This is Part 2 of a series on my decade of experimenting with “work”. If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can find it here.
Thanks for reading How I’m Building This Life! Subscribe for free to receive new posts (almost) every week.
When I first became a parent nearly a decade ago, the problem in front of me was that I wanted to be physically with my child and take on the primary caregiving responsibility as we grew our family. I also was ambitious and driven to build my career.
Over the course of these nearly ten years, my understanding of the problem I’ve been solving for has evolved, the needs of my family and the caregiving demands of our kids have been in constant flux, and along the way, I have engaged in numerous iterations of “work” in the spaces between.
These are the top lessons I’ve learned and continue to learn:
Having agency makes the difference.
Once I had this responsibility of caring for someone other than myself, it became clear to me that what I needed was a sense of personal agency in all other aspects of my life. There is something uniquely demanding and unpredictable about caring for a baby or young child. And when I tasked myself with designing “work” that would complement, not frustrate, my caregiving responsibilities, the critical component I identified was agency — the power to make decisions about how, when, and where I work.
At the time, there was no mainstream concept of remote work or flexible work. So I opted for starting my own business. First it was a product business, then an experiential retail business. And now, I have a consulting business that allows me to plug into organizations and teams while maintaining full agency over my time and work.
In the months that we have slowly returned to “normal” on this side of the global pandemic, there continues to be debate over workplace flexibility for knowledge workers. We are framing the conversation mostly around in-person, remote, or hybrid work. The word “flexibility” is being used as the new standard in work expectations. But I wonder if we are missing the mark on the core issue, especially for working parents.
Workplace flexibility is giving workers options, whether it’s the hours in the day they work, or where they do their work. What if, instead, we gave workers personal agency to build their own wheelhouse within the organization, with full ownership over their work? They might actually feel empowered to build their work exactly how it fits them best, without being limited to a predetermined list of options. As we collectively explore what the future of work looks like, I continue to come back to this theme of agency that has been the throughline for me since having kids.
A “job” or “career” is just packaging material.
As a 30-year-old “stay-at-home” mom with career ambitions, I was most self conscious about not having a job or a title. In the professional world, I felt like a wagon unhitched from the horse. This lack of job title and institutional attachment made me feel invisible.
Fast forward ten years, I now understand that those insecurities were the result of being indoctrinated from a young age on what counts as worthy titles and valuable work. I can now see that “jobs” and “careers” are merely packaging material saran-wrapped around a small fraction of the work that we collectively do.
Today, I see the full spectrum of paid and unpaid work that goes into our homes, our families, our schools, and our communities. Instead of donning the label of stay-at-home mother, I see myself as an evolving business person with significant caregiver responsibilities in our family. The nature and balance of my “work” will naturally evolve as our kids grow older and more independent. Regardless, I attach less weight to those job titles that I felt I lacked.
Truth is, we can build our own packaging for the work that we do, the work that we’ve done, and the skills and talents we hold. This vision is what drives me and shapes my work today.
Build with what you have, when you have it.
In building brands and businesses, I’ve learned over and over again that there’s no such thing as waiting to find the perfect product, partner, service, team member, etc., before you start building.
Life (and work) is like a game of Tetris. You just have to build with the blocks that come your way in the sequence and speed they come. (You’ll notice that this Tetris metaphor is built into the logo for this newsletter. I can’t say that it’s a perfect analogy, but I find it to be a helpful framework.)
As a 30-year-old, I had high expectations for my career, and I had high hopes to become a mother. I was very fortunate to have the latter materialize rather quickly. And it happened before I had any meaningful opportunities to shape my career. Centering around caregiving felt right for me, and so I started building from there, with what was within reach at the time.
My decision to build my life and work around being home with the kids is 100% attributable to my unique set of experiences and circumstances. That’s what makes it uniquely my story. The same is true of every person, every business, and every organization. Whatever you are building — your life, your family, your business, your career — you start building with what you have. Making decisions and laying down each building block leads to progress. It starts taking shape, perhaps with imperfections and gaps, but that shape is uniquely yours. It tells your story of how you got from time stamp A to time stamp B.
The value of this lesson is that we are each the totality of all the blocks that we’ve laid down in building our lives — not just what you see at the surface at any given moment.
Thanks for reading How I’m Building This Life! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
I think with age comes the reassurance and flexibility in knowing that no one else is tracking the particulars of our professional lives in the way we imagine. Everyone is much more focused on themselves than others.
I love the saran wrap explanation. Yes!