After the first software company I worked for went out of business, I got a product manager job at a small, 30-person company called Intuit. Over the next few years, Intuit grew rapidly and while the norm was long hours in the office, occasionally sleeping under my desk, it was an exciting, fun time and I learned a lot.
When the company decided to expand internationally, I was named vice president to spearhead the efforts. At the time, I was home on maternity leave with my first child and Intuit’s then-CEO, Bill Campbell, was sending me press clippings on executive women who managed to stay in their careers while raising a family; he sent story after story of women traveling with babies, pumping milk on the plane, and fedexing it back home.
So, when I took my eight-week-old baby with me to Japan, I thought I could handle it. What a mistake. Thanks to the time zone difference, while I worked all day, my daughter slept; when I got back to the hotel, she was awake all night. I struggled through the trip, surviving on caffeine and sugar. I thought about quitting and staying home.
With a 12-hour flight to ponder the problem, I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t meet my own standards of excellence doing the international job and still be the parent I wanted to be. So, my only choice was to have a discussion with my boss.
When I got back to the office, I went in to see Bill and told him I didn’t think I could continue to be VP International with a newborn baby. I was sad and angry; I felt disappointed in myself and unsure of what would happen next. Bill, however, was unphased. “Okay, we’ll find you another role,” he said. As it turned out, he had already been thinking of shuffling his executive staff, so he put me in a general manager role of a stable business unit that required little travel. Six months later, I returned the favor by moving into another unit that was struggling and needed my help. In retrospect, it would have been silly to quit; talking to my boss had been the right move.
I learned a great deal from that experience: I want to work for people who I trust, and who will look out for my best interests. In return, I strive for positive interactions with my staff and will always seek to understand their individual needs.
I have never had much downtime, given that I’ve raised three children, been an executive at large companies and startups, acted as a board member, and been involved in my community. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world, especially after reading the high school and college application essays for my two oldest daughters– their ambitions are grander than mine ever were.