Ambition and Motherhood on September 11

Ambition and motherhood have been private rivals at times in my career. I wanted to grow, advance, and be the leader I could be. I also wanted to join my first grader for parents’ lunch, have family dinners together and be there for soccer. I was constantly turning the dials to do both on my terms. And, while my story is still being written, it’s working.

I would love to say I had a master strategy to get me to this point, but more was instinct and some small, seemingly inconsequential decisions every day and week that mattered.  I made it a priority to work for leaders who I knew would respect my choices. I constantly negotiated roles and situations to fit my life. And, I had my own internal “line in the sand”. I made a few decisions to pass on some great opportunities because it crossed my line – but not many.

I also treated my sons’ events with the same respect as if it were a critical client meeting. When a meeting was being scheduled on a date that conflicted with the 4th grade class party, I just said I had a conflict that day and we usually found another option. Over time, I learned that I had more control than I thought I did.

My career and life as a Mom were on a collision course in September 2011. My September 11 experience was nothing compared to those in New York that day, but very significant to me.  I was in Chicago for meetings and many of us couldn’t find a way to get back home.

As a mother, not being able to get home shook me to my core. I eventually drove onto my street a few days later on a sunny Friday afternoon with the kids playing in the front yard. Everything was clearer than ever before.

I was in a global role then with increasing expectations to be in Europe more often and I knew for me – at this time – it was going to cross my “line in the sand”. Things changed forever for me a few days later, on a ride home from football practice, when my son asked me if I would have to travel again.  He simply said, “I don’t want you to go.”

That September 11 started the dominoes for me to change my role soon after and start my own business a couple of years later – a dream for me. For me, it came down to keeping my goals and ambitions and finding my own path that let me have “have it all” on my terms.

Having big goals and being the Mom I want to be have ultimately been compatible.  I feel that I have been there for our two boys, but they have also seen their Mom follow her dreams too. So, ambition and motherhood have become more complementary than the rivals they seemed when I first set out on this path. My internal compass has kept me on my right track after all.

Patti Johnson is the Founder and CEO of PeopleResults. Follow her@PattiBJohnson or her company @People_Results on Twitter.