Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email

FAMILY EQUALITY PART 4: HOW TO GET WHAT YOU WANT IN YOUR CAREER WHEN YOU’RE ALSO A MOM

When humans aren’t on the career path they want to be on, it creates unhappiness. But many moms don’t go after what they want for the sake of their families.

In this episode, we look at the reasons why this isn’t actually good for anyone – and a much better alternative! You’ll learn the four steps to creating career equality, so you can enjoy being a mom AND having the career you really want.

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN FROM THIS EPISODE

  • Why career inequality exists.
  • What career equality is and how to create it.
  • Why lawyer moms in particular get stuck trying to decide what they want for their careers.
  • The four steps to getting what you want in your career.
  • How to help your family do the same with their careers and studies.
  • The Mom-specific challenges to creating career equality.
  • The skill set that every mom needs to have the career and family life she wants.

TRANSCRIPT

Welcome to episode 6 of the Happy Lawyer Mom Podcast! The podcast that takes lawyer moms from beyond stressed and barely hanging on, to finally getting what you want at work and at home so that you can be TRULY happy.

I’m your host, Charise Naifeh and I’m thrilled you’re here.

Hi there and welcome! This is the fourth episode in a 5-part series on family equality. In last week’s episode, we talked about creating leisure time equality in your home, and in this week’s episode, we’re talking about solving the problem of career inequality.

What do I mean by this?

Career inequality happens when one person in the family isn’t getting what they need to pursue their career goals, whereas everyone else in the family is getting what they need for their careers or future careers, as is the case with kids and their studies. This usually results in one person either struggling mightily with their career, or not pursuing what they want at all.

Why is this important? It’s important because everyone has something that they want to do in the world. Even if you don’t know exactly what it is you want to do, the desire to find and do work that you enjoy doing is part of being human. And when you’re not on the path that you want to be on, for whatever reason, it creates unhappiness. It’s really that simple.

This can happen for many different reasons, which we’ll be exploring in later episodes, but the reason that I want to explore today is motherhood. There are deeply held expectations in our society that moms don’t get to have and follow their own goals and dreams. And those expectations lead directly to what I call career inequality.

A lot of lawyer moms find themselves wanting their careers to occupy more time and space, but they don’t feel at liberty to do that because they’re the mom. They’re viewing their role as supporting everyone else in the family.

Other lawyer moms are in the opposite situation: they’re working way too much and they’d like to work less, or maybe then want to pivot and do something different, but they don’t feel at liberty to make changes or drive their careers in the direction they’d like because everyone else is happy with the status quo and they don’t want to rock the boat at home.

Either way, the result is the same: one person isn’t getting or pursuing what they want, whereas the other members of the family are getting or pursuing what they want.

Now, career inequality can happen to anyone in the family: but as always on this podcast, we’re looking at this issue from the angle of how it affects lawyer moms.

So let’s examine a couple of real-life scenarios where career inequality comes up for lawyer moms.

I spoke with a woman who had done some cutting edge human rights work before kids, but after becoming a mom, she and her husband had agreed that she could allot 20 hours a week for work and the rest of her time needed to be dedicated to managing the home and taking care of the kids. It wasn’t that she wanted to only work 20 hours a week – that was what they had decided would be best for the family.

 

She had just been offered her dream job, but she turned it down because it would require more than 20 hours a week. And she was crestfallen because she really wanted that job. And she was trying to figure out how she could fit some pretty big career aspirations into 20 hours a week. And what about her husband? He felt completely unencumbered with regard to his career. His career was allowed to take up as much space as he wanted. Hers was not.

 

The inequality in this scenario is quite pronounced, but what occurs more commonly is that there’s an expectation in the family that mom’s career is the one that’s got to give: I’ve talked to lawyer moms who have what otherwise appear to be pretty equal partnerships, but as soon as the kids get sick or when the whole class is in quarantine, or when the nanny gets sick, mom’s career is the one getting squeezed. So that’s the first common type of career inequality.

The second form of inequality happens when your career is taking up more space than you want it to and you want to either scale back or take your career in a different direction, but you don’t go after what you want because of your role in the family.

A partner in Big Law told me that she wasn’t happy at work and she wanted to do something else. But her family’s lifestyle had been built up around her income. Her husband was living his dream, her kids were going to the private school that they wanted to go to. Everyone else was doing what they wanted with their careers and studies, but there was a person in the family who was utterly miserable and that wasn’t really viewed as a problem. It was viewed as “just the way things are.” As if going to law school in your 20’s means that you have to resign yourself to a single career path of overwork and stress for the rest of your life. Her plan was to wait until her kids graduated from college to make a change in her career. When I asked how old her kids were, she told me that her youngest was 9. So, it would about 13 more years until she got what she wanted.

So that’s the second form of career inequality. Regardless of which form is present, the common denominator is that one person is expected to forgo their career goals, while the rest of the family is not.

Why does this matter? Well, what you do with your days makes up your life. So we’re talking about some people getting to have the life that they want and other people being expected to set that aside and prioritize someone else’s life and happiness.

This creates disappointment, resignation, and resentment. If you’re working at night to make up for the hours that were interrupted during the day, you’re going to be exhausted and eventually burn out. Or it’s going to impact your career negatively and you might feel like you have no other option but to quit or to rush into a different job, even if it’s not the right fit.

And this also creates nagging feelings of restlessness, dissatisfaction, and emptiness: If you know there’s something that’s not working, or something you need to be doing differently, even if you don’t know what exactly that is, but you’re not taking action to fix it, it creates a lot of unhappiness. Maybe you’ve tried all the things: books, workshops, job hopping, or just trying to numb out with Netflix or online shopping or a glass of wine – but nothing helps. And when you have one person in the family who’s miserable, it will eventually boils over and affects the rest of the family members in one form or another.

And in most cases, this is all completely unnecessary, because there’s another way. There’s a way for everyone to do what they want to do.

When you create career equality, everyone’s career goals and aspirations are supported and encouraged. And everyone in the family gets what they need to pursue those goals and aspirations. Whether that means time, space, support – professionally or on the home front – whatever it is, they get what they need to be successful. So career equality means that everyone in the family gets to be on the path they want to be on.

No one would expect a major league baseball player to thrive with little league resources. And yet, a lot of lawyer moms are trying to do exactly that. We don’t give ourselves what we really need for our careers: we skimp and try to get by. Career equality is the remedy that allows you to get what you need and set yourself up for success.

  • If there’s a skill gap that needs to be filled with specialized training, then that’s what you do.
  • In families where both parents want to make a career change, equality means that they both get to pursue their goals, and figure out how to make them work together.
  • If someone needs extra time or support to find the right job that fits like a glove, instead of another cookie-cutter job, then they get that.

It’s like studying for the bar exam: you need time, space and Barbri to pass: and there’s no question about it. That’s what’s required and you allocate the resources and get the time and space you need for the 2 months prior.

Career equality allows you to do the same for the goal in front of you – even when you’re a mom, even when you’re in a family. It’s creating a family in which everyone is allowed to have a goal and follow that goal.

So that’s where we’re going.

Now, I just want to pause here and say: do you have to create career equality? No, you don’t have to. Some people may not want to. But what I’ve found is that being engaged in work that you enjoy, whatever form that may take, whether it’s practicing law or not, is something that brings happiness and satisfaction to most people. Most moms get a great amount of satisfaction doing work where they get to use their intellect and sharpen their skills, and earn money for it.

If a lawyer mom isn’t doing that, it’s usually for one of two reasons: the first is that she’s under the impression that the only way to have a legal career is to go full throttle and work 40 or 60 hours a week, and given the choice between that and not having a career, she’d rather forgo the career. The second reason is because career inequality is happening and it creates the illusion that there is no other option: career inequality makes it seem like she can’t help her family get what they want AND get what she wants at the same time.

If either of these are happening for you, then creating career equality is the solution because the process of creating career equality actually solves both of these problems. It helps you get the career that you actually want, that fits the life you want to have – and it allows you to do that while also being a mom and helping your family get what they want as well.

Ok, so what is the process for doing that?

There are 4 steps to creating career equality in your family.

Step 1: The first step is to invite everyone in your home to pursue their own goals in parallel.

And of course, this also includes YOU. When you invite your spouse and kids to your vision of a family in which everyone is going after something they want, career happiness becomes a team effort. It’s about creating a family where everyone’s happiness and well-being is a priority. There’s no pecking order: we’re all in this together.

When you extend an invitation like this, one of two things will happen:

Either it becomes evident that everyone in the family is already getting what they want except for you. In which case, they will become cognizant of this problem, too.

Or, it may come to light that other people in the family would like to be pursuing different goals than they currently are. And if that happens, that’s a good thing because you can’t fix problems that you don’t know about.

Either way, everyone comes away with greater awareness, and also this teaches your family that everyone’s happiness is priority. We’re not leaving anyone behind here.

Step 2: Then, the second step is to define your career goal with specificity. What do you want to be doing with your days? How much space you want your career to take in your life right now? What would be your ideal work schedule?

There is no right or wrong answer here. Many lawyers don’t actually want to have big careers – they just think they’re supposed to. But deep down, they just want a career to support their life – and not the other way around.

Other lawyers want their careers to take up more time and space than that: they love being immersed in their work; they love honing their skills; they view their careers as a vehicle for making an impact and being who they want to be in the world.

So wherever you fall on the spectrum is just fine, and it’s okay if this changes over time. So if what you want now is different than what you wanted a few years ago, that’s fine. You just need to decide what do you want right now.

And then also do the same inquiry with your family on their goals: do they want their career goals to look different than they do now? Do they want to be focusing on something else?

Step 3: And then once you’re clear on that, the third step is to identify what is actually needed to get that goal.

If you were baking a cake, you wouldn’t expect it to turn out well without the key ingredients: sugar, flour, baking powder, whatever the recipe calls for. So in this step, you’re writing the recipe for your career goal: what’s needed to make this work?

Every goal will require something different, but here are some common requirements:

  • Career goals need support at home, so that you don’t have a second shift when you get home every night.
    • Men have had this for a long time: women need this, too, which is why we started this series on family equality with housework and childcare equality in Episodes 3 and 4.
  • Career goals need time for undistracted and focused work.
    • They also need a dedicated work space: I’ve talked to moms who are trying to work from the kitchen table. That’s doesn’t work: you need your own space for your work, especially in this era of working from home.
  • Career goals also require time for leisure, like we talked about in Episode 5.
    • Neuroscience is just beginning to understand that when we rest, we work better and smarter.
    • So a healthy, rested body and mind is a pre-requisite for being engaged and on your A-game at work.
  • Careers also need mentorship and sponsorship, and a robust network, and they time to nurture those relationships.
  • And sometimes, getting to your next career goal might actually require taking step back or even taking a break. This is especially true if you’re burned out.
    • You might need to reduce your hours, or take a month off, or a sabbatical. And sometimes, you may need a clean break.
    • There are so many unwritten rules about what we’re allowed to do and stepping back to take a break in the legal profession is often viewed as taboo.
    • But sometimes, that’s exactly what is needed in order for you to move on to your next career goal.
      • A Big Law attorney quit her job to take care of a family member who was ill; and then she spent some time traveling. A year and a half after quitting her job, she came to me to get help with what to do next and ended up landing a job she loves in-house with a multi-national corporation.
      • That break was what she needed to recover from burnout and get clarity on to the next chapter of her career. Far from being an impediment to her professionally, it actually provided tremendous benefit. If she had tried to go into a new job from a burned out, exhausted place, it would not have gone as well.

All of these things are investments into our careers: Athletes do what’s required for peak performance. If they’re injured, they take the rest of the season off to recover. If they need to work on a particular skill, they get someone who can help them with it. If they’re preparing for a big game, they give themselves time to practice and also time to rest.

But a lot of moms are expecting peak performance from themselves, without giving themselves what’s required for that.

  • A lawyer mom who was heading into a 3-week trial was feeling anxious because she wanted to be fully available to her team, but the current dynamic in her family was that if something came up unexpectedly with her husband’s job, picking up their son in the evenings fell to her. She was anxious about how she was going to manage that during trial, and that anxiety was keeping her up at night.
  • Another lawyer mom was working on a side hustle at night after working a full-time job during the day, and without giving herself the resources like training and tech support that would’ve made the whole thing easier. As a result, she was floundering and frustrated, not to mention exhausted.
  • Looking back, I can see that I needed extra support when my husband traveled beyond our au pair – I needed additional help on the weekends, but at the time, that never occurred to me: I just assumed I had to do it myself.
  • When we don’t give ourselves what we need to reach our goals, what inevitably happens is that we struggle more than we need to, and then we internalize the struggle: we tell ourselves we should be able to do this and when we can’t we think that something must be wrong with us. But that’s not it. There are just missing ingredients.

When you get the recipe right, you realize it’s not about you – it’s just a matter of having the right ingredients.  And again, if it’s needed, you can do this step with your family as well to get clarity on what they need for their goals.

Step 4:

And then the fourth step is procure those necessary ingredients for the recipe. Whatever is needed for the goal in front of you, that you identified in Step 3, that’s what you need to procure.

Chances are, you’re probably working among people who are already getting what they need for their careers to thrive. So if you’re not getting what you need, then the playing field needs to be evened out and this needs to be corrected.

If your career goals are going to require a significant amount of resources, then this step might take a little longer. If more than one person in the family needs something for their career goals, then turns need to be taken, and that’s fine: the important thing is that there is forward movement in gathering what each person needs: you can think of this like a mis-en-place preparation that a chef does in the kitchen: the preparation process tells your brain “we’re doing this” and just knowing that you’re taking steps to get something you want will give you a tremendous boost of happiness and energy, long before you actually reach your goal. Moving always feels better than staying stuck, so this step is about taking action.

Sometimes this requires a little creativity, or a little patience, but it can be done. And when you reach the point where everyone has what they need for their career goals, that’s when you reach career equality.

Okay, so those are the 4 steps: (1) Invite your family to prioritize career happiness; (2) Define everyone’s career goals with specificity; (3) Identify what’s needed to reach it; and (4) Procure what’s needed.

What are the challenges that come up with these steps? There are many, but here are the most common that I see:

  • Some moms will find it difficult to include themselves in the invitation in step 1: we are so used to thinking about everyone else at the exclusion of ourselves, that this may feel foreign. There can be a temptation to focus all efforts on one parent’s career versus both, or on the kids’ studies, and put your goal on the back burner.
    • There’s also this idea floating around that dads’ careers are good for their families, but moms’ careers are not: if that idea has taken hold for you, then pursuing what you want in parallel with your family will feel hard: it’s like an invisible wall that you’re bumping up against. And you’ll find yourself sweeping your own goals under the rug again and again.
    • So that’s a common pitfall at step 1.
  • At step 2, defining what you want for your career, a lot lawyers are convinced that what they really want is impossible, so that they don’t actually define what they really want – they instead define what they think they can get. And for most people, those are two very different things.
    • Lawyers are particularly adept at coming up with reasons why we can’t get what we want.
      • The way that we learn to think in law school and in our practices (spotting the issues, the pitfalls, and looking at what can go wrong) is very useful in the practice of law – but it’s very limiting when we’re applying that way of thinking in deciding what we want in our careers. There are also a lot of very limiting and fear-based ideas about what’s possible for our careers in the legal profession, and we use those ideas as confirmation that what we want isn’t available.
        • For example, it’s a widely held belief that part-time or flexible work arrangements don’t work: we hear that you’ll end up working full time for part-time pay. And so many lawyer moms they don’t even let themselves consider that option. But when done right, those arrangements can in fact be very beneficial to lawyer moms and their employers and clients.
        • Taking a the pitfalls can blind you to possibiliti
      • A healthy dose of skepticism is helpful: you want to approach changes carefully and think critically about them. But when we apply that skepticism too early in the process of deciding what we want and it can shut us down before we even begin. We dismiss as “impossible” ideas that may very well be viable.
    • This is what I call an impossibility filter. If you’re looking through the impossibility filter, you won’t be able to see options that are in fact very real. It’s like a dense fog that clouds your vision. And when you can’t see all the options in front of you, you find yourself settling for what’s readily available, or for the status quo.
    • But that won’t take you to happiness. And it also probably won’t be very motivating. When we don’t have the right goal in front of us, pursuing that goal can feel like drudgery. If that’s happening for you, that’s a sign that you haven’t identified what you really want in step 2.
    • Another pitfall in this process happens when the stakeholders in your life are arguing for the status quo and they end up convincing you that you shouldn’t make any changes.
      • Maybe the status quo is working for them, so they may say “there’s nothing wrong here.”
        • And so you start to question yourself: am I crazy for wanting something different?
      • Maybe they shut down your ideas by reflecting back to you all of the reasons why what you want is impossible, or inconvenient, or not a good idea.
      • And we take this as confirmation of reality: they said it, so it must be true. More often than not, another person’s doubt is all it takes to shut down an idea. Just like that.
      • The way to know if this is happening is to notice how you feel: if you run an idea by someone and they pop it like a balloon, you’ll walk away feeling deflated yourself. This is why you need to be careful about who you use as a sounding board during this process: there are a lot of people with deeply limiting ideas about what’s possible, and they can be very dismissive of new ideas without having any data to back that up.
    • A common pitfall in step 3, of writing the recipe, is either an underestimation or an overestimation of what it takes to get where you want to go:
      • If the recipe that you wrote down isn’t complete, it’s not going to lead to a good result, just like a cake that’s missing key ingredients.
      • But if you’re overestimating what’s required to get started on your goal, it can make it seem like your goal seem out of reach.
        • For example, it’s very common for women in particular to believe that they need to have courses or certifications or some other form of education before they can go after their career goals. And sometimes this is required – but more often than not, women tend to overestimate what they need to do before than can begin.
        • That makes it look like they have a much taller mountain to climb than they actually do. If you’re under the impression that your goal is too far out of reach, it can feel defeating before you even begin, so often you never begin.
      • And then finally, a very common challenge in Step 4 is that the zero-sum game mentality creeps into the procurement process and makes it seem like resources can’t be allocated to more than one person at a time, and so if anyone else in the family needs anything, moms will say “I’ll wait. You get what you need first.”
        • And so people get stuck in that trap, and time passes, and nothing changes. Mom doesn’t really get to go after what she wants, after all, and career inequality persists.
        • If you’re not getting what you need in your career, and there’s no forward movement or plan to do so, then any talk of career equality is really just lip service.
        • Scarcity with regard to resources is commonly cited as the reason people can’t get what they want. This is a big barrier for many moms, and we’ll discuss it more in the next episode on financial equality, but I’ll say here that usually, in most cases, it’s not about the actual lack of resources: It’s usually about something else.

Sometimes it’s a fear that it’s not ok to allocate for mom to allocate resources to what we want because we’re afraid that it’s selfish, or it’s taking away from our families. Or sometimes it’s the fear that if you give yourself the key ingredients to get to your career goal, it’s still not going to work: maybe there’s a deep-seated worry that you just don’t have what it takes. And that prospect – that you might fail at getting something you want, not because of lack of resources, but in spite of having resources – is something that’s far more painful to consider and it keeps a lot of people from even trying to get what they want. This is a fear that shared by many well-credentialed lawyers: they view their past successes as a fluke; they view their possibilities for future success as very grim, despite all evidence to the contrary.

But for these fears, most people would be able to come up with what they need.

If they have the right goal that’s motivating them, and they’re not paralyzed by fear, they find that there is a way that everyone in the family to go after what they want.  And so, yet again, fear is the gatekeeper here: we have to get around the fear, or diminish the fear, so that we can move forward toward what we want. And again, the way we do that is with skill.

The first skill that’s needed is creating a new model of leadership within the family.

If you think about what’s going on when career inequality is happening, moms aren’t really leading: they’re following. They’re following the rules and other people’s cues. The whole thing is very externally-driven from the point of view of the mom. And this cuts women off from their innate leadership strengths – particularly feminine leadership strengths.

Excellent leaders of organizations are getting what they need AND they make sure that everyone else is taken care of, and this helps everyone better serve their common mission. That’s the essence of good leadership.

So what’s needed is an integrated model of maternal leadership that allows moms do the same thing within the family: to get what they need and help everyone else do the same.

This integrated model combines the best of mothering and leadership in the home:

  • Both nurturing and empowerment.
  • Heart and head.
  • Intuition and intellect.
  • Creativity and drive.

When women integrate these strengths and begin to lead in their homes in this way, it changes what they’re able to achieve in their families and in their workplaces; it’s changes the way they show up in the world.

The second skill that’s needed here is the skill of turning off the impossibility filter, so that you find new and creative solutions  for everyone.

Although we’ve been trained as lawyers to look for all possible pitfalls, we can also train our minds to turn off the impossibility filter like a light switch, even if just temporarily, so that we can see the actual options that are available to us. And when we do that, it’s like the fog over our eyes lifts and we’re able to see clearly that we have more options than we think, many of which are more appealing than the ones we were previously considering.

Generally speaking, having more and better options makes humans happy. This skill allows you to find new and better solutions that fit your life.

This could be new childcare arrangements or new tailor-made work arrangements that fit your life. We’re so often told that we have to fit our lives into the careers that are available, but what works so much better for lawyer moms is doing this the other way around: deciding what you want and working backwards to create that.

I’ve worked with lawyer moms who have pitched their current roles, which did not exist before. Others have been the first person in their companies to create part-time positions. Others have created their own legal practices. When you see that there are other options that are just as viable, the fears that are keeping you stuck just fade.

You’re no longer limited to what’s on offer currently because you’re able to create solutions that make your heart sing.

And you also get clear about what it actually takes to get what you want, so you’re no longer overestimating or underestimating what your career goals require: you replace speculation with information.

When you learn how to do this for yourself, you can also help your family do the same thing.

When used in concert, these skills open up a new world to both you and your family. And they render career inequality completely unnecessary: why be without when everyone can get what they want?

These skills can be used to resolve all types of career dilemmas, from creating equality in handling sick days to giving every member of the family the freedom to leave jobs that aren’t working or to find a work situation that they love.

The woman I mentioned who was facing an upcoming trial did this and in doing so, she felt like a huge burden was off of her shoulders: she felt tremendous relief to have the breathing room she needed to focus on her work, not just for the trial, but also in her daily work life going forward.

When I was trying to figure out how to pursue my goal of pivoting into my own business, I went through this process. It took time and support from both within my family and outside my family. It required taking a global look at what my husband and I both wanted for our careers and for our kids. It took trial and error. The result? In our case, the path forward to achieve our goals included spending a year in Spain.

My husband had been wanting the kids to spend more time there close to his family, so this fulfilled a goal that was important to him; the kids got to go to a bilingual school they loved and get a year of immersion, and spend lots of time with their Spanish family; and I got my business off the ground. So for us that was the necessary step to get closer to all of our goals.

Since then, I’ve been helping other lawyer moms do the same thing. Usually their solutions are a lot simpler than mine was. If you follow this process and develop this skill set, you’ll land in a place where everyone in your family will be following the career path that they want to be on. That’s what career equality looks like and it’s something that anyone can create with the skills we’ve discussed here.

Now, for most people, career decisions and financial considerations are inextricably linked. And in fact, all of the forms of inequality that we’ve discussed in this series on family equality are linked to finances in one way or another.

So the next thing that we need to discuss is equality with regard to finances.

It’s not uncommon for the “mom goes last” mentality to make it’s way into money matters in a family. This is the essence of financial inequality and it’s a barrier to creating career equality, and any other form of equality.

So in the next episode, which is the last of this 5-part series, we’re going to talk about how to end the insidious problem of financial inequality, once and for all. This issue isn’t discussed nearly enough, so we’re going to address it and talk about how to solve it. This is an episode that you don’t want to miss. So stay tuned for that, and in the meantime, have a wonderful week. I’ll talk to you then.

ENJOY THE SHOW?

Don’t miss an episode, follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and everywhere else you find podcasts!

App Icon Apple Podcasts

More To Explore