In 2004 when my daughter Scarlet was four months old, I quit my full-time job.
I started my career working for people who believed I was a creative genius, talented and hard working. These managers gave me challenging projects, trusted me to do them and empowered me to improve myself daily. I met their expectations and more. I thrived.
During a reorganization of our group, my managers had been moved into another part of the organization. Over the following months, I became discouraged by the growing awareness that my new managers did not appear to be offering me the chance to prove myself. They even seemed to be undermining me.
I continued to work for this company hoping to find the right group, the right manager or change the minds of the people I was currently working for. I was not winning this battle. By the time I became pregnant, it seemed likely that I would not be able to fix the problem.
As the day approached for me to return to work after maternity leave, I was asked to meet with my newest manager; another reorganization had happened in my absence. I had never met him before and I had a glimmer of hope that I might actually be able to create a better opportunity for myself and contribute to my team as I had done before. Others in my group has described him in a positive way.
I vividly remember the conversation I had with my new manager. As I sat down in his office, he said, "There are not that many companies that would give someone three months of paid vacation."
At the time, I was too intimidated by the idea of making my new manager cross with me to respond appropriately. An appropriate response would have been to mention that a great many companies in other parts of the world are required by law to give maternity leave for up to two years.
An appropriate response would have been to say that taking care of a newborn while you are injured and in a lot of pain (as many women are after labor) is not a vacation. Getting use to sleep deprivation and experiencing the issues that happen when a mother produces breast milk for the first time (I will spare you the details) is not a vacation.
I should have pointed out that, although I had mixed feelings about coming back to work, being at work was going to be a vacation compared to taking care of my beautiful child—because being a mother is the hardest job I have ever had.
But I didn't say these things.
Instead I mentioned that I wanted to use some of my existing vacation hours to ease my newborn child into having me gone full time. I requested that I work four hour days for the first week and then full time after that.
His response: "No. I need you to hit the ground running. I am here at 7am and I leave at 7pm and I expect the same of my team."
Do I regret quitting? In some ways I do. My career is in critical condition. We no longer have the benefits and resources I had when I was working full-time. It has been a financial struggle for us. My income opportunities have dropped considerably.
I believed for many years that I was simply a bad fit for that company and my earlier successes had been an accident. This was not the case.
However, mostly I regret that I did not stick up for myself that day. I regret that I did not relay all of this to HR at the time.
So, I am telling you instead. I am sharing this in the hopes that someone out there will hear this story and it will prevent them from making the same mistake I made. If I had possessed more self confidence at the time, I would have seen this conversation for what it was. Actually, I did see it for what it was—but I was complicit because I felt I had no power to change it. I was mistaken. I could have changed it.
I sabotaged myself by believing I should take a step away from my career in order to be a good parent. I sabotaged myself by believing that my successes had less to do with my hard work and more to do with being at the right place at the right time.
I don't feel that way anymore.