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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Motherhood, Money and Corporate America

I am really lucky.  I am self-employed.  Depending on the day of the week, I either love it or hate it.  I am also part of a very large corporation.  Without going into too many details, because I don't want to violate any rules, I own a financial planning practice with a large broker/dealer.  It's a little like owning a McDonald's franchise- I can customize many things, but I have a familiar logo on my door and a turn key system available to me to "plug" into.  Some days, it feels more like giant handcuffs, but in general, it's usually the best of both worlds- a big back office to depend on with resources, but my own office with my own staff, marketing, etc, etc.

I am not a corporate type.  I tried.  Very diligently.  I am the quintessential out-of-box person.  I am task oriented, not time oriented.  If you're stuck in a space craft and need to get a square peg into a round hole, you want me on your team.  If my desk is in a cubicle and you expect me to be there 12 hours a day where 8 are spent in meetings and I have to wear a suit, you do not want me on your team.  I will implode.

The side benefit of my career choice is that I have an amazing amount of flexibility.  When I was single, that meant I worked a lot.  That's the downside of being passionate about what you do.  If you're a regular reader, you know that marriage and kids were not exactly on the radar for me.  So when I did get married and then we had kids, the flexibility really came in handy.

It also cost me a lot of money.

I had to scale back.

I went down to being in the office for only 2 days for 2 1/2 years out of 5.  To make sure I could service my existing client base, I sold off nearly half my practice. In between kids, I added a third day, and then when the market tanked, I was there 4 days.  My clients were amazing.  I'm sure I lost a few clients because of my decision to put my family first, but since I work with many older clients they cheered my choice.

I had one client, a businessman who toiled away at his company for 40 years, had a few marriages in the interim, some kids he rarely saw,  pull me aside at a dinner party at his house (I had brought my then 2 year old son who he adored) and he told me something I will never forget:

"Don't ever question your decision to pull back.  You are doing it right, kiddo.  I wish that I had."  Then he hugged me.

My vice president at the time said the reason he didn't bother me was because I didn't miss a step-- my practice actually grew even though I was in the office less hours.  It didn't grow at the pace it could have, but I kept up.  I was-- ick- average.

I did, however, fall off the fast track.  I was used to making the top lists for various things.  For winning contests and awards.  I wasn't the golden girl any more.

I am competitive.  Part of me hates this- I'd be lying if I didn't say that.

However, my client was absolutely right.  My kids are fantastic.  We have a lot of fun as a family.  When I miss dinner, it makes me nuts.  As I tell my colleague with whom I share office space- if I'm not at dinner, I am missed.

But the past 2 days I've been stuck in training classes.  They were on compliance and ways to improve my practice.  They were taught by men, of course.  It's my industry.  I'm used to it.  They all looked exhausted.  They talked about how their kids have commented on their absences.  One of the gentlemen, I know hates it, but he smiled through it.  Another gentleman makes a lot of money.  A lot more than I do.  And he works a lot more. A lot more.

And I sat there and looked at them and it reaffirmed that I am doing the right thing.

I will never, ever get this time back.  My kids will be in high school, have little time or energy for me and I'll still have 15 more years in my career to "drive it home" so to speak.  But now, it can wait.

My ego is the only thing that makes me want to "beat the boys" but at the end of the day, I'm not going to sacrifice my Friday afternoons at the kids' school.  I am a rock star there.  The Rotary club meetings, fancy dinners, black tie affairs to schmooze, etc. etc, will all have to wait.  My early mornings, evenings and weekends are for my family.  Don't get me wrong, there are definitely times when I do have to choose work- but it is always a rarity and not the norm.  Most importantly, my family understands.

I have never had a client get upset when I've had to cancel because it's science fair night or my child's sick.  I am very, very lucky for that.  I used to be scared to bring it up-- that I would get labeled a "mommy."  I was wrong.  They have gladly worked with me.  But again, I work with people a little bit older, a little bit wiser about life than me.  They know that at the end of the day, when you retire, it's your family and a few good friends that are there for you.  A few colleagues will stay in touch, but at the end someone else will sit in your desk, do your job- life goes on.  My children will never have another mother.  If I died tomorrow my clients would miss me, they might even come to the funeral, but my family would be devastated, despite being well taken care of.

Every smile, every bed time story, every giggle, every hug has been worth every penny I haven't made.

Today I felt especially fortunate that I am in a career where I can make these choices.  And I felt even more fortunate about the choices I have made.

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