Have you ever tried to put a value on what an hour is worth to you? Have you ever thought to try? I certainly never did, until the value of an hour took a seismic shift for me.
For much of my career, I worked in high-level leadership roles in retail, where things moved always quickly and only sometimes efficiently. Retail is full of fast-paced hair-on-fire individuals that like to get shit done (in fairness, not everyone’s hair is on fire, and I have had plenty of my own flaming moments as well). Sometimes there can be a tendency to put “busy” higher than effective on the priority chain. But I was on board; if you want to get shit done (as retail people do) you had to be in a flurry. This is a terrible rule to live by, and I don’t recommend it.
At the age 31, I gave birth to our first-born son, Nolan. While any mother will tell you maternity leave is NOT a vacation, I was looking forward to a break from the hustle and an inevitable change of pace and focus for a few months. After twelve weeks, I dutifully returned to my work (gotta lean in, and all) and jumped back on the conveyor belt of corporate America life. Getting dressed in business professional clothes in the morning felt strange and foreign. The commute felt like a revisit of a long, distant memory, as if you were driving past the street of your old high school for the first time in ten years.
On my first day back from work, I was practically jumping out of my skin at 5:00 p.m. to get in my car and drive to the daycare center to pick up my son. My husband and I had made a commitment that our son would never be in daycare more than ten hours in a day, and I was already quite fervent about the idea. I was also taking the commute back during rush hour on a route I had never taken and the uncertainty was eating me alive. I drove the whole way to the school with my shoulders practically engulfing the steering wheel as I tried to make every light and drive quickly. My obsessive nature about being on time was clearly going to be a problem here. By day three, I had learned that I needed to set an alarm on my phone to go off at 4:55 p.m. and leave just five minutes earlier to curb my timeliness anxiety.
By day four of daycare, we had finally figured out why our evening routine had been such a struggle. Nolan, being the stud baby that he was, had so much fun at school each day that he was exhausted by the time he came home. As rookie parents, we tried to think of all of the reasons why he seemed so cranky and out of sorts until we finally realized; we have to put him to bed an hour earlier. The rock-solid routine of maternity leave no longer applied now, and we had to adjust. By day five, with a week in and a new evening routine in place, a sad reality set in for me. I only got to see my son for about an hour each night, maybe 90 minutes if I was lucky.
Something in my brain clicked (or broke). I became zealous about measuring how I was spending my time, hour by hour. Time, which had been a seemingly fluid resource up until now, had a completely different color to it. My time became more valuable in an instant.
Many moms and dads return to work after baby is born. Once you are at work, after dropping your child off in the care of someone else and realizing that you only get to see your tiny human for maaaaaybe two hours after work, the value you place on time shifts. Suddenly, you consider all of the things that add up in your day for one or two hours. The value of one hour shoots up, and you become less willing to give up time for things that don’t add value, even if it is “just” an hour.
I have a theory that this valuation of time is one reason why talented employees and leaders, particularly women, leave the workforce. It perhaps isn’t that they are “opting out” because of the demands of their corporate work. It is because the work no longer provides the meaning that they are in search of. In many cases our work ends up feeling busy but not fulfilling. And frankly, as you become clearer on what is important to you as a parent, your tolerance for bullshit in the workplace gets severely diminished.
I personally had a difficult time physically while on maternity leave with a baby that spit up half of what he ate. Following my return to work, there were countless occasions when I wasted an hour or two of my life in a poorly-run meeting or a useless conference call only to think, “I just lost an hour of my life doing this? I would rather be at home getting puked on.” By no means am I meant to be a stay-at-home parent, but in order of preference, assuming a regular flow of time wasting and energy sucking, I would rank my preferences as (1) Work in an amazing role, (2) get puked on by a baby at home, and then, in a distant third, (3) sit on meaningless conference calls while my soul slowly withers.
After a few weeks of shaking off the cobwebs, things started to seem on the surface like I was back in the swing of things at work. Except, that I had changed. I had begun to wake up. This was the beginning of what I have come to know after the several years that followed to be the great awakening of the person I was meant to be inside of me. All it took was producing a tiny human for the inevitable work-life shakeup they bring with them. I began to see things differently, questioning why we were doing something in ways that no longer seemed effective or efficient. I began to look for ways to be better at every hour of my life because it felt like I had less of them to dedicate to more priorities. There was no more working an extra hour at night to avoid the traffic. There was the hour lost (but really, found) every day pumping at work. I now had a very strict nine-hour timeline in my work day that did not waver. I don’t care if the Pope had been blessing me, if that 4:55 p.m. “Happy Baby!” alarm flashed on my smartwatch, I would have said “Gotta go!” thrown up a peace sign and hit the pavement for the daycare dash.
Note to self: Anytime you feel your hours are being wasted, change it.
About the author:
Katie Rasoul is a keynote speaker, author, coach and Chief Awesome Officer for Team Awesome, a leadership coaching and culture consulting firm. She is a TEDx speaker alumna, author of the best-selling book, Hidden Brilliance: A High-Achieving Introvert’s Guide to Self-Discovery, Leadership and Playing Big, and co-host of The Life and Leadership Podcast.
Find out more by visiting www.katierasoul.com and www.teamawesomecoaching.com or join the Team Awesome Community for awesomeness coming straight to your inbox. Follow Team Awesome on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
This essay is part of an adaptation of my forthcoming second book. Enjoy!