The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?” is written by Sarah Watson, global chief strategy officer of Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
When I was 36 years old and living in London, I got a call from Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) New York’s then-chairwoman. I had left the firm 18 months prior. She asked me if I’d consider moving to America to join her agency as the chief strategy officer. Moving to New York had been a lifelong dream of mine, and because of my deep connection to the BBH brand, I knew that this was what I wanted to do.
However, it wasn’t that simple. My husband had just taken a new role at his company, and I had been trying to get pregnant for a couple of years. The idea of taking on such upheaval seemed like a deal-breaker. Furthermore, as a European, I was deeply wedded to the expectation that I would take between six months and a year off for maternity leave. Three months maternity leave seemed nothing short of barbaric.
And then there was the idea of raising young children far away from our own families and support networks. How could I break my mother’s heart and tell her I was leaving for another continent just as the grandchildren she’d longed for were finally in sight?
I steeled myself to put away my dreams, and turn my back on something that I knew would transform our lives.
But in the New York chairwoman I was fortunate to be dealing with an enlightened leader as well as a seasoned mother. I told her my anxieties straight off the bat. Her response was clear and directional: You have no idea how long it will take you to start a family. If this is your dream job, and it’s right for you and your husband—you have to go for it. She promised me that we could figure out the rest, just as she had done on her own journey.
She encouraged me not to let the fact that I was trying to get pregnant get in the way of an opportunity I desperately wanted. That was the best career advice I’ve ever been given, and it changed my and my family’s life in an instant.
So we followed her guidance. My husband and I arrived in New York and it all clicked into place. We were completely energized, living lives our own making rather than sitting tight on the path we “thought” was required of us. We forged new, deeper bonds with our families when they came out to visit. America’s maternity leave policy still has a long way to go, but we got through it.
I feel that so many women fall into the trap for which I almost sacrificed my dream. They put their lives on hold as they wait to get pregnant. But the truth is that conception is a process outside of our control, and the greatest gift we can give ourselves is to live the life we want as we wait. For many that may not involve a career, but for me it definitely did.
We now have a three-year-old daughter and we love our lives in New York. I will always be grateful to the chairwoman for the clarity she gave me. And as a leader myself, I want to make sure that others in my situation are able to open their minds and not feel pressured to step back from their professional lives before they have to.