“Is all I am a mother?” I said as I turned to my husband crying. My son was 4 months old, and I was on maternity leave from work. The fact that I was fortunate and privileged enough to work at a law firm that provided such a generous maternity leave was not lost on me. But I was itching to go back to work.
I had started to feel an emptiness from not being at work. At work, I was responsive, efficient, produced high-qualilty work, worked hard, and always raised my hand for more work, even over Thanksgiving and Christmas (yes, that happened). When I did well at work, I felt smart, capable, and worthy. When I made a mistake, I thought people would think I couldn’t cut it. Cue imposter syndrome. Who did I think I was to be at a large law firm? This is why people like you aren’t at places like this, remember?
When I stopped playing the role of lawyer and performer on maternity leave, I felt I’d lost part of my identity and the means of receiving the validation I needed to feel good about myself. I allowed the obsessive need to prove myself to others and work performance to determine my own sense of worthiness. I was giving way too much power away.
After plenty of breakdowns and tears, I got support and began really working on myself. I dug deep and confronted truths about myself. I realized I had been ignoring some hard truths about who I was and what I really wanted.
One of those truths was that I didn’t want to be a partner at a law firm, despite all the work I’d put in to eventually reach that goal. It took me a long time to say that out loud and own that. Would achieving the partner title make people (like my parents and mentors) proud? Yes. Would it provide a sense of accomplishment? Absolutely. Would it show the Latinx community that the daughter of Dominican immigrants could climb to be “one of the few”? You bet.
But for what? I’d be doing it to please other people and prove I could do it, not because it was something I actually wanted. All the incredible colleagues, money, prestige, and challenging intellectual work wasn’t going to change that truth.
As I look back on my career as a lawyer, there was always a tugging that I was meant to be more, and contribute more than what I’d been doing. I started seeing patterns in my experiences over the years when I felt the most energized, when I felt the most alive. It was when I was handling pro-bono cases, working on complex legal issues directly impacting people, mentoring, teaching law classes, speaking on panels and as a keynote, and sharing advice on personal and professional development.
I made excuses as to why I “needed” to stay at a firm, why I “couldn’t” do something different. I was so dependent on the validation I received by staying and performing at a high level that I literally couldn’t fathom what it would be like without that source of validation, until I had my son. It forced me into deep reflection and a reckoning with myself.
I ultimately left big law behind, went to a company where I was able to grow my leadership and strategic thinking skills, among other skills, and became a life and high-performance coach focused on coaching women in fast-paced environments. Both are aligned with what lights me up: leading, learning, connecting, serving, creative problem-solving, and teaching.
Once you see for yourself the power you have, you can really step into your life. Your truth is inside of you. It’s been giving you signals all along. It’s that thing that keeps showing itself to you in a way only you can see and understand, of what you are meant to be and do. But you can’t uncover it, if you don’t listen. The “there has to be more” feeling is your truth calling itself forward. It’s telling you to pay attention.
So many people stay stuck and experience a lack of fulfillment particularly in their careers, because they either aren’t paying enough attention to that signal, or they don’t believe they can do anything about it. They might think: The time is not right for a change. What if it doesn’t work out? What will people say? I don’t want to burn bridges with my current boss to seek a different opportunity. The money and benefits are too good in my current job to consider something else. And, sometimes, people don’t know how to start figuring out what they want, what lights them up, and how to align the two.
Beginning with an honest self-assessment and building your self-awareness is critical, but to create change you have to do something with that knowledge. Though it will be challenging, take it one step at a time. Be open and willing to take action to ignite who you truly are and step fully into living. The time is not someday; it’s now.