As a working mother and an information technology professional, I’ve been watching the news of Marissa Mayer and her new appointment as CEO of Yahoo! with equal parts curiosity, enthusiasm and surprise. The surprise comes from the fact that shortly after the announcement, news of her first pregnancy emerged as well.
The reactions to this news were mixed; some mean-spirited, some doubtful, wrapped in a cloak of ,“How could she take such a high profile job when she’s about to have a baby?” Articles like this one definitely do not help women who want to believe that the corporate world has taken a great leap forward in separating motherhood from corporate leadership.
I have some advice for Ms. Mayer, humble advice, but advice well earned from a 20-year career in IT and communications. I’ve been a mom for nine years (three children) and a CEO for seven and here’s my take:
- Get used to being torn: When this baby comes, you will not know what hit you. That’s okay. Your first baby is like a bomb going off in your life. It turns the whole world upside down; it even turns the colors of nature different shades. You will love your baby. You will be sleep deprived. You will be amazed that your body produced this little miracle. You will wonder how you will ever be the same again. You won’t be. My mother always tells me, “Having a child is like having your heart walking around outside your body.” Your mind and heart will always be split—between work and that love you feel for that baby. That’s okay. It just takes getting used to a state of being where your heart and your mind are in two places at once.
- Find a great nanny: When I walk out the door, I don’t think twice. My nanny is the greatest person to have ever entered my life, next to my husband and my children. She loves them in a way I never could: she’s not responsible for the people they become so she can enjoy them for who they are in the moment. I am jealous of her at times for the relationships she has with them. But when they cry, they always want me. I am their mother. Nothing will ever change that glorious truth, no matter how many business trips I take, no matter how many conference calls I’m on at 5pm—absolutely nothing.
- Schedule time with your baby and be present: I make sure I connect with each of my children at least once a day for five minutes. It sounds like an unbelievably amount of short time, doesn’t it? And yet when I make it about five minutes, there’s no way I can pick up my iPhone or check my computer—it’sonlyforfiveminutes,Ahava. Those five minutes bleeds into 10 or 20 and I’m present the entire time. Babies are different—my children are older—but you must carve out time every day for you and your baby alone. When my second daughter, who is now seven, was an infant, I would rock her to sleep to the song Yellow by Coldplay (go ahead, judge me). In two weeks, we’ll be at their concert together. Every day, during those five minutes, you will make the connections that matter, that drive us, that bind us to our children—not just as their parents, but as people we enjoy.
- Schedule time for you: The greatest thing I ever did to grow my business was schedule two hours of Pilates into my week. Having that time for me, to work on my body, was the best decision I ever made to take care of my mind. Feeling stronger in my body made me feel stronger as a business owner, decision maker, writer and thought leader. My children are at camp and school when I’m at Pilates. Do I have to play catch up at night when they’re in bed? Yes. Am I exhausted? Yes. But, I feel great about the way I look; I stand taller and straighter. It’s worth the two hours a week—trust me.
- Embrace failure as a necessary step to success: I’ve had the privilege of hearing two content strategists at Facebook describe their corporate culture of a hacker mindset. Many of the programmers come from the hacker culture, where they break into systems in order to control them. Hackers are often thwarted time and again until they find the way in though a secure system. So, they embrace failure as a natural step to success. Parenting, work, and life are like this as well. We fail, we learn, we fail, we learn, we succeed, we learn. As my amazing Pilates instructor, Jane, says during an incredibly hard exercise, “It’s just practice.” That’s life, Marissa. It’s just practice.
- Life is about choices: You already know this because you had an executive role at Google. At the end of the day, no one has it all. Life is about choosing between one thing and the other. Sometimes, you will be faced with the choice of your baby or a meeting. Sometimes you will choose the baby. Sometimes you will choose the meeting. And you will do what all great leaders have done since the beginning of time: You will make the best choice you can based on all the knowledge you have in front of you at that moment.
- Lead like a mother**cker: In her transcendent collection of columns written as Sugar, Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed answers tortured Elissa Bassit, who asks for advice about the art of writing: “I write like a girl…Right now, I am a pathetic and confused young woman of twenty-six, a writer who can’t write…The truth: I am sick with panic that I cannot—will not—override my limitations, insecurities, jealousies and ineptitude to write well, with intelligence and heart and lengthiness. And I fear that even if I manage to write, that the stories I write will be disregarded and mocked.”
Sugar answers, “How many women wrote beautiful novels and stories and poems and essays and plays and scripts and songs in spite of all the crap they endured. How many of them didn’t collapse in a heap of ‘I could have been better than this’ and instead went right ahead and became better than anyone would have predicted or allowed them to be. The unifying theme is resilience and faith. The unifying theme is being a warrior and mother**cker… So write, Elissa Bassist. Not like a girl. Not like a boy. Write like a mother**cker.”
Now let’s find out what you know.