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News Flash: Growing Your Career and Having Babies Not Mutually Exclusive

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I returned from maternity leave 13 months ago and can confidently say that I have had the best year of my career to date. I did bigger things, took on more responsibility and matured as a manager, senior client advisor and business leader. I was just promoted to EVP and have taken on a “big” new job managing our Digital account staff up and down the West Coast. In that time, I also provided senior counsel to key clients while smelling faintly of spit up, and discovered that Cheerios have an amazing capacity to nest in every nook and cranny of a work bag. On the plus side, I always bring snacks for everyone!

On the home front, I participated as fully as any working mom could in the first year and a half of my daughter Charlotte’s life. *Almost* every day I spend quality time with her: playing, having dinner, giving baths and reading stories. Would I have spent more time with her if I was a stay-at-home mom? Sure. Would that have been the best thing for my family, for me and ultimately for her? No.

I can say without hesitation that I do have it all: A fulfilling career that continues to challenge and inspire me plus the family I always wanted, and enough time to experience life with them.

So how did this happen? And why? This is what I have learned, and the best advice I have:

  • Set Your Boundaries… Within Reason. Edelman/clients and colleagues aren’t going to manage your schedule for you to ensure you make it home to see your kid. The onus is on you to do that. This requires excellent judgment to know what meeting can really wait until the next morning vs. the 5 p.m. in-person client meeting that absolutely can’t be moved. Because sometimes that early evening meeting is critical. We are in the client business and that is the way it is. When I came back to work I set an “80/20” goal: meaning that I would be happy if I could get my schedule right 80 percent of the time, knowing that 20 percent of the time it just wouldn’t work given the business we are in. This has ended up being about right, and the 80/20 balance works for me.
  • Maximize Your Impact. The truth is when you have a baby, you are going to spend fewer hours in the office than you used to. That means, in order to continue to advance your career, you need to be really smart about how you spend the time you do have. Focus on high profile, important work. Socialize your innovation (be it internal business innovation or great client wins) to the benefit of the agency and other teams. When you take on the big meetings/new business opportunities, go full tilt. You can’t do everything, so kill the things you do take on.
  • Invest in Relationships. This is critical and ignored most often by returning moms in their rush to get the “work” done and get home. This is the reality: you can’t do this on your own. You need a bench of folks as invested in you as you are in them, at every level, all over the agency. The only way that happens is by earning respect and trust through good work and good behavior – over and over again. This takes time and effort, but it pays off in spades. Don’t ignore this one.
  • Accept your Priorities. Everyone approaches motherhood and career differently based on what they are looking to get out of all the different aspects of their life. For me, work is my highest priority outside of my family. That is not the case for everyone, and the key is to accept your own priorities and be true to them.
  • Be Happy. This may sound strange, but has been critical to my success at work and at home in the past year. Enjoy your colleagues, your clients, your spouse, a good laugh, a great glass of wine. It’s not always easy (it’s frequently not, actually), but this balancing act is so much easier if you decide you are going to enjoy it and take it in stride.

Finally, I would say that it really helps to be surrounded by people who get it and champion the ability for working moms to be successful in the workplace (Richard Edelman, Gail Becker, Cricket Wardein and the list goes on).  A lot of companies say they have good environments for “working moms.” Edelman takes it a big step further – we have an environment that allows you to catapult your career (if you want!) without sacrificing your family to do it. And my little Charlotte, clapping and singing on the way to Montessori every morning and snuggling in for mommy hugs in the evening, is my living proof.

Mary Corcoran is an executive vice president and director of client services for Digital West, based in San Francisco. In that capacity, she looks after digital accounts and staff up and down the West Coast of the United States.

  • Natassia Badenhorst

    Thanks Mary, reading your article has soothed my many worries about putting my career on hold to have a family. Knowing that both can be done at the same time is comforting. Well done, you have accomplished what many dream to achieve- a working balance of work and family. :) Natassia Badenhorst- South Africa

    • Mary Corcoran

      Hi Natassia, Thank you for your comment. I’m so happy that my post was helpful for you! Balance IS possible, with the right combination of a supportive company/work culture, self discipline, a sense of humor and good planning. I know you can do it! :) All the best.

  • http://twitter.com/KristaKotrla Krista Kotrla

    What a great topic and SO true! A very timely and inspiring reminder for me as well (I am one week away from having baby #3). I’ve often thought my children and becoming a mom has in many ways actually helped me become a more effective person in the workplace. I wholeheartedly champion all of your advice listed above… especially your last point “be happy”. Yes, some days it has to be an intentional decision but it is the best thing you can do. There is SO MUCH to be thankful for and being busy working mommies means we need to be that much more inspirational to our children and to the people around us. Thank you, Mary for this wonderful reminder!

    • Mary Corcoran

      Krista, First of all, congratulations on your 3rd! I wish you well in these final days. And I couldn’t agree more that mommyhood forces pretty serious productivity into the work day – it is certainly a forcing function in that respect. What a wonderful role model you must be for your children. All the best.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rachel.lee.sh Rachel Lee Puah

    This is such a good one. I’m comforted by this article in more than one way. Thank you for sharing and showing that it is OK for a woman to have a career and a family, and be a mom.

    • Mary Corcoran

      Wow, Rachel, thank you so much for your comment. It’s such a seemingly simple truth – maybe we just need to keep saying it out loud! All the best to you.

  • Piper Conrad

    I feel this post is like a unicorn — a common-sense, non-whiny relate-able account of how to be a working mom. You just do not see this perspective much (unfortunately). Thank you for writing it.

    • Mary Corcoran

      My pleasure Piper. Thanks so much for your comment.

  • Curt Kundred

    Love this Mary…You’re an inspiration on so many levels. We love having you here and everything that you do for all of us….Charlotte is a lucky young lady to have you for her mother and role model!

    • Mary Corcoran

      Thank you so much Curt. It’s easy when I have such amazing parent role models around me (read: You). All My Best.

  • Mary Corcoran

    Danielle, that much is clear just by working with you (the smart, efficient and effective part, not the exhausted part!) Thanks so much for your comment. :) Probably see you tomorrow or Wednesday at the latest! My Best.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hytowitz Amy Meshulam Hytowitz

    Mary, today is my first day back at Edelman after my second maternity leave. This post was exactly what I needed today. Thank you and I hope our paths cross soon.

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