In 2011 I was juggling a full-time job in media relations at a large law firm and full-time studies as an executive MBA student. My evenings and weekends were entirely dedicated to school work, conference calls with my team and hundreds and hundreds of pages of reading material.
Then, almost halfway through my MBA program, I discovered that I was pregnant with my first baby. My husband and I were elated, but my joy was quickly followed by sheer panic. How was I possibly going to manage work, school and a pregnancy? I considered putting my school enrollment on hold until after the baby was born. I was scared, and I doubted my ability to manage all the new responsibilities.
But I decided to be a role model for my baby-to-be, and I leaned in.
It turns out that being pregnant was the best thing that ever happened to me as an MBA student. I did not want to be known in class as the “pregnant lady” so I pushed myself to study harder than I did before and to put more effort into in-class discussions. That, in turn, earned me higher grades. I knew I had succeeded when classmates came to me for help with assignments.
Being so busy with school and work also helped distract me from the unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy. I did not have time to be pregnant: I worked during the day, studied in the evenings and on weekends and did prenatal yoga every Saturday. I also took advantage of the time fillers to read business cases: I read through the lunch hour, on the subway and in the doctor’s waiting room.
By the time my daughter was born, I had front-loaded so much of my work that I was able to take a month off from school to focus on taking care of her. Luckily, since I live in Canada, I was on a one-year maternity leave from work. With my husband's and my mom’s help, I was able to care for my newborn and complete the MBA program. My spouse’s support was critical from the get-go, even before I got pregnant. We both viewed my graduate degree as an investment for the family, not an individual ambition.
Sometimes we’re not aware of our true capacity until life throws us one of those big twists. I don’t want to underestimate how hard I had to work, but the payoff has been extraordinary. Besides the career-related benefits of holding an MBA from a reputable program, I came out of that experience with invaluable lessons on prioritizing. Realizing that I had very little time to get things done forced me to prioritize my goals, become more efficient at delegating and ask for help when I needed it.
Most importantly, having my daughter attend my convocation at six months old was one of the proudest moments of my life. One day I will tell her all about how I leaned in for myself and for her.