As I was graduating from BYU with my MBA I got a piece of advice from the assistant dean, herself a single mom whose husband left after she put him through medical school. She was meeting with the women in our graduating class (all 13 of us) to discuss interview strategies. Despite the illegality of the question, we were sure to be asked by potential employers if we planned to stop working when we had children. The vast majority of us weren’t even married. Her straightforward advice was simple, “Don’t make plans based on things that haven’t happened yet. Go for your career and if marriage and family become a reality, then you will adjust.”
Why do I remember her advice so clearly, even though it’s been 21 years since she shared it? Because it ran counter to everything I had always heard growing up as an LDS young woman. Until that point in time, my career plans had always been made expecting that marriage and family would one day take precedence and I needed something that would easily adjust. I majored in secondary education because that was a “great back-up in case anything ever happens to your husband.” Even as I contemplated graduate school, I chose a 2-year MBA rather than the 3-year JD/MBA I really desired because even though I wasn’t married yet, I certainly didn’t expect to make it to 26 without getting married and who wants to bring graduate school debt into a marriage when you don’t expect to work?
And yet, I was 25 and single with an MBA. Career was what I had and I floundered a bit. I had never expected to be a real working woman and had never developed the networking skills I would need to flourish. I was unsure of myself and ended up spending four years in a job that turned out to be a poor fit for my skills, but from which I did learn a great deal. By 30 I was finally married and starting a new job. This one was a much better fit and I loved it. I had finally started to find my footing. I met mentors and I learned the ins and outs of working in the headquarters of one of the world’s largest corporations. I managed million dollar projects and I was good at what I did.
My husband finished his Master’s Degree; when he started working, our monthly paychecks were to the penny identical. We both held as a personal value that a parent would stay home full-time with small children, so we discussed which one of us that would be. We were both proving that either of us could support the family, but I had the advantage of years of training in the church and at home for how to cook, clean, and take care of babies. And, honestly, I wanted to do it. But I also wanted to make a conscience choice, not run away from a job I didn’t like. After a couple of years, I did quit my job even though I was good at it and was even up for promotion. It was in fact because my promised promotion got hung up in intra-company politics that I decided to leave when I did. I had been making my husband wait on this one promotion opportunity for me and when it didn’t happen as promised I told him to go ahead and put in for the promotion/transfer he wanted. The head of my department signed my going away card, “I wish I were signing your promotion papers instead of this.” Within weeks of me finding a new job – even one where I could work at home – we adopted a baby on very short notice. I cut my hours to part-time for a few weeks, and then went back to full-time, all the time thinking I had found the perfect fit. But it was not to be. I lost faith in the company and decided that it wasn’t a job worth missing time with my long-awaited child.
Ten years and two girls later, I decided I wanted to start working again. My youngest was in second grade. I had spent six years sharing responsibility with my siblings for taking care of our aged mother and it was time. The first thing I looked at was renewing my teaching license, so I signed up to take the required exams. I also dusted off the resume. With my work experience, getting interviews wasn’t too difficult. But coming back after 10 years was. I went on two very promising MBA-related job interviews. Both followed phone interviews and they were bringing me in for a day to interview with several folks, so I had made the first major cut. But, both jobs would have required our family to move as we then lived in Mississippi and there wasn’t a job in my field to be found in the entire state. I wasn’t offered either job and I began to have doubts about the wisdom of uprooting my family and making my husband look for a job to move with me as I was starting back into a career after ten years.
Then one day the local high school called. I was on the sub list, though I had never been available to sub at the high school, but this time they needed a French teacher and I was available. The students that day loved me and begged me to apply for the job opening for the next year as the current teacher was leaving. They also told me that another school in town was looking for a German teacher. As it turned out, both positions were part-time and I got them both. It was crazy coming back to work and learning two different school systems, but even both of them put together was still part-time and I was able to take my own children to school and pick them up every afternoon just as I had been doing. And even though I had hated student teaching and thought I would never teach, I loved it.
After one year there was a full-time opening for a teacher who could teach multiple languages at the second school. This school is a public boarding school for advanced students in math and science and operates its classes on a college schedule, so there is much more flexibility than in a normal public school where teachers are literally stuck in their classrooms from 8:00 to 4:00. The only thing they asked was if I was willing to learn Latin because they really needed this new teacher to be able to teach Latin. So I went to work full-time and became a part-time student for a year.
Now I teach French, German and Latin and I love it! My husband wants to know when I plan to go back to my MBA kind of career so that I can make as much as he makes and he can choose to do something different. At first I was sure that the teaching would be a short detour off my real career-path, but now I’m not so sure. My schedule fits with my children fairly well, which is good because my husband works long hours and I still carry all the responsibility for getting the kids to and from school. The rest we are adjusting as we go. He doesn’t complain anymore if there is no dinner when he gets home.
Did I plan out this life for myself? No way could I have imagined the twists and turns. But at every step along the way I followed the advice of that wise dean who told me to make decisions about what to do with my life based on what was actually happening now and not what I thought would happen in the future. Planning is certainly a good thing and I’m definitely one who likes to see the path ahead and plan for what is coming, but I have also found that I can only plan for things I can control. In my life, that wasn’t marriage, children, or job changes. Those all happened after much fruitless effort and while I was finally focusing my attention elsewhere. Thank goodness, though, that I was willing to take hold of opportunities as they presented because those “surprises” have provided most pleasant results.
-Submitted by Lori