Andrea Ghooray

It was 2:34 am, and the faint whimpering of my 11-week-old son pierced the silence—a one-minute warning that my measly three hours of sleep were done for the night.I knew it was exactly 2:34 am because I jotted down notes each night just to feel a little less crazy in the process. Bouncing, soothing, feeding would now consume me until my sweet child mercifully dozed off or until the sun came up, making it a little less frowned upon to down 12oz of coffee and trudge through these early newborn days.

In those wee hours, anxiety would creep in.How was I supposed to return to work in two weeks? How could I be the mother I envisioned while continuing to grow the career I worked tirelessly to build? Friends, listen. I won’t list out some magical formula for success or any trendy life hack. Three years postpartum, and I can tell you, it’s still messy and choppy. Never perfect. I was dealt a very tough hand right before my child was born—leaving a role as an executive director/CEO abruptly during the beginning of a pandemic to start a new job with a new company. Did I mention I was five months pregnant when I started? Despite the challenges, the trend line for my career growth has been upward. Let’s clear the air; I’m an ordinary person with ordinary acquaintances. There’s no room for fancy nannies in my budget, and I don’t have powerful friends who could secure me a cushy job while navigating motherhood. No magical formulas here. What I can share are the lessons learned from the convoluted, unpredictable, and downright hot mess of the past three years. It’s crucial to delve into these details. “The labor force participation rate—the percent of the population working or looking for work—for all mothers with children under age 18 was 72.9 percent in 2022, up by 1.7 percentage points from the prior year and higher than the 2019 value of 72.3 percent” (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). So let’s untangle this together, and in the process, maybe we can all feel less alone, more seen, and, most importantly, hopeful that things really do work out in the end.

Here are 5 lessons I learned by trying to be the mother I felt my son deserved while continuing to seek growth in a career I was proud of.

Lesson 1: Grace–Navigating Diapers and Deadlines

I get it; this one is emphasized quite a bit. We’re advised to be gentle with ourselves, to take the time to regenerate, and not to rush into trying to “bounce back” right away. The expectation isn’t to revert to the pre-mother version of yourself immediately. We’ve heard all of that. When I dive into the concept of grace here, it’s about the day-to-day mundane aspects. It’s about choosing the cleanest-looking shirt from the dirty laundry pile because you’ve prioritized tiny human laundry all week, and there simply wasn’t time for your own clothes. It’s that kind of grace—the kind you give yourself when n0 one is looking. The grace for the little den of chaos you crawled out of just to make it to work 15 minutes late. And here’s the secret sauce: embracing this kind of grace isn’t just about surviving; it’s about thriving. Because those messy, seemingly chaotic moments are where resilience is born, and resilience is a career superpower. So, fellow working moms, as you navigate the diapers and deadlines with grace, know that you’re not just conquering the chaos; you’re cultivating the strength that propels you toward success in both motherhood and your career.

Lesson 2: ‘Vulnerability Voyage’-Navigating Typos and Tag-Teams

I understand that it can be challenging to speak up when motherhood consumes you, impacting even your ability to type a few sentences without at least 20 typos. Listen, friends, speak up anyway—whether it’s a coworker, your boss, or a mentor. Admitting to someone that you need help in giving your best work will, in turn, help you excel. Consider tag-teaming a project that you used to handle solo or saying no to multiple tasks that you could once juggle effortlessly with one hand. Just because you can,it doesn’t mean your tired butt needs to! Acknowledge your limits, both to yourself and those you work with. Embrace vulnerability as your “Super Connector”–let it be the bridge between being a devoted mom and a career dynamo. Share your challenges, ask for support, and watch as your authenticity becomes the driving force propelling you forward.

Lesson 3: Own the Exhaustion

I know I know, I just advised your tired butt not to bite off more than you can chew. But, sis, sometimes you’ve got to tackle things even when you’re dog tired. Otherwise, that thing won’t get done. This was the advice that hit me the hardest in the beginning –those desperately sleep-deprived days, the 5-wake-ups-a-night days. If your heart is yearning to dive into an exciting assignment, business trip, or presentation, you’re faced with a choice: do it tired or not at all. Waiting for the nights of at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep might have you postponing things forever. Allow for realistic timelines and engage in activities that enhance your wellness. It could be as simple as getting outdoor time every day or sticking to your supplement regime as recommended. Sleep is crucial for health, no doubt. But remember, there are other wellness practices that can help keep our brains fresh and our creative minds flowing, even if these things aren’t at their optimal level.Here’s the essence: facing tasks even when tired isn’t just about completing them; it’s a showcase of determination, resilience, and unwavering commitment.

Lesson 4: Don’t Let Perfect be the Enemy of Good

It is speculated that the French philosopher Voltaire first uttered this sentiment. Now, I highly doubt he was multitasking with little ones while penning “Candide,” but the wisdom holds immense power for a new mom! Too often, I’d shy away from tackling projects, completing tasks, or joining work groups because I felt unable to deliver perfection. You know what that approach got me? Nothing! The fact of the matter is many people do things imperfectly all the time, and we perceive them as amazing. Prioritizing being a mother meant some projects took a back seat, allowing me to cradle my child through his first cold, take him to the beach, and witness the awe in his eyes at the sight of the ocean. Opting for perfection would have meant giving up these precious moments, and it simply isn’t worth it. Especially when I realized that chasing the elusive idea of perfection might cause me to miss the chance to showcase my otherwise commendable work.Colleagues and superiors often value the ability to deliver good work consistently over an elusive quest for flawlessness. So, embrace the power of imperfection, focus on delivering consistently good results, and watch as your career advances, all while savoring the precious moments that make motherhood truly fulfilling.

Lesson 5: Closed Mouths Don’t Get Fed

Speak up, sis! Mothers are still navigating the stereotypes and misconceptions that come along with it. To avoid overwhelming you, sometimes your name might not be brought up in rooms with opportunities. People may assume you can’t join that special task force or take on a large-scale project. So, make your desires known!After allowing myself the grace to reside in my chaos den for a few months, I expressed to my boss that I aspired to be part of a significant system projects. She took note, and lo and behold, two years postpartum, I led a large-scale system-wide implementation of a new feature. Was it messy? Absolutely. Did I have to be vulnerable and ask for extensions? You bet. But it got done. My name adorned that impressive project, all because I spoke up and declared my interest. So, shout it from the rooftops or whisper it to a mentor or influential coworker—let people know what you’re eager to do and get your name out there.As a new mom, advocate for yourself!By voicing your aspirations, you not only showcase your hunger for growth but also position yourself for impactful projects.

Additional Advice for Your Sanity

Look, I understand that the prospect of navigating motherhood for the first time while trying to advance your career can seem like an overwhelming endeavor. It’s not everyone’s desire, and that’s totally fine too. For those of us aiming to conquer this particular mountain, what I’m saying is: it’s possible! Give yourself grace, lean into vulnerability, embrace imperfection, and speak up!Remember, being real is not a weakness; it’s a superpower that makes you relatable, trustworthy, and undeniably promotable.