Monday, November 5, 2012

Giving up the corner office

Professional me
Several years ago, I picked up a book called Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office 101 by Dr. Lois Frankel.  Childless and on a career path to management, I thought I needed to find my inner take-no-prisoners executive to get where I wanted to go.  I read it in earnest, looking for the magic formula that was going to teach  me how to be tough... respected... hard-driving... promotable.  The book was so popular, in fact, it was made into a movie starring Matthew Morrison (of recent Glee fame); the movie failed miserably.

The book advises women to take a look at 101 behaviors that could be holding them back from coveted promotions, including:

1)  Limp handshakes
2)  Decorating your office like a living room
3)  Helping
4)  Skipping meetings
5)  Feeding others

Number 1, OK, fair enough.  This applies to both men and women; no one wants to promote someone with a "limp fish" handshake.  Two, I may have been guilty of papering my office with posters and photos of things and people I love.  Three, to me, helping is reciprocity - finding people with whom I could exchange ideas and help I always felt came back to me tenfold.  Four, skipping meetings is a no-brainer.

Now, when it came to number five, I struggled a little bit.  If you've been to my house or seen my Pinterest page, you'll know I love to bake.  Before reading the book, I'd made pink cupcakes for Valentine's day and cookies at Christmas for everyone in the office.  I'd experiment with new recipes and bring them to the office and the leftovers would be demolished in minutes, saving me from eating it all myself.   Heck, yes, I took the credit for that delicious lemon cake. 

Once I finished the book and, over time, considered what I read, I realized something:  
I'd rather be the nice girl.

Over the course of several years, I realized something else:  the vice presidents and c-level executives sacrificed a great deal of their personal lives to get - and stay - where they are.  They take trips that kept them from seeing their children's sporting events and first days of school.  They don't often eat dinner with their families on a regular basis.  They are constantly on call and being interrupted at home.  They work so many hours that their work may be way out of balance with life.

I didn't want to have a WORK.  I wanted to have a LIFE. 

Can you "have it all"?  Some say yes.  Rare people like Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, has made it work for her by creating a work environment that is friendly to mothers like herself.  She has done an incredible job building a company of people who work together to ensure work/ life balance is real and not lip service.  Sabrina is, however, not typical.  She's extraordinary. 

I say you choose your path, and be ready to veer off and take another as your life changes.  I've been with my job now for over seven years, and that works for me.  In fact, I had the opportunity to apply for a promotion a few years ago and I informed our then-vice president that not only was I not interested, I recommended my colleague to do the job.  She was, and is, perfect for it.  She navigates the red tape, politics, and procedures much better than I ever would have, and translates for me to make it easy.  She has my back, she's extremely bright, and she's nice; she deserves a corner office.

That's not to say I don't care about my job - in fact, I work for a company that allows me to work from home in a city I love, and I work with aviation technology, which has allowed me to meet some pretty fabulous people in an incredible industry.  I'm not moving up the corporate ladder right now; I've stopped at the scaffolding along the way and I'm enjoying the view at this stopping point. 

I shut off my computer at quitting time, and I try not to look at my email for the rest of the evening.  I go play with my son and enjoy the daylight.  I focus on making dinner for my family and we have dinner together almost every night.  My business trips are much fewer than they were some years ago and I don't volunteer for as many trips as I had in the past.

Now that I'm not in an office, I can't bake cupcakes and share them any more, but I would if I were there.  There's nothing wrong with being a woman who wants to stay steady, focus on her family, and do the best job she can.   The corner office isn't my dream any more... my family is.   Maybe when my son is in school full time, I'll take yet another direction. 

And if you want the corner office, then go for it with an open mind and open eyes; you might find it's what you want and you might find that it's not.   Either way, it's your path to create.  

On my path, I've traded the corner office for more of this:

My #1 job

What's on your path?



  1. If there was a way I could be with my daughter full-time I would take it in a heartbeat. My husband is so lucky to be a SAHD and he knows it. Amazing how one child put my life in perspective. Love it.

  2. I love getting this glimpse of how your professional and personal life mesh. It seems like you have made it both work so well together and have your priorities in order.


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