Sometimes Work Is Not the Most Important Thing

Early in my career, my Type-A personality played out with me coming into work early, leaving late, rarely taking vacations or me-time, always over-delivering and doing my best to delight my customers and partners. You’ve met people like me at work…. Maybe you ARE people like me—never getting tired, endless energy, always raising your hand and saying yes.

Then I got pregnant with my first child and, after a wonderfully uneventful pregnancy, my son was born. And he came into this world as quite a mess. Severe torticollis, which meant his neck was bent at an odd angle; his right foot was on backwards and pressed up against his leg; he was missing a right hip socket; his left elbow was permanently dislocated; he was severely hearing impaired; and he had minor heart issues. Overnight, what I thought would be a sleepless, yet blissful, maternity leave turned into almost-daily visits to medical specialists to determine what was going on, and what we could begin to fix. I had a new full-time job.

When it came time to return to the office, I was a mess. I knew I wouldn’t be able to be “on” 18 hours a day, and I knew I would have to take a good bit of time off to continue our medical journey. In a panic, I scheduled time with my department head, who was also an amazing mentor and sponsor, and shared my concerns, believing that there was a chance I might actually lose my job.

I will never forget what she said, “Elena, you are an exceptional employee. We already know that. Now it’s time to be an exceptional mom. Sometimes work is the most important thing in the world… there’s a crisis or a deadline or an important meeting to plan for… but most of the time it’s not. Most of the time being there for the baseball game, school play, and even doctor visits will be the most important thing. And that’s okay.”

Fast forward 18 years, and I can say with confidence that I have lived that advice and shared it with hundreds of people I have led, mentored, and met in professional settings. Those who know me will tell you that I’m still one of the hardest and most effective workers around, and I’ve never missed an important doctor appointment, baseball game, or school play.

In the last month, my 18-year-old son, who for all intents and purposes is a perfectly normal teenager, underwent his 17th surgery, a total knee replacement. And I was promoted to lead a corporate marketing organization for a Fortune 200 company.