Here's the story of how I came to start this journey:
March 6, 2008 was, by any measure, a nutty day for me. I was up early to change, dress and nurse my then 10-month-old son before shuttling him over to his daycare. I hopped in a taxi and battled traffic to Penn Station. There I caught the Acela to Washington DC. I met with editors all day while – during breaks – cranking out a column for USA Today on college financial aid policies. I got back on the train at 10pm and tried to think through my priorities over the next week: meeting a new editor at Scientific American to talk about a potential columnist gig, speaking at the NYU School of Journalism, flying to Boston to interview an MIT economist so I could turn around a profile of her as quickly as possible. My husband had been able to care for our son that evening, but he would be gone most of the next week for yet another business trip.
Functioning as a single parent always made me worry, so I couldn’t sleep. I decided to check the headlines. I found myself reading an article about a beautiful woman who had just announced that she was expecting her fifth child in May. No huge news there – except that she also happened to be the governor of Alaska.
Seven months later, everyone knows about Sarah Palin. She burst on the national scene in late August when Sen. John McCain selected her as his running mate. Even people that didn’t like her politics were awed by her big career and big family. The Economist quoted one voter musing that, as a mom of five, she could barely keep milk in the house.
I usually have milk in the house, but my first reaction was awe as well. Publishers have kept bookshelves and magazine racks full over the past few years with tomes about how hard it is to “have it all.” In these tales of woe, the “having it all” bar is often set low enough just to mean a regular full-time job and one child. Palin was running a state, running a family that could field a basketball team, while simultaneously finding time to run 8-9 minute miles outside in the Alaskan cold and eventually run for vice president as well. By the time Palin appeared at the Republican National Convention in September, her husband Todd had taken over most of the childcare duties for their family. But this had not been the case during much of her rise to power, during which he’d been working on the BP pipeline, running a commercial fishing business, and winning the snowmobile race known as the Iron Dog.
The more I thought about Palin during that late night train ride, the more I kept coming back to a number: 168. That’s the number of hours in a week. Unlike the electoral college system Palin would soon face, it’s an absolutely democratic concept. All the money and power in the world won’t buy you an extra second. It’s the number of hours allotted to Palin, to such luminaries as mom-of-three and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, mom-of-three and CEO of WellPoint Angela Braly, single-mom-of-two and now Princeton president Shirley Tilghman and, of course, to me. Clearly, some women had managed to do a lot more than I was doing in 168 hours. They raised multiple children while engineering the kinds of career breakthroughs that made the world take notice.
As I disembarked in Penn Station at 1:50am to cab it home for a date with my breast pump, one question I had, of course, is how they did it. The second question, a more personal one, is whether I could do anything like that in the 168 hours per week that the universe allots me, too.
I've been considering that question for months. I wrote a 9-part series for The Huffington Post in May-July of this year about what I called "Core Competency Moms." The idea is that -- as a working mom -- time is your most valuable resource. So, like a business, you do best when you allocate your most valuable resource to its highest value purposes. For working moms, this is nurturing your family members and work that focuses on Brand You. You outsource or ignore everything else -- and hence have time for the things that actually matter.
This blog is an extension of that series. I hope to continue the discussion, and to document how I am attempting to take my writing career to the next level while (hopefully) expanding my family as well. This blog will also serve as an archive of my writing for various publications on this topic. Feel free to get in touch with me (lvanderkam at yahoo dot com) with any questions or to share your own story.