Career or Family… Must I Choose?


As I was scrolling on LinkedIn, I read a post from Erika Spradley, a business coach who helps women excel at work. 

The post started with a sentence from a client that said, “I don’t have any ambition. I really look forward to spending time with my kids.”

Umm… that’s a hot button for me. My first reaction was to jump up and down and say, “Come on! Can’t you have both ambition and the desire to spend time with your kids?”

Why do women always feel so pressured to choose career or family? 

Woman in a child's toy electric carI have never talked with a successful woman who said, “I don’t have any ambition.” I’ve heard, “I don’t feel motivated right now.” That’s different. It’s a feeling, and it passes. Declaring a general lack of ambition though, that’s different. 

Back in the day when people listened to tapes in their cars, I was listening to a talk by a successful director with Mary Kay Cosmetics. She was in one of those funks. She didn’t feel like doing new appointments. She had convinced herself that she was successful enough, and she didn’t have to do new appointments anymore.  

Then she asked a very pointed question, and it made a big impression on me. Obviously… since I remember it from many years ago. She asked, “If you KNEW this activity would bring you success, would you feel like doing it?” Ah-ha! Of course, I would. And, of course, she did. 

What lies do we tell ourselves? Why do we do this?

Neuroscientists would tell you that it is much more comfortable to stay in the path you have always taken. Our brains love to keep us “in place.” Very sweet of the brain. It’s trying to protect us. I am sure you have heard the saying that success doesn’t lie within your comfort zone. 

Let’s get back to our kids. Are they your reason for your ambition or your lack of it? I have been in business since 1977 and I have heard so many women grapple with the issue of career or family

It’s a difficult issue. There seems to be a price to pay for choosing either path. If you are ambitious, and you dig into your personal goals, I guarantee you will feel guilty at times. You will miss some of your kids’ activities because you have to work. I found working with a calendar and getting the things that really meant something scheduled ahead of time made sure that they got put on the books.  

I have been self-employed and therefore I had some control over when I could take time off. Saturdays were non-negotiable workdays. I was a retailer and rarely took Saturdays off. 

Sign saying "Nan Patrick" from a clothing boutique When I closed the store, I became an image consultant and a Mary Kay sales director, I had more flexibility with my schedule than when I was running a store. However, if I had a convention, I went. If I had an appointment on my books, I kept my word. 

When my kids had last-minute things which came up, they had to figure out a solution. One of my favorites? Oh, Mom, I need cupcakes for tomorrow. My answer? Oh, if I only knew ahead of time, I could have helped you out. 

Actually, that never happened, they knew better. A more typical scenario would be asking for rides at the last minute. 

When a parent says, “I am sorry, if I had known earlier, I could have helped you out” we are giving our children a couple of messages. They get the message that you take your job or your business seriously. They will learn to respect what you do and they will respect the fact that you have boundaries.

When you say, “I am sorry, if I had known earlier, I could have helped you out” we are teaching our kids time management and responsibility. 

This works both ways. When my daughter had events that were on the calendar, I did not ever ditch those plans for a business appointment. If my planned business time was sacred within my career, her planned activities were also sacred.  

My word is my bond. My clients can count on me, and my kids can count on me. I do not ditch one for another even if a newly presented opportunity is shiny and exciting. 

I am now in my late sixties and my daughter and my stepdaughter are grown. I almost have a grown granddaughter. She graduates from high school this summer. 

I don’t work as hard as I did when my daughters were growing up. I have a lot more time to drop what I am doing to run an errand for them. It feels great, to be able to do that now. 

I do have my limits and let them know. My ability to set limits was established years ago and my family still respects them. My daughter has moved back to Burlington, and I am beyond thrilled to have her here. 

She is a dog person. Our house is the doggie daycare place. They call it Camp Nana. I am also a dog person, and I am happy to have her dogs here. I have also told my daughters, Liza and Irene, that two is my limit. If she wants to foster a third dog… she is on her own. They did take in a foster, and guess what, they figured it out. 

woman in a winter coat petting a dogBabies? If Liza chooses to have human children, I will love and adore them, but I won’t be her daycare provider. Kids are a lot more work than dogs. However, I would love to be able to take the baby for their nights out. You’ve got to know your jam and what brings you joy. 

Here’s a tough one. I’ve had a bucket list trip which has been rescheduled twice, due to COVID. We finally are going from the end of May into June. We will be missing my granddaughter’s graduation.

Am I sad? Of course, I am. She is disappointed as well. Is that the end? No. There are many ways to look at this situation. She will be free to hop around with all of her friends with fewer family members around. If we traveled nine hours to see her graduate, she would be obligated to spend a good chunk of time with us. 

Instead, when we get back, she gets to celebrate again! We will throw her a great party in Vermont. A special trip for her and I will be in her future. Grandmother and granddaughter on a hike- both smiling and hugging

I don’t regret the choices I made. I had quality time with my daughter and the rest of my family. I’m glad I worked hard when I did. With the choices I made when I was younger, I have the means to do what I want now. That feels darned good! When it comes down to choosing career or family, I believe they can co-exist. 

mother and daughter huggingI made choices with circumstances, not my life.  I didn’t choose between family and career. Want some advice? Pace yourself, set guidelines for yourself and your family, keep communication channels open, be prepared to make mistakes, and enjoy the journey. Your family and your career are worth it. 


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Nan Patrick
Nan grew up in Glens Falls, New York, and attended Boston University. She thought of herself as ”very urban” until she realized she enjoyed being a big fish in a small pond. At the very “mature” age of 23, she moved to Burlington, Vermont to open an eponymous women’s clothing store. That was a 27-year run and a wonderful experience. Her store was a place where women felt like they mattered. During that time, she married her husband, Ken, became a stepmom, became a mom, and started a second business with Mary Kay Cosmetics. Now her kids are grown, and she has a 16-year-old granddaughter… what? How did THAT happen so quickly? She was promoted to a sales director with Mary Kay. Life is good. She figured out how to make money, save money, and enjoy what she earned. She loves to travel, spend time with her friends and family, take ballet and yoga, go on fun walks with my dog, and is an avid skier who loves to ski the bumps!


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