Monday, January 27, 2014

Five Years Ago Yesterday

Yesterday was January 26th.  I knew it was a significant day in one way or another, but I honestly couldn't remember why.  An ex boyfriend's birthday?  A graduation of sorts?  An appointment I was forgetting?

It clicked yesterday afternoon.  It was none of the above.  

January 26th, 2009, was the day that I went back to work after my first son was born.  Five years ago.  

It makes sense that the date is forever etched in my mind.  From the moment I gave birth to him, that date loomed - January 26th.  From a formal perspective, it meant the end of my maternity leave.  But it meant so much more to me than that.  It meant the end of my days at home with my baby.  It meant nannies and childcare and breast pumps.  It meant fitting back into business casual clothing and rejoining the professional world and continuing on with life as it was before, pre-baby. It meant becoming Shannon, the lawyer, once again.  

But of course, I wasn't only Shannon, the lawyer, anymore.  I was also Shannon, the mother.  
  
The biggest mistake I made in going back to work was trying to act like I was the same person I was prior to having my son.  When I walked through the doors of my law firm on January 26, I did so as Shannon, the lawyer.  Shannon, the mother, had to take a back seat to work place demands.  Indeed, from a professional perspective, Shannon, the mother, was weak and unambitious.  She didn't care about advancement, billable hours, or professional development like she used to.  She dreaded work travel and client dinners and anything else that would mean more time away from her baby.  Shannon, the mother, had other priorities.

When Shannon, the mother, asked for a part time schedule, she practically hung her head in shame. After all, Shannon, the lawyer, would never ask for such a thing.  Shannon, the lawyer, was a go-getter, a team player, a brief writing machine, and, most importantly, a very high biller.   

Shannon, the mother, didn't fit in in at a big law firm.  

I tried my best to hide Shannon, the mother.  As Shannon, the lawyer, I eagerly took on new assignments even when I knew it meant getting home late.  I billed above my quota month after month. I set out professional goals and worked weekends when I had to and always responded to emails within five minutes, no matter the time of day.  Shannon, the lawyer, didn't object when she got assignments that she knew would require her to work on her "off" days.  She knew better than to say no to an assignment.  Shannon, the lawyer, knew how to succeed in a law firm, after all.  

But Shannon, the mother, was dying a little inside.  

We all know how my story ends, and approximately two years later, I left my job and officially renounced my title as Shannon, the lawyer.  But knowing what I know now, I wonder if it could have been different.  

I wonder if I went back to work as Shannon, the mother and lawyer, if I could have made it work.  If I would have asserted myself more.  If I would have spoken up for what I needed.  If I'd had the confidence to know that I wasn't doing anything wrong, and I wasn't asking for too much.  If I'd only gone in with the attitude that I didn't need to work like I used to - that I was different than I used to be, and that that was okay.  Some people wouldn't have liked it.  Some people would have grumbled.  And perhaps I would have even gotten fired.  

But I would have been true to myself.  

The fact is, when I went back to work on January 26, 2009, I felt like a fraud.  On the surface, I was confident and eager, picking up where I left off - as if I had never left, as if everything were the same.  But I wasn't the same Shannon.  As a mother, my needs and priorities had changed.  It's just a shame that I felt like I needed to hide the new person I had become in order to succeed professionally.  

No regrets, obviously.  Life takes unexpected turns, and I can say that if someone would have told me five years ago that five years later I'd be at home, writing this blog post, with a two month old baby sleeping next to me and a three year old napping in the other room, I would have said you were crazy.  

And maybe Shannon, the mother, is crazy.  

But five years out, she's happy.  

2 comments:

  1. LOVE this post! I left BigLaw when I was 5 months pregnant and coming back to an HR role at a major university was so much easier than I expected coming back to my law firm job would have been. I am confident I would have been fired from BigLaw because my priorities no longer aligned with the firm's and there seemed to be no room for flexibility or an honest discussion of how to make it work. (For example, after slowing down a bit during my first trimester and then announcing my pregnancy, I was given an annual performance review 2 weeks later that included comments like, "this isn't an 8-5 job, you know" and "you're going to need to bill more this coming year"). I don't have to hide who I am at my new job and my role as a mother is appreciated & supported. For that I am incredibly grateful!

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  2. Another terrific post. Always honest and from the heart. I have been pondering the same questions recently, which led to my most recent blog post on the subject entitled "Big Law Post-Baby: Another Perspective." You may want to check it out at thinkandquestionbiglaw.com

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