I thought I knew a lot about Having it All and Leaning In. I’m pretty much the poster child for Leaning In. Really, Sheryl Sandberg would be proud. I’ve never been afraid to be ambitious. I’ve managed my career well, shamelessly pursued leadership roles, and systematically rejected every gender stereotype imaginable. I didn’t “lean back” until my water broke, and even then, I took a few minutes to wrap up a call and turn on my out-of-office. I picked an amazing partner who is a true partner in all ways, and is 110% supportive of my career.
And then, in the same two-week period, I found out that I was pregnant with my second child, was named a finalist for a prestigious national fellowship opportunity, and learned of some complications with the pregnancy. Oh, and I did I mention this was also the week of the Marathon bombings in Boston (where I live)? Then I kicked off six weeks of weekly travel for work that aligned perfectly with the start of morning sickness and first trimester pregnancy fatigue.
Talk about a firestorm of life choices and crossroads and priority setting. In January, when I applied for the fellowship, I knew that it would push my ideal timeline up a little bit, but I didn’t think I’d make it past the first round because it was so competitive. Now I was in the top 2% of nearly 3,000 applicants, and about to participate in an intense interview weekend. If I were to be named a fellow, I would need to leave my job July 1st to pursue The Enliven Project full-time yet still need to raise nearly 2/3 of my salary by the end of the year (and also my due date).
Meanwhile, my pregnancy was off to a rocky start, with spotting that continued for nearly three weeks. Of course, spotting can be completely normal (which it seems mine has turned out to be), but it can also be a sign of miscarriage. So I spent almost a month fearful that I was miscarrying, and then my midwife restricted my physical activity. This opened up a whole new challenge. What if I was put on bed rest for all or part of my pregnancy? That would significantly impede my ability to raise money to support The Enliven Project – and our growing family.
One weekend morning between airplane rides, my husband said to me, “I wish you hadn’t applied for that fellowship.” What a moment of truth that I wasn’t quite ready to accept.
At first, I was angry. How dare he try to throw cold water on my dreams? Didn’t he realize what an honor it was to be selected? Wasn’t he committed to supporting my career and aspirations?
You see, I’ve spent my whole career – and life – chasing achievement after achievement. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s what allowed me to get good grades despite childhood trauma and not to get derailed from my professional career despite intense breakups and unsupportive partners. So the idea of passing up an achievement – and a big one at that – seemed totally insane to me.
At the same time, I was so stressed and overwhelmed and scared. I started hoping that I WASN’T picked as a finalist. I didn’t want to face the world. I stopped writing (never a good sign) and reaching out. Somehow, I had lost my center. The fellowship opportunity was dictating my timeline and priorities, not me. I HAD to leave my job July 1st with no safety net. I HAD to say yes to the fellowship if offered. I HAD to forgo a maternity leave to launch The Enliven Project successfully. I HAD to run 100 miles an hour towards a new project and a new baby at the same time.
I started to reflect on what I really wanted. I wanted to have another baby. I wanted to ENJOY some time off with that baby. I wanted to have a healthy pregnancy, and knew stress reduction was an important part of that. I wanted to have some time with my husband and son to prepare for the new addition to our family. I wanted to be financially secure. I wanted to continue speaking and writing about sexual violence, exploring social media, and building support for the field and the issue. I wanted to launch The Enliven Project, but it didn’t need to happen on July 1st.
So I flipped the switch and put myself back in the driver’s seat of my own life. Now that I knew what I wanted, I could negotiate it. If they gave me the fellowship, it didn’t mean I had to accept all of the terms. The circumstances of my life had changed since I applied, and I had a different set of priorities. It didn’t make me any less serious as a candidate or make me any less likely to be successful at achieving The Enliven Project’s goals.
I went into the finalist interviews with a sense of peace. I could sell my vision and work fully, knowing that the outcome wasn’t going to force me down a path that wasn’t right for me.
In the end, I didn’t get the fellowship. But to be honest, it was a relief. I now have the opportunity to pursue my own path on my own terms. I have the opportunity to get everything I want, across a longer timeframe, but in a way that will allow me to enjoy and appreciate all of it.
But most importantly, I can rest easier knowing that I had already made the decision about how I wanted to pursue the next chapter of my life. And I can tell this new baby that he or she was part of our family and priorities from the very, very beginning.
I’m excited about the next six months, and what we have planned for The Enliven Project. And I’m excited to share the truth about my life with all of you too. You see, at the heart of personal, organizational, or social change is the simple act of telling the truth about what’s really happening in our lives.
And that, my friends, is how I started leaning into my life.