Although I had achieved the three goals that I had defined for myself to avoid life failure (marriage, kids, a Ph.D.), I had lost myself in the pursuit. I was approaching 40, uncontent and wondering what I did wrong.
I chose to stop working in my early 20s to pursue graduate school as it seemed like the next step for my career. Everyone at my company had a Ph.D. and I loved the research I was doing, particularly as I got to use new technology to build analytics. Why not go to grad school? At the same time, I got married. Why not get married? I was in love with a great guy and it seemed like the right time.
I balanced commuting to a school in a nearby city for my program with living in the suburbs and creating a new life of being married. I was caught between my fellow, mostly single, students who lived on campus and a life where my friends were having families and not working. Due to known infertility issues, we started to try to have kids at the same time as I finished up my first year of grad school.
Struggling with grad school and not knowing if I would succeed, along with trying to conceive and not knowing if I would ever have a child, made me feel like I had failed. So much so, that I did not attend my 10 year high school reunion.
I am lucky to say that I was able to get pregnant after many years. I left grad school as All But Dissertation (ABD) and had my first child. For a couple of years, I got caught up in being a mom and wife until I had to either finish my dissertation or leave the program. I finished within 15 months (only 9 years total!) and tried for my second child.
By 35, I had a Ph.D. and two kids. It was time to get back into the workforce.
Starting Professionally Anew
During my tenure at grad school and trying for kids, I had done non-profit work, part-time work and delved into the broadening internet capabilities with early versions of personal PCs. I started looking for something in technology, not necessarily a job that would use my Economics Ph.D. I had not had a professional job for a decade but my tech curiosity was an asset as I had experience building digital information that many people did not.
Networking with friends, I found an opportunity at a new startup. It was fun. I started to establish a life outside of my mom persona at home. I realized that I was not happy with everything I had asked for and built. I fell into an abyss of despair and decided that I needed to figure out who I was in order to be a better parent and that I needed to leave my marriage.
Starting Personally Anew
Leaving my marriage was one of the hardest decisions in my life. I wish I could have been a different person and stayed. I wish I was more mature. But I wasn’t and I took the time over the next many years to figure out who I was and to learn that it was ok to be me. Having grown up moving around, change was not difficult for me. However, not being part of a married couple and raising my kids half-time was harder given our culture.
I focused on work instead. Although I had learned the language of business, I was naive to politics and did not always know that delivering does not mean you are successful in everyone’s eyes. I lost my job by not playing by the rules and got moved to another area in a demoted role. I was raising my kids half-time, struggling with being single, and not making enough money. I seriously thought about moving back to my parents a few states away but knew that was not the answer.
Within the year, I found a great new job and thrived for a few years.
Building A Brand
In the new role, I started networking beyond the company and traveling which expanded my circle in terms of role and opportunity. I had set a regular schedule for kids vs. late night, I started to build my ‘dataqueen’ brand, and I had asked for and gotten a seat at the table on the leadership team. I still had not figured out politics, nor had I figured out how to communicate the work I was doing vs. what was perceived. I still needed to learn how to manage my peer and manager relationships.
I had someone hired over me. They left within 6 months, and I rebuilt my team until I knew I could leave. I left for a new role, state, and industry. With one kid in college and one that I saw on weekends, career path options broaden. The startup I joined started to fall apart. I realized that I needed to take control of my brand and launch myself in a very vocal way that I had not done previously. I need to take control of my career path from here on out.
Walking A New Path
My brand enabled me to expand my opportunities within my roles at the time and future roles. I use it to explore new paths when the old path is blocked.
What I have learned through these later life years is that it does take courage to change direction and to walk a new path. And it can hurt but it leads to greater growth. It was worth me starting a new career after most of my work peers and it should not be considered an anomaly. It should be thought of as a norm.
It was devastating to get divorced but it was the right decision at the time which enabled me to be a much better parent and eventually, a better person in any relationship.
It has been hard each time I start a new role at a new company or industry but it is also exhilarating and fulfilling when I figure it out. I have set up my brand and network which I can rely on if I need to when unexpected changes occur.
My goal in sharing the above is to let others know that you can make hard decisions that might go against the norm. Give yourself permission to start something you thought it was too late to become good at; go back to school; take lessons to learn something new; quit the job you hate to pursue the one you always wanted; change careers or just get good at giving yourself permission to be who you are.