Beth Van Schaack
Law Professor & Diplomat
Mountain View, CA
After exploring all the various permutations—we all move to Washington; I take the kids to Washington with me; I go alone—we decided that the last option made the most sense for us as a family.
I spent the last 18 months commuting back and forth to Washington D.C. to serve as Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large in the Office of Global Criminal Justice (GCJ) of the U.S. State Department. While at GCJ, I helped advise the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights—both women at the time—on the formulation of U.S. policy regarding the prevention of and accountability for mass atrocities.
This opportunity for me to lean in came several years ago when the Ambassador pulled me aside at a conference. “My Deputy is stepping down, and I need to replace her,” he said. My internal Rolodex began to spin as I thought of the names of good candidates. “I want you to take the position,” he continued. I was so stunned that I said “yes” instantly without thinking through the personal and professional repercussions of accepting a position of this nature across the country. When I told my husband about the offer, his response was, “of course you have to do this; we will make it work.” After exploring all the various permutations—we all move to Washington; I take the kids to Washington with me; I go alone—we decided that the last option made the most sense for us as a family.
I dove into the unrelenting work, educating myself on how to best advance the mandate of our Office while managing a team of lawyers and diplomats. Although I tried to spend every waking second with my kids when I was home, the only day-to-day parenting I did from D.C. was that which could be accomplished on Skype or online. My husband handled everything else while also dealing with all the challenges that come with managing a newly public company and assuming a CEO position. I flew home as often as I could, but at times the demands of work made it was hard to keep on a regular schedule. I missed soccer games, injuries, music performances, and making lunches.
As I learned all too well, when you lean in to the fullest, your life sometimes gets out of balance. Mine certainly was. But, I knew this imbalance was temporary. And I knew that the foundations of my family life were strong—I would never have accepted the position if they were not. Being ready to lean in when the opportunity presents itself takes some advanced planning and investment in those foundations. And, it takes a dose of wisdom and humility to know when it is time to scale back and gear up for the next time. After 18 months, I knew it was time to return home. While I still miss the work, I am happy to be home and in balance again. I am still leaning in—through my teaching, research, blog, and consultancy—just not quite as far. I also stand ready to serve again some day, perhaps under the country’s first woman President.
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