Tag Archives: decisions

Pausing, resting and noticing

On Thursday this week I opted to sleep in instead of blogging. Since I’d had some insomnia on Sunday (slept 2 hours) and Tuesday (slept 4 hours) it felt really good to get 10.5 hours of sleep. It was really good, juicy sleep. I know that I dreamed, but I did not write down my dreams right away, so they faded quickly. But the sleep felt cleansing and nourishing, so I know my psyche was working out whatever needed processing.

I was fortunate to be able to work at home so I had some “think time” in between my conference calls. I took a little extra time to meditate, and to work on planning during my quiet time. I wrote in my journal. It is a handwritten, old-fashioned sort of practice for me. It is a way I slow down my brain long enough to process thoughts and feelings, to pay attention to what is going on in my body.

Our bodies can provide a necessary “compass” for the messages in our soul, but so often we forget to observe our reactions as a visceral process. We are in go-go-go mode, always trying to learn something new, read another book, listen to another podcast or audio book. I certainly love to indulge in all of these “treats” as I think of them. But then I need to allow for it all to settle, and for my personal truths to emerge.

As I tuned into my body’s messages today, I discovered I do not want to go to Boston in May for a trip to a conference that is typically an annual event for managers on my clinical research team. The week after that trip I am scheduled to travel to Belgium for another meeting. Then I am planning a trip the week after that to Mexico, to work with a colleague to help orient and train a new team member.

First off: three trips in 3 weeks is an easy NO for my body. More like a “shit NO!” if you pardon my French…  Is it that Boston trip itself causing the objection, or just the idea of traveling 3 weeks in a row?

I’m not wild about the Belgium trip honestly (even though I have enjoyed past work trips to Europe). But since I am on a “farewell tour” of sorts in my current role, that trip is part of my closure process in orienting a team member who may be taking on some parts of my role after I leave.

I am breathing through this decision and validating it by noticing the lightness I feel when I imagine skipping that trip. While I enjoy travel, I have come to appreciate sleep and a certain “life rhythm” in living well throughout my days and weeks. To be my most energetic and authentic self, I must respect that rhythm and notice when my body sends me these signals. When I ignore them, and press on, things tend not to go well.

In all honesty, there is no real reason I need to go to Boston for that conference. I have been to Boston before, and I enjoyed it, but I have no desire to go this time. My boss knows my career path is leading me to a new role. I have been upfront with him about that. He may not understand that my personal deadline of August is regardless of whether I have a job lined up specifically, or if I will simply take a break before my next gig.

I will honor that amazing compass of internal wisdom. It never leads me astray. Time to write the email to let him know my decision on this one…

Cheers & happy weekend, amigos!

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The packing list

Hi All,

I am leaving on a trip to Buenos Aires and Brasilia for the next week. It has been nearly 3 years since I have been to Argentina. It is one of the four main countries supported by my clinical research team, and we have quite a lot of studies and sites there. The journey is long and Delta only offers overnight flights, probably because it is easier to “manage” a plane full of people for 9 hours if they are mostly sleeping.

I am not so fond of traveling overnight. Typically I get about 3 hours of sleep on the 9 hour flight from ATL to EZE (if that) and I arrive tired and wired. But this trip is important. It is overdue. I have some atoning to do for neglecting the operational issues we have encountered over the past 2 years.

Sometimes doing more with less is impossible. We have to do LESS with less. We have to make decisions about which projects to cut, instead of pretending we can do it all, and then doing it very badly, instead of with high quality attention. Those decisions are difficult, but I believe they should involve an honest evaluation of our strengths and weaknesses, and a team-based approach to maximizing our contribution.

I may not agree with what the organization has decided to fund (or not fund). But I do have a responsibility to follow through, and make difficult decisions when the time comes. Limping along and pretending everything is okay does not win supporters or champions in the organization.

packing-list-e1521632105803.jpg

In preparation for this trip (and most trips) I use a packing list to be sure I have not forgotten anything.

This particular list is nice because it is pretty all-inclusive. I like to highlight all the items that I will need and then cross them off as they are put into the suitcase.

For a person who struggles with a.d.d., lists are essential. I think for most people, lists are helpful, especially for overseas trips.

But what is not on the list and what I intend to also “pack” with me as I mindfully begin this 7 day trip:

  1. Patience
  2. Openness to other cultural norms and experiences
  3. My Spanish skills for Argentina, and Portuñol skills for Brasil (when I try to speak Portuguese, somehow the works morph in my mouth to more of a combination of languages.)
  4. Patience
  5. Confidence in my intuition about travel
  6. Focus on what is important; letting go of what is unimportant
  7. Sense of adventure
  8. Acknowledgement that I cope pretty well with sleep-deprivation, even if I don’t like it much.
  9. Gratitude to be able to see some colleagues I have not seen since last year.
  10. Patience
  11. Gratitude for the delicious food I may eat – Argentina is like Europe when it comes to food. They love it, they do it well, and it is delicious.
  12. Well-established daily meditation practice
  13. Patience
  14. Strength and endurance – The trip home will be especially long, with 2 stops from Brasilia to home and another overnight flight on the way back.
  15. Did I mention patience?

My husband reminds me that I get to be in a warm climate, while we are still in the cold in MN, and that a lot of people would really love to have the opportunity to travel as much as I do. I do enjoy it (most of the time) and I am looking forward to the trip, with just a hint of trepidation about all I need to complete during the journey. Mostly it is about connecting, and having honest and open conversations.

I still plan to post every day, and hopefully will grab some good photos on the journey. There is definitely always food for thought when we travel, so we will see what comes up. Hasta luego, amigos!

Outgrowing your boss

When you have a boss who has been very supportive of your career growth and has helped you take the next steps in terms of your leadership, it can be hard to move on. But when you come to a point at which your boss is no longer helping you grow, and seems to have “checked out” a bit from the work, it is time to consider what is next.

They say people do not leave organizations, they leave managers. Even if you work in a highly dysfunctional company, having a good boss can be a beacon. Even one of my favorite books on Wellbeing by Tom Rath and Jim Harter begin with Career Wellbeing as a foundation to our overall wellbeing. Having a boss who cares personally about you and engages with your efforts in a meaningful way can have a very positive influence on your life. This is one reason I take my work as a manager very seriously and I am very intentional about how I work with each member of my team.

However, at some point you may realize that you and your boss may have different goals for the organization or a different outlook on the future. By necessity they have a view of the organization that may not be the same as yours. They have access to different networks and information. They may empathize with your position but not be able to connect their decisions with the operational reality of your work.

It is important to have open dialogues about your perspective and to be as direct as possible about your position. Your boss may not agree and this is not fatal to the relationship in itself. But your boss may make decisions that compromise the execution or the quality of your team’s ability to deliver, or the credibility of your organization. It is probably not intentional. It may reflect their relationships in industry, or fears that saying no will limit future possibilities.

bird rising watercolor

This watercolor reminds me of the song “I’ll Fly Away.”

I have so much gratitude for the opportunities that my director has given me over the past 4 years while I have reported directly to him. At the same time, he is making decisions that compromise the ability of our team to deliver. There is political pressure for these decisions, and I realize that higher up, the forces are different. But I can no longer support a department that puts what I view as undue stress on its employees.

I enjoy being creative and finding ways to be efficient in our work. It is an area where we have grown into a team that is known for going the extra mile. But now we have a situation where we are below “critical mass” in terms of our ability to execute. Dumping more responsibilities on top of an already over-committed team will not work. 

And yet, he continues to add, despite the promise that we would only do this with more resources. I realize he may define resources in terms of dollars, while I define resources in terms of people. But I find myself unwilling to swamp my team yet again when we have barely recovered from the last restructure.

So in a way, I have outgrown my boss. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had for personal and professional growth in the past few years. And I am ready to move on. This is something I have had to grieve at some level. I believe my boss cares personally about people on the team. It has what has kept me here so far. But it is not what will help me grow to the next level in my career.

Goodbyes are hard. And it will be especially difficult to say goodbye to my team. They are wonderful people. But they may have outgrown me as well, who knows? My soul is leading me toward a big leap of some kind. I am ready to listen, look and leap when the next step becomes clear. It is almost less important to me WHAT that move is, than the fact that I will go. That’s how I know I have outgrown my boss.

Courage to tell the truth

Sometimes telling the truth feels like a very brave and vulnerable act for me. Not everyone wants to hear the truth. Sometimes I do not like to even admit the truth to myself. I am getting better at it. But it takes practice. As I have started “unbuffering” my life, I realized I was trying not to see some truths that were bubbling up.

Truth seems straight-forward. Just be honest. Yeah, and risk offending people? Risk being banned from my tribe? Risk the job I have now, because my soul is telling me my time is limited there?

Today I will have my semi-annual career discussion with my director. At our company managers are required to have three annual discussions with staff: goal setting/planning, career development, and performance. I like it that managers are encouraged to work with employees on career development. It is actually my favorite part of being a manager because I love developing my team.

I told my director in our last career discussion back in August that I do not intend to stay in this position long-term, and that I intend to make a move outside of clinical research. A couple years back, he had thought I may be his successor when he retires, and he just turned 65 so I know he was not happy to hear this. But it is an emerging truth for me, and while I like the IDEA of a promotion to director, I know in my heart that I am done with this part of my career in clinical research.

There is a lot of dysfunction in the division where I work. Large companies (and we are too large now) have a lot of bureaucrazy (spelling choice deliberate) that can be aggravating. I am considering other positions within the company, because I think my networks and professional skills could contribute in other ways. I believe in the mission overall, and that is a big driver for me.

But I am not committed to staying at the company. In truth, I want to be self-employed rather than working for a very large (80,000+ employee) company. But I was recently reminded by my hospital visit that having good health insurance and good benefits cannot be taken for granted. Self-employment takes planning, some savings in case of “dry spells” between contracts, and a lot of self-discipline.

I was a self-employed consultant about 11-12 years ago and I really enjoyed it, until it became clear that I was great at bringing in the business, but not as great at executing it all by myself. Fortunately I knew other consultants and could work with them to get projects completed. Since I struggle with a.d.d., I have to be careful not to get distracted by too many separate projects. Ironically that is part of what makes me successful in my current job though – I am fairly good at juggling a lot of things and switching back and forth.

I take comfort in knowing that my meditation practice has helped me learn how to focus and be more intentional with my time and commitments. But I still have some fear about making the leap. I do not want to burn any bridges – actually there are a number of potential “clients” at my current company that could be a source of business.

Today my goal is to be as honest as I can with my boss, knowing that he may have some wisdom to share with me on the topic. He has told me in the past that the development work I do can be taken with me anywhere, at this company or my next endeavor. But he has spent 43 years at this company, and I know we disagree at where our division’s leadership has chosen to focus.

My real challenge is that I do not know EXACTLY what I want to do next. I have a lot of ideas, and things I am willing to try, but I do not have a clear idea of what that means for me. I have been toying with the idea of a side hustle for women’s leadership development, specifically working with Latina women. I also love the idea of teaching “Design Thinking” workshops while using the Medici Effect to recruit diverse cross-functional teams.

I love coaching and helping people with their career development and leadership development. If HR did that kind of thing at my company, I would definitely look in that area. Maybe what I need to do today is ask for some development coaching in order to discover this “next big thing” that I want to do. I am not sure if my boss would support that, but it is worth asking for, right? The worst that can happen is that he says no, but maybe he will offer an alternative.

If you have any advice on having these sorts of conversations, please weigh in. Otherwise, think good thoughts of courage and bravery in my direction today. Much appreciated!

WellBeing tools

Back in April of 2016 I attended a leadership development conference for Latino/as at my company in which we had a wonderful speaker, Scott Eblin. He spoke with us about the world we now experience, the constantly connected, over-scheduled, somewhat frenzied workplace, to which we all could relate. He spoke about the need to show up at our best every day as leaders, despite all these challenges. His message resonated with me and I eagerly listened to the audio version of his book Overworked and Overwhelmed: the Mindfulness Alternative. Life-changing for me. No exaggeration. During his talk he explained how our inability to breathe deeply, take breaks and re-engage our parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” response) was leading to some big health problems. His own personal story, about a diagnosis of MS, which led him to explore yoga as a way to deal with stress was a huge motivator for me to get more serious about my practice, going from 1-2 times a week up to 3-4 times a week on a regular basis.

Around the same time, I picked up a book by Tom Rath and Jim Harter called WellBeing: The Five Essential Elements. It was a time I did not feel particularly well, even though I was not exactly “sick.” I felt stressed, I felt overwhelmed and I was questioning whether the role I had taken the year before that as the clinical operations manager for an international team, was actually killing me. My weight was going up, and I was suffering from insomnia quite often. I was having a hard time figuring out how to manage it all. So I was doing what I know best: researching and reading all of the information I could get my hands on about how to make it better. I had also going to therapy every other week to get a handle on the stress and anxiety, and to work on other issues which I may write about at a later time.

The WellBeing book cited extensive Gallup data to look at various measures of quality of life that they determined are key to a life well lived and they found five broad categories that are essential to most people around the world. They are: Career WellBeing, Social WellBeing, Financial WellBeing, Physical WellBeing and Community WellBeing. If we are struggling in any one of these domains, as many of us do at some time in our lives, it damages our overall WellBeing and wears on our daily life. Though they do measure it specifically (probably because they are not so simple to measure), spirituality and faith often folds into these all aspects of WellBeing, because meaning and purpose drive aspects of all of these areas, in different ways across cultures and nationalities.

What I liked about the WellBeing book, probably because I am a Questioner, and I love data. I am a clinical researcher, so I collect data and analyze for a living. I loved that there was an assessment I could take to assess WellBeing in each of these areas. The premise of the book is that we can improve each of these areas by focusing on our daily activities and habits in a personalized way to make an impact on all of these aspects. There is also a daily tracker, and a monthly tracker to assess progress over time toward goals over a period of 6 months.

It is a very nice tool, and I decided to commit to raising my baseline WellBeing and paying particular attention to areas rated less than 70. The tool uses a scale for distinguishing degrees within zones of Thriving (70-100), Struggling (40-69) and Suffering (0-39). So tracking in each of these 5 categories over time, and paying attention to the areas that need work, one can actively work on their WellBeing with a reliable set of measures over time. There is a space on the daily tracker to record a “journal” entry, and there is also a reminder function to do the regular check-ins on a monthly cadence and to track daily (or every other day, weekly, etc). The daily tracker takes 2-3 minutes to complete.

Those of you familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s habit strategy of monitoring know that this can be a helpful way to make progress on a goal, and for a questioner like me,  it is important. Someone told me once that you get more of what you focus on – so if you focus on WellBeing, you probably will be able to develop more of it. Conversely, if you focus on what you lack in your life, you may find yourself stuck. But I digress. That is for another post.

Waterfall

What I notice looking back on 12 months of data from April 2016 to April 2017 (you can renew the subscription for tracking beyond the 6 months if you are a data geek like me) I find it fascinating because I notice 2 distinct jumps from the original baseline. Full disclosure: I started in the low to mid 70’s. One might think I was thriving, but I had a couple of areas in the “6” range and that revealed why I felt I was struggling in terms of overall WellBeing. The first jump occurred in August 2017 about three weeks after I decided to take a break from drinking alcohol.

I was not a heavy drinker, and usually had 1-2 glasses of wine in the evenings, but I was not happy that I seemed to desire a drink immediately upon getting home after work. It was becoming a daily occurrence rather than a occasional treat. So I felt it was an indicator that I was buffering some kind of discomfort or stress, rather than dealing with the cause of that stress. I decided I did not need to quit forever, but I definitely wanted to take a break from it. Interestingly, my monthly scores immediately shot up to the high 80’s in terms of overall WellBeing.

The next big break-through happened after going from high 80’s to low 80’s in December 2016 and then shooting up to low 90’s in January of 2017. That may correlate to work stress at year-end and then a vacation I took with my husband (then fiance) to Hawaii which was a lovely, restful and restorative vacation. It also correlated to having established more dedicated practices of meditation, yoga and journal-writing, all which I found contributed to the type of personal awareness and self-reflection that seems a key to my personal WellBeing. A focus on getting adequate rest and sleep daily have also been key, and weight loss has been a side-effect, and perhaps another barometer for my WellBeing. For everyone these factors are different, but these practices have been the most relevant for me, and have led to better eating, sleeping and overall commitment to self-care that allows me to take care of the other people in my life as well.

I stopped tracking in April 2017, not because it was was no longer helpful, but because I felt a year of practice and attention helped me understand and develop the skills to know what specific elements were most critical to my WellBeing. I took the assessment again today out of curiosity because I wanted to see where I am after time away from tracking. I am happy to see I am still in the 90’s although a few points lower than my last mid-90’s assessment. I may try tuning in for another 6 months to monitor and see if I can increase my levels of WellBeing even further, since I am curious and since the winter can be a struggle for those of us who enjoy the light of Spring and Summer.

This may be the first of a series, because I find it helpful to reflect on my own experience, and I am eager to share tools that may be helpful for others. Questions to you, my dear readers: What do you believe contributes most to your own WellBeing? Are there small changes you can make today in order to increase your overall WellBeing? Please comment below if you wish. I really enjoy getting your feedback.

 

Questioner here

This post is a tribute and a thank you to author Gretchen Rubin, who has shared some great insights in her most recent book, The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better. A year ago I read Better Than Before: What I Learned about Making and Breaking Habits – To Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less and Generally Build a Happier Life.

Gretchen Rubin

At that time I was attempting a couple major habit changes: giving up alcohol, quitting sugar and attempting to sleep more. All of these changes have indeed made me a happier and more balanced person. I was in a parallel discovery process, and I appreciated her way of breaking down different ways we can manage habit change, starting with self-knowledge. In Better Than Before she introduced the concept of the Four Tendencies, which relate to how people respond to outer expectations (work, family, etc) and inner expectations (personal goals, resolutions, etc).

In summary, Upholders meet outer and inner expectations. Obligers meet outer expectations but resist inner expectations. Questioners resist outer expectations but meet inner expectations. Rebels resist both outer expectations and inner expectations. The best part of her work really is in her empathy with Obligers, in my opinion. Rubin, an Upholder, hosts the Happier podcast which I review on my audio philes page of favorite podcasts. Personally I preferred the earlier days of the podcast when there were less advertisers per episode, but I recommend it if you need an alternative to listening to news on your way to work. Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft (an Obliger) have a great dynamic and are “real” people despite the fact that Liz Craft is a Hollywood writer. Liz co-hosts new podcast called Happier in Hollywood which is also kind of a fun listen, but I digress.

As a Questioner, of course I questioned the validity of the Four Tendencies framework (as Gretchen predicted I would) but I also think it is very useful. Questioners are data-driven, interested in creating systems that are efficient and effective, comfortable bucking the system when it is warranted and unwilling to accept authority without justification. Possible weaknesses include analysis paralysis (which I know all too well), impatience with what we may perceive as others’ complacency, and inability to accept closure on matters others consider settled if questions remain unanswered (summarized from page 83). All of these things explain why certain workplaces and lines of work have appealed to me, particularly as a clinical researcher.

I have had bosses that understand my need for a rationale for our activities, or for starting new projects, and others that have not. We questioners thrive in environments that emphasize research, so in that way I am well-positioned. We dislike arbitrary rules or dates like January 1st for starting new things. We may have some trouble delegating decision making, because we may suspect others do not have sufficient basis for action (unless they are questioners, and then we believe they have done the research).

Obligers (41% in the population of a nationally representative sample) are the rocks of the world. They “show up, they answer the midnight call from the client, they meet their deadlines, fulfill their responsibilities, they volunteer, they help out… Because of their sense of obligation to others, they make great leaders, team members, friends, family members.” The downside to their tendency of needing external accountability is that sometimes they have difficulty setting boundaries when others expect more than is reasonable for them. They can be exploited, and Rubin explains that they often are. This can lead to a phenomenon called “Obliger Rebellion” in which they simply refuse to meet some expectation, often dramatically and without warning.

Rubin explains that this is actually a protective mechanism and a safety valve that relieves excess pressure. Before learning about this framework, I have to admit that I was probably unsympathetic to Obligers – shouldn’t one be able to prioritize their own needs and desires over others’ needs? The book covers some very useful advice for health care providers, spouses and children that I will not cover here, since Rubin has written a whole section on the topic, but are very well worth reading.

I will not cover the Upholder and the Rebel tendencies in this post. But if you are interested in what your tendency might be, check out the online quiz which takes less than 5 minutes and can help you access some insights about your own tendency. It always pays to know ourselves better, and I am grateful to Gretchen Rubin for giving us another framework to do just that.

When words flow out

When I started this blog, I thought I would commit to posting three times a week. It seemed reasonable and would accommodate my work schedule. I did not want to commit to a daily post, as I did not want to disappoint myself if something came up for work, and I needed to devote the time otherwise. But three times a week, like a typical workout schedule, or my average frequency for yoga classes, seemed do-able for establishing a new habit.

In my day-to-day work, I am in a fairly intense, meeting-driven, corporate multi-national environment. I lead a team of clinical researchers in Latin America. We are very spread out geographically, and I travel a fair amount as well. So the idea of devoting some time each day to writing, but only posting three times a week seemed reasonable. Some days I planned to write, other days I planned to edit. I usually write in the morning, when my mind is fresh and clear, but sometimes I have a hankering late afternoon to spill my thoughts onto the page. Writing for me is a way to express myself, clear the clutter from my brain, and really delve into my psyche in a way that no other creative medium can satisfy.

October came along, and for the first few days, I felt there was so much I wanted to say, and so many topics I wanted to explore. So I decided that a daily post would be fine, and that it could be a one-month commitment to myself, just to see how the pacing felt. I realized I have a wellspring of ideas that have been brewing within me for the past 6 months or so since I decided to write more publicly. At this moment, I have a brainstorm list of 10 different topics pending for blog posts…

Laptop with watch

I write a daily journal and I used to post on newsgroups quite regularly on political topics back in the day when I was more involved politically (before my current corporate gig required me to be “all in” and I got involved with building myself a grown-up career). In the age of Twitter and Facebook, I have doubts about how social media engages people or disengages them. I have also had to limit consumption of media, even my favorite news stations like MPR, because I cannot always process the all the “incoming” especially in the current political climate. But that does not change my need to connect with others, through shared ideas and stories of discovery, personal learning and spiritual growth.

I am trying to pace myself, knowing that I have a few busy work weeks coming up, with presentations to give, and a Science and Technology conference to attend. Now I have an internal commitment to posting daily in October. So I will approach this writing “side hustle” as a bite-sized daily practice, maybe breaking down the longer posts into shorter ones (which I’ve noticed seem to be read more often), and give myself more time to edit an overall piece. I am happy to note that I do not suffer from any writer’s block as part of this blog, which surprised me at first. The words just flow out, and I am often sad when I must stop writing, and get on with my “other” life. I actually have to set time limits for myself so I do not spend whole days writing, and I can attend to my paid work.

Someday maybe I can parlay this new writing practice into my next career move, but for now, thanks for reading and I truly appreciate your feedback on my thoughts.

 

 

Child-free at 43

Chairs by the water

Entering my second marriage is a good time to reflect on my life and the choices I have made thus far, and to appreciate the journey. Thankfully my husband shares my commitment to being child-free and we are aligned on this life orientation. I was not so aligned in my first marriage, but I was young, and he was idealistic. At age 22.5 I told him: “I do not want to have children. I have never wanted children, and I am fairly certain I will not change my mind.” His response: “oh, you will change your mind. Everyone does.” I disagreed, but I told him he could take the risk and he married me anyway.

At age 30 when we divorced, I realized I had been putting off finishing my master’s degree completion partly because school was how I justified putting off having children. If I finished the degree, I no longer had the excuse to shield myself from doing something I really did not want. Interesting that Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love came out in 2006, a couple years after my decision to leave my marriage. I did not discover the book until 2013, after I saw the movie version, which never does the book justice. When I re-discovered it and then listened to the audio version read by the author, I realized Gilbert expressed so many profound realizations I had also experienced in my own story.

When Meghan Daum released her book Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed I realized that there was important cultural conversation here, and that women like me need to come forward and tell their stories. I have not yet read the book but it is on my reading list. “Auntie” Liz Gilbert explores the issue further in her book, Committed: A Love Story. She speculates that “a certain degree of female childlessness is an evolutionary adaptation of the human race” and I am inclined to agree with that. She calls childless women the Auntie Brigade and explains their role in supporting and nurturing those who are not their biological responsibility, and that no other group does this to such a large degree. I have two aunts who are Catholic nuns in Mexico, and certainly one could not argue that their decision to forgo children was a selfish one.

I remember feeling relieved when I turned 40, because I figured people would stop asking me if I intended to have children someday. At some point, doesn’t that question seem pretty rude and intrusive to ask? I thought so.

I have enormous respect for parents and for the hard work that they do every day. I believe parenting is a serious responsibility and I appreciate those who give of themselves for this important work. I salute them (maybe you) and am grateful that, as I joke to my husband, there is no threat that the human species will become extinct if I do not procreate. But has never been an aspiration for me, and I do not apologize for that. In high school I remember writing an essay encouraging adoption rather than procreation, because so many children in the world need good parents. A teacher was quite upset with me over my point of view, saying “it is the smart kids like me who should be having kids” instead of the [presumably irresponsible] ones that end up having them. Then there was my Dad, who always told me to wait until I was 35 to get married and/or to have kids, because “once you do that your life belongs to your husband and children.” He wanted more for me, a life free to pursue my education and my career, unencumbered by the need to slow that down in pursuit of those other goals.

Granted, feminism has helped us come a long way in terms of women’s ability to make choices about their reproduction, a right we should never take for granted. We have also made great progress in terms of expectations for men in terms of family responsibilities. But we are far from achieving the kind of equality we need to create a thriving community that supports families adequately. In my own family, Mom stayed home with us until I was in high school, when she went back to substitute teach part-time. I am grateful for the sacrifices she made in order to be there for us, and she would say today that it was not a sacrifice, she wanted to raise us and be part of our lives in that way. So I wonder sometimes if my younger sister and I, with no children, just cannot imagine balancing children and work at the same time, which may have factored in our choices.

When I was in high school and college, I did a good amount of babysitting to earn money, and while I enjoyed playing with kids aged ~6 and older, infants and toddlers were never my favorite. Some women cannot wait to hold the baby when their coworker passes around a newborn. I feel more like the scene in the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, where she is holding the baby with a look of trepidation as though it might be a bomb about to go off in her hands.

Mr and Mrs Smith scene

I am grateful my parents never pushed me to have children, nor made me feel guilty for making the choices I have made. Many of my friends, including my husband, had to endure a lot of pressure from their families, and still some receive much questioning on their choices not to be parents. It is viewed as some type of character flaw rather than a personal choice and one that reflects a thoughtful decision-making process. My husband likes to joke that he’s “not into poverty or slavery” as the reasons he has never wanted children. While it is tongue-in-cheek, it also expresses a fundamental understanding that the decision to have a family is not a casual decision and it is one that requires a big commitment.

As I consider the work I do, and the role I play on my team, I remember that I was called “a mama bear” for my group. I was the person everyone sought out when there was an issue or a problem, or when they needed my help. When I took the Strength Finder assessment back in 2012 with my work team, and it came out with: Intellection, Input, Relator, Developer and Empathy, this made perfect sense to me. I get so much satisfaction out of helping to develop team members’ and colleagues’ careers. I had always attributed this to the fact that I come from a family of teachers, but maybe there is some deeper trait there. Perhaps I channel those “maternal” instincts in a different way from women who have children, and I still create value in the world in this way.

I am an introvert, and I enjoy a lot of quiet time and solitude as a way to keep myself balanced and centered. Children complicate that scenario. Perhaps my limited imagination, or way too much babysitting, did not allow me to envision a future where I could live my best life, contribute my gifts fully and be a parent. But in any case, I know at a deep, spiritual level, I have made decisions that keep me in my integrity while doing the best I can. Certainly I have made mistakes and there are things I could have done differently, but this decision I own deeply. I hope that others who make the same choice can embrace their decisions and feel worthy to live their lives as they see fit, rather than feeling shame or regret about not fulfilling others’ idea of how to life a good life.