, whether real or pretend. She likes to care for them and tickle them and talk about them. She’ll be 2 years and 9 months when her brother is born, so we expect sharing the attention will still be tough on her, but she’s so into babies and learning about them that we think that will help a lot.

I can’t wait for our family to grow and to share some stories from the trenches as we raise 2 little ones in NYC!

Personality developing

I wrote the following a few months ago, but wanted to add pictures before posting and didn’t get around to it until now.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how at 22 months, our daughter’s personality and traits are starting to really show. We are really getting to see just WHO our little darling is! It’s really incredible to watch her develop. Here’s a bit about who she seems to be these days.

We think she’s playful, because she’s often silly and likes to do things just to make us laugh. She asks for tickles (“tick-e-tick-e-tick-e”) nearly every day.
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We think she’s athletic, because she loves to run and climb. These days she will climb the curved ladder at the park that is twice as tall as her all by herself, and we taught her to do a forward roll. We can’t wait to take her to the rink to skate and to gymnastics classes!
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We think she’s adventurous, because she’s always run at the ladders and the pool with abandon. This is exciting to watch but makes me nervous, too!

We think she’s strong-willed, because when she wants something, it’s hard to distract her or convince her to let it go. She can get really upset about being told no.

We think she’s musical, because she starts dancing or nodding her head every time she hears music, even if it’s just a brief moment of a car passing by on the street.
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We think she’s a bit shy, because she often takes a while to warm up to people and likes to hide in me.

We think she may be analytical, because she really likes to fit things together and play with blocks and puzzles. She also responds well to explanations and nods as if to say “oh, right, I see”.
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We think she’s sensitive, because she is bothered when other kids or babies are crying or upset. She also breaks into tears when told she’s hurt someone and sometimes when reprimanded, even gently.
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How do you describe your kids? Are there things you thought about their personality as a toddler that no longer seem true?

Moving from a roach infested apartment

It was a crazy summer. It was equal parts wonderful and really, really hard. The hardest part was moving out of our roach infested apartment. With my anxiety levels charged up from the growing infestation, just weeks into my new job and return to full time work, I planned our move. We had a month of overlap at both apartments, which we needed so that we could be careful and intentional all along the way.

We were very scared of bringing the roaches with us, so we painstakingly inspected and cleaned everything before packing it in big blue moving bins. Husband and I agreed that even though we had stretched our budget to its limit (past it really – borrowing from a very wonderful person just to be able to pay the security deposit and first month’s rent), it would be better to leave behind anything that we couldn’t be absolutely sure carried no bugs or their eggs. Our motto was “When in doubt, throw it out.” We really wanted to be sure that we never had to go through this again.

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My mom came to help us pack, and I was so thankful for her help, especially with the kitchen, which was the worst part. I think we must have seen hundreds of roaches both dead and alive while packing the kitchen alone. Many would scurry away when we opened a cabinet drawer, or we’d find them crawling around in nesting bowls. It had gotten so bad that we didn’t even have to shed light on a dark area – we’d regularly see them crawling on cabinets, walls, and counters, even in the daytime. So gross. With the distance that comes from being out of that place, I can now clearly see how BAD it was.

The moving process took longer than I’d hoped. We had both the old and new apartments for a whole month – because I was eager to get out of there and because the move was extra intense with the eradication work. As we approached the final weekend of our overlap month, I looked forward to closing the book on the infested apartment for good.

Then the bargain movers I’d originally hired for the last Saturday of our overlap month told us they were delayed for 4 hours before finally telling us they weren’t coming – “you cancel” the foreman texted me. We sure as hell did not! So I spent the next morning calling movers until I found one who could come the next day, for about 3x the price.

My husband and I took the day off from work and went back to the old apartment one last time. We did a final assessment of which furniture was safe to bring. After I sprayed clorox on a joint in a wooden table only to see a handful of baby roaches come crawling out, we decided to cut our plans even further, bringing almost nothing.

The movers were running late and it was near our daughter’s bedtime, so I took her while Husband oversaw the movers. I went back to the building later to bring him something and snapped the below pictures of all of our furniture in the trash.
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In the end we brought the bins, the bed and metal frame, my daughter’s bed, the nursing glider, a glass and metal desk, two folding chairs, a desk chair, a metal baker’s rack, and a still boxed shelving unit extension from Ikea. That’s it! No dressers, no tables, no bookshelves. There was almost nowhere to unpack our stuff to, and nowhere comfortable to eat. But it was worth it, to get out of the old place.

Our new apartment is big, sunny, and mostly bug free. A few days after the movers brought our stuff, I saw 3 or 4 cockroaches around the apartment. I was so scared that we had brought them with, but I felt that it would be just more than I could handle, and I just shut down my emotions on it, imagining it was someone else and not me. We put out bait traps and sealed the gaps around the doors and hoped for the best.

I’m happy to say we haven’t seen many in the weeks since. I hadn’t seen any until this morning when I found a dead one in the sink. Husband says he saw one in the kitchen too. But I believe this will be ok. The apartment is caulked and sealed so there is no good place for them to nest, and they will not survive.

We are slowly furnishing the apartment. I’d say we are being responsible by only buying what we can pay cash for, but the truth is we maxed out all of our credit just to make the move happen, so we have no choice. We bought a nice new convert-a-couch and a cheap folding table that we fancy up with a table cloth. I put some basic metal shelving in the closets so that we had a place to unpack our hobby supplies, which take a whole closet. We have less than 10 bins left to unpack out of the original 45. We are looking at dressers and toy storage next. In the meantime, we use the other bins for surfaces and toy and clothes storage.

Despite the incomplete furnishings and decorations, I am so happy about our new home. My anxiety levels dropped within a week or two of closing the chapter on the old place. I am so happy that I can comfortably use our kitchen without fear of what I’ll encounter every time time I move something. It’s changed my habits and routines – I can now relax at home with my family in a way I hadn’t at the old place in months. I feel relieved and comforted to be home and I love spending time there with my husband and daughter. It was all worth it.

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Back to full time

It’s the end of the day on Friday, and I’m on my way home following my first week at a new job. It was not just my first week here, but also my first week back at full time work. I feel so many different emotions over this transition.

I am very excited and happy about my new job. I think I made the right choice. There were stresses at my old job that were making me very unhappy, so I decided to see what else was out there for me. And I found that there was quite a bit. I was upfront in my interviews that one of the things I wanted was work/life balance and that a flexible schedule was important to me. I was pleasantly surprised at how many companies were willing to work with me on that.

After much consideration I accepted an offer to work at the one company where my department head would be a woman. She is a C-level executive and we have several things in common. I’m really excited to work with her!

So when I’m at work things are great. When I’m at home and my daughter is up I like to focus on spending time with her, and that’s great too.

When I’m commuting… That is the worst right now. I find myself with time to think about what I missed of my daughter during the day. And I just want to be with her Right This Minute!

She is handling it all pretty well though. And the new income has made it possible for us to rent a new, big, clean apartment – we just got the lease and will get the keys next weekend! The income should alleviate our financial stress, and the home will provide a new comfy refuge that home has not been for me lately (we’ve had a serious cockroach problem). And I’m learning new things and getting new opportunities. Taken together, these things should help a lot with our general happiness and put us in a better position for baby #2 down the road, so that I can hopefully spend more time with our children again when we get to that milestone.

Scenes from a Saturday

It’s Saturday morning, and I am on my work laptop. The last two days I have been at the office, working hard as one of my staff is leaving, and while I am eager to focus on family again, there are a few nagging items I can’t get out of my mind. I send off a few emails, interrupted here and there by my toddler who is hungry for breakfast.

I get my daughter dressed in her bear suit so we can run some errands. We head outside in the late morning, her bundled in her stroller and me wondering how navigating the snowy sidewalks will be today. I am relieved and happy to be done with work and spending time with my daughter, experiencing our weekly reconnection day after my time away. I am getting ready for a party and I need to stop at the grocery store and the bakery.

I have all 4 stove tops going – pancakes for breakfast, bacon, broccoli, and pasta for the mac and cheese I will bring to the party. My daughter is alternately playing on her own and clinging to my leg as I work. My husband is sleeping after a late night out with friends. I peek in on him to tell him breakfast will be ready soon and ask him to help out.

Our daughter is dressed and ready to go and I have packed up the stroller with the cake and mac and cheese. The party has already started and we are not yet out the door. My husband is moving slowly, his body showing how drained he feels.

“Do you have to go?” he asks. We embrace and I feel him curl into me, how genuine his pleading for me to join him in staying in our nest, ignoring the world and its demands together.

I had wanted for him to accompany us to the party, but I decide not to push, instead asking if he still wants to go out after. We had arranged a babysitter and were planning on a date, but I could tell he was in the mood to stay in. “I don’t really want to do anything at all,” he says, confirming my suspicions. I understand all too well how he is feeling – the sense that any effort at all is too much, that nothing could be rewarding enough to make it worth it. It’s not true, of course. But I know how true it can feel, when you’re there, in that place.

I pause. “Let’s at least get dinner, just the two of us,” I say. “We can always come home afterwards.”

He agrees.

As I push the stroller around the building and roll it up the stairs, careful not to wake my sleeping toddler, I hear the buzz of the party inside the building. The voices of adults mingle with the squeals and cries of children. I open the door and enter the space, looking around at the gathered families. Here are my daughter’s best friends, my best mom friends (though the “mom” qualifier is no longer needed), and their spouses, all gathered together to mark the occasion of our children’s first birthdays. It is a room filled with love and support, I know, and yet as I enter with my sleeping child I can’t help but feel a bit alone.

I roll the stroller with my daughter to a spot in the back, where she is somewhat removed from the din but we can see when she wakes. With a sigh, I note that I am 45 minutes late for a 2 hour party. After getting settled, I snap a picture of my sleeping daughter, and send it to my husband.

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“So far, she is sleeping through the party. Your daughter, much? ;)”

Once she wakes up, she is a joy. We have some food and talk with our friends. Then we all get together for a group photo of the moms and babies. As we laugh and smile and look at any of the many cameras in the hands of the many dads, I know that this will be a picture I will cherish – we will capture a moment, but it will call to mind so many more, of emails and texts and afternoons together in the park or indoors, of home cooked scones and pot luck dinners, of watching our children make their first friends, with each other.

During the group shot with the fathers, a few of us step out of the frame. My daughter and I run back and forth in the large space, enjoying the music.

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Someone who generously watched my daughter in addition to their own just the day before returns a sippy cup that I had left behind at their house. My daughter wants to drink from it, and I let her carry it, then lose track of it again in the sea of children’s things that is our celebration of ten 1 year olds and their moms and dads.

We are cleaning up, putting away furniture and sweeping the floor. The babysitter has picked up my daughter and is on her way to our apartment. I have messaged my husband, but heard nothing. I guess that he has fallen asleep and will wake when the babysitter arrives. I make the most of the time, chatting with the friends who remain and helping out. A boy, the older sibling of one of my daughter’s friends, brings the sippy cup to the mom I am standing next to. She tells me he thought it was hers because her daughter was drinking from it too.

“No worries,” I say as I put the bright pink and yellow cup in the pocket of my oversized coat, thankful at this moment for the coat and its large pockets. The coat is too big and not very flattering. I wore it last winter when I was in my third trimester, and I continue to wear it now so that I can close it around my daughter and I when she is in the wrap. It has dried finger paint on the hem from my encounters with not-quite-dry toddler art, and crumbs and specks of food from her snacks in the wrap. It is, as my boss put it, a “mom coat.” I probably should get a nice fitted coat for myself, but I just couldn’t bring myself to invest the money and time in the hunt for the right winter coat this year. I am not focused on that part of me. I am a mom first, and everything else after. It’s how I want it to be.

My pace quickens as I see my husband walking towards me on the street. I feel weird, like a train off the tracks, as I walk towards him without our daughter in sight. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve gone out without our daughter in the 14 months since she was born. As the two of us draw closer, I am giddy with happy memories – a decade of dinners for two, conversations both deep and light, games and trips and weekends in.

We embrace excitedly, sharing a big hug and a kiss, even though we’d just seen each other a few hours earlier. I lean into him as we walk, an extra skip in my step. As we hold hands and chat about where to go for dinner, I am relieved to hear more energy in his voice and feel more strength in his walk.

We choose to eat at Le Cheile, where we had our first dinner out as a new family of 3 a little over a year earlier and where we have been since many times, instead of Saggio, the fancy but cramped Italian restaurant where we ate our last dinner out as a childless couple. We are creatures of habit and comfort, and they have delicious mozzarella sticks.

I sit on a bench in the park, my legs awkwardly stretched in front of me on the deep blanket of snow. My husband sits across from me, helping me light the joint I just rolled as we talk about family size and when to have another child. I am enjoying myself, and I tell him so. It feels nice to be able to focus on each other and not worry about what our daughter is up to.

My throat feels dry, and I think a drink would be great. Then I interrupt our conversation – “I’m about to have a very mom moment. Are you ready for this?” I ask as I reach into my pocket and pull out the sippy cup. “Want some water?” I ask, thinking of all the people involved in making this drink turn up in my pocket on this particular day.

I smile, feeling immense love as I talk with my husband.

What a great day.

Happy 13 Months

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I took the time to write. So many things have been going on – a reorganization at work, Husband started a new job, the holidays and family visits, and my daughter’s first birthday!

She seems more and more like a toddler these days. She walks well, even being able to catch her balance after wobbling on one leg, standing from sitting, and balancing in a squat while she plays on the floor.

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Lately she is all about the couch, and she can now get up and down safely in her own. She likes to crawl around on it or to grab the Wii U remote and play with the touchscreen. She’s taken a liking to her Elmo doll. We do watch a little bit of TV, and when I turned on sesame street she was blown away to see Elmo on the TV. She turned to me, back to the TV, back to me, as if to say “Did you know about this?”

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She has a handful of words, and babbles all the time. She regularly says Dada, Mama, cat (“atttt” or “tttttt”), up, all done (“aaaaahl duh”), that, this, and yes (“ess”). She has also said book, bye bye,¬†towel, and bed. The other day or cat had climbed up to a shelf in the closet, and her Dada was holding hey up so that she could see. She was amazed to see the cat there, and said “(c)at up”.

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She is so much fun. She loves music and physical play and investigating objects. She puts rings on pegs and is working on the shape sorter, sometimes getting the shapes through and other times getting frustrated when she is trying to put a circle through a square hole.

We love her so much. It’s been such an amazing 13 months with her.