When I was getting ready to return to work after having a baby, I was filled with dread about how I was going to juggle everything. I was worried about how I would handle the emotional toll of leaving my new baby for the majority of our waking hours each day. And I also gathered there was no way I would be able to burn the usual midnight oil to power through all my to-dos at work. I figured that, as a new mom, it would be impossible for me to also be a standout employee.
After all, how was I supposed to even function at work with those nighttime feedings and dreary-eyed mornings? On parental leave, I could stumble through them without having to shower or sound halfway intelligent to anyone but the laundry basket and the cat. That would not be the case at work. There was no way I could still compete with the endless stream of eager, single, childless twenty-something colleagues who were willing and able to work late and take on more.
I know I’m not alone. So many new parents feel this way when they have a) a brand-new baby who keeps them up all night and b) also a real-world job to navigate that requires being a whole and functioning adult and remembering to put on underwear in the morning.
But it didn’t comfort me to know that I wasn’t alone. My fear of losing ground at work simply because I had a baby — of not being able to bring the same caliber of commitment to my job as I had pre-parenthood — was real and debilitating. I could have filled several buckets with the tears I let out in the days before returning to work.
But then an amazing and surprising thing happened.
I went back to work, and on day one, I was every bit as functional and fast and quick-witted and helpful as I had ever been. In fact, I was shocked to learn that Mom Me was… better at my job???
Mom Me works more efficiently. I immediately pruned the meandering and unnecessary steps from my workflow and instead cut right to the chase. I found better ways to streamline my efforts, running tighter and shorter meetings, cutting the fat out of my email correspondence and packing a punch with my words to get to the point more quickly.
Mom Me is also driven by a sense of indignation. I have 90 precious minutes each day with my baby, and I would not dare let anything, certainly not some trivial inefficiency at work, keep me away from that time. So now, I work twice as smart and twice as hard, doing more with less, so that nothing gets in the way of bath time and cuddles.
I also have a newfound sense of appreciation for accuracy with my work. If I’m hovering on a task at work that’s not actually important, debating whether I should take a shortcut, my pre-baby answer might have been, “Yes, go for it.” But post-baby, I find myself with a deep level of caring to do things correctly and thoroughly — both as a mom and with my job. I’m not going to change my baby’s diaper half-assedly (ha!), and that made me realize I shouldn’t be half-assing anything in my life.
Amazingly, becoming a mom has shaped me into a more purposeful and high-caliber employee. Who knew?
While I was pregnant and my memory was suffering, I started a habit of writing everything down so I wouldn’t forget, which was something I continued when I returned to work. It helped to keep me super-organized. I also didn’t worry so much about being so tired I might neglect to do something.
As if these newfound assets weren’t enough, I also had an incredibly different perspective coming back to work as a new mom. Suddenly, those little office spats and inconveniences that would previously send me into a tailspin of anger and frustration (and coworker happy-hour gossip) were tiny little droplets of “meh” that I could swat off my shoulder. I had created a new life, a human being who was my world. A colleague who did or said something stupid wasn’t going to faze me anymore.
I didn’t really notice that these changes had taken hold (a 4-month-old baby who zaps your attention every waking moment pretty much prevents any and all reflection) until people started complimenting me at work.
In fact, just a handful of months after I returned to work, I was tapped by a high-profile team to join them and given a promotion. I couldn’t believe I had pulled it off.
What I didn’t realize, though, is that I didn’t succeed at work in spite of having a baby; I became a better employee because of my baby. That tiny human taught me that there are always ways to improve how to best utilize your time to work smarter, harder and better. It’s made me a better manager at home and at work.