The context we live in plays a huge role in our personal and professional life. Our plans can move forward, backward, or stop depending on if we relocate, have the right life partner, or have the wrong manager.
Last year I conducted a Focus Group on the topic of Motherhood and Ambition. The goal was to collect insights from 6 Ambitious working mothers and add the discussion and its findings into my book Ambition Factor. The focus group was aimed at mothers who had children under the age of five, which is when children require the most time, energy and money from their parents. And it is also during this time that most mothers make crucial decisions about their career and their future. Should I quit my job? Do I just work part-time? Should I keep my full-time job and hire a nanny? Can I afford childcare? Women with high education, a well-established professional life, and several ambitious objectives for their future face these existential questions while nursing their babies or organizing birthday parties for their toddlers.
I was particularly interested in discussing the impact their life context had on their professional goals. Did the country they lived in help them to cultivate their ambitions? Did their life partner support their professional goals?
While talking about our life context, one participant shared a very intense moment of her life. Her relationship with her then-husband (now ex-husband) was smooth until they became parents. He started to put a lot of pressure on her to stay home with their child. He would say to her, “Don’t you want to stay at home with your baby girl?” She didn’t notice initially, but he was bullying her, telling her to put her professional ambition aside and focus only on motherhood. At that moment, her company offered her a promotion with a chance to work abroad. Not only would she have built her career further, but she could also be able to afford to take the family away and give her husband a new opportunity in another country. This was the turning point of her marriage. Her husband did not agree with the decision to move, so they decided to divorce, as their life aspirations were diverging. She gave up her marriage and, unfortunately, also this job offer, but she followed her professional path and remained in the company.
“I’m in a moment where I understand I need to share this story. I want to tell other young women: don’t let this happen to you! It is crucial to have the right person at your side!
I’m still close to my family, and for now, the international experience is on hold. I know this is a barrier to continue my career.”
After this intimate moment, the group supported her and agreed with her statement that having the right partner is crucial. He needs to cheer for you in your private and professional life.
“I was very lucky to find my partner very early in my life, and we were focused on adventures and develop interesting projects. I was driven by curiosity. I wanted to see different cultures. I never started my working life thinking, ‘these are my goals.’ I think because life was easy on me: no drama, no real problems, and money was enough to cover all the costs, there was no need to thrive. However, when I think back, I would have liked it if my master’s professor would have told me to do a PhD. He never mentioned it, even to show me that career path existed. Maybe I would have done it. Now that I’m conscious that I missed an opportunity, I will talk to my daughter about professional ambitions early enough for her to not make the same mistakes.”
If we all agree that one of the essential elements in our professional life is having a supportive partner, what happens if his life takes an unexpected turn, and you become the breadwinner?
“My husband is currently unemployed. And this makes my career ambition rise. I’m thinking about my next steps. How will I go back? How will I manage the kids? Should I go back to school?”
At the time of the focus group, this participant was on her second maternity leave. She had noticed that this second break from work looked very different from the first one. She kept checking for updates from her company, was regularly speaking with her manager, and kept up with news and planning.
“It is a mindset. Of course, it is challenging, but we need to consider these first years with small children like an investment. If you don’t invest now, you will miss your career later in life.”
In Aviva Wittenberg-Cox article, “If You Can’t Find a Spouse who Can’t support Your Career, Stay Single”, she framed this concept in an even more simple and clear statement:
“Professionally ambitious women only have two options when it comes to their personal partners – a super-supportive partner or no partner at all. Anything in between ends up being a morale- and career-sapping morass.”
The full summary of the Focus Group Motherhood and Ambition will be available soon in my upcoming book Ambition Factor. Check here to know more: ambitionfactor.ch