The Belief About Motherhood That Was Holding Me Back in My Career

My career has hit its peak.

At least that’s what I was telling myself for most of the last year.

When I first started looking for freelance work four years ago, my only goal was to make $1,000 a month. This was the amount that would allow me to quit my job working in health care and stay home during the day with my kids. Never would I have guessed that those first few gigs, sometimes paying as little as 3 cents a word, would be the stepping stones leading me to a profitable career as a writer, which also supported the flexible lifestyle I desired.

These days, my minimum monthly income is five times my original goal, and I get to spend so much time with my kids. When I wrapped up my finances from the previous year, I was so grateful, but I also felt a sense of resignation. This is as good as it gets, I thought to myself as I gathered documents for filing my taxes.

This belief played out in my everyday work life, too. I would make arrangements for a sitter and spend that precious time procrastinating or caught up in anxiety about the future of my career. Some days, I would head home early and relieve my babysitter even though I had ample work I could focus on or I could have spent that time pitching more work.

I was seeing that pattern, but I couldn’t find the explanation. Why was I sabotaging my career? Why was I ignoring emails for potential gigs and phoning it in on calls with potential clients? To be perfectly honest, I mostly assumed I was burned out or even lazy. It took a lot of time and reflection to connect with the real reason behind this behavior.

It was as if I had subconsciously placed a cap on my growth potential. It wasn’t until I returned to a daily journaling habit, something I had dropped during a particularly difficult season of life, that I began to connect the dots. As soon as I devoted some intentional time to processing what it would look like to take another step forward in my career, I unearthed the thing that was holding me back.

Each time I sat down with my journal, I kept coming back to a very specific fear: If I devote any additional time to my work, my children wouldn’t get the attention from me they need. I didn’t believe it was possible to be a good mom and an exceptional freelancer. And all of this procrastination and turning down work was how that fear was playing out in my career.

Getting in touch with my fears about failing my children was only the first step. I sat in that fear for weeks, giving myself the chance to be OK if I didn’t want to grow my career any further or pursue any new opportunities. I asked hard questions day after day—maybe I was right? Maybe it was wrong of me to want more from my career when things were going so well for my family?

I also spent some time chasing this fear back to its origin. I realized that I had loved having my mom at home growing up, and I assumed that was what I wanted for my own family, too. I think I believed that being a great mom, just like my mom was, meant I had to follow in her footsteps. Believing there was only one path to a thriving family, where one parent stayed home full time, was holding me back.

What I needed wasn’t resignation or acceptance that I couldn’t be a good mom and good writer at the same time. What I needed was to change the story in my head. Once I looked around me and saw all of the amazing moms who were going hard after their dreams and also had thriving families, I knew that was what I really wanted.

It wasn’t as if a switch flipped in my brain. It takes daily work to keep believing in my ability as a mom and a writer. When I get up in the mornings, I spend a few minutes connecting with what I want for my family and my career, reminding myself why I am working so hard to reach my goals. I give myself permission to want both things, to be a great mom and a great writer.

Practically, I’ve given up a lot that was holding me back. I’m outsourcing more, in my business and at home. I’m having groceries delivered and getting more help with housework. I’m saying no to social commitments that don’t absolutely light me up. I’m focusing on time management, so I can spend my non-work hours enjoying my kids.

Giving myself permission to chase my goals has been challenging, but it has also been exciting, fulfilling and seriously fun.

Last week, my oldest daughter crawled into bed with me for a few minutes before she headed to bed. I had just cracked open my laptop, and her dad was picking out a book to read to her and her sister. She rested her head on my arm, asking what I was working on, and then chatted with me about her dreams of being a gardener when she grows up.

In that moment, I knew I was making the right choice, because I am following my own path. I hope that my daughters can see that. I hope they’ll know it’s OK to strike out on their path, too, to follow their own rules, and confidently decide for themselves what is best for their families.

Related: Career & Motherhood: 10 Ways to Make It Work

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Mary Sauer

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