21 Nov Shift Happens
Shift happens: My story of transition from corporate career woman to military spouse, mom and virtual coach
By Nikki James Zellner, Senior Marketing Coach
I didn’t realize how drastically my life had changed until I looked at this photo. Not only was it my first official “paid” photo shoot for a Christmas card, but it really showed someone I was incredibly thankful for. Someone I quite honestly never thought would exist.
When I was told “don’t expect to have children” by a doctor or four, I thought I could go one of two ways – start building my adoptive/ready-built family, or start building my career. So I did the latter. I overachieved. I mentored. I stayed late. I got up early. I wore many hats. I took a path that would climb the ladder of success, one organization at a time. I made moves that were smart and strategic at those points in my life where I was able to do so. And at the time, those work successes were so important to me, and so rewarding. It is one thing to maintain in an industry that is seemingly falling apart around you, it is another to still feel extremely successful and passionate to be in it. But looking back, one thing was always missing – the purpose behind the work.
I had been paying so much attention to excelling on paper, that I paid little attention to a change happening in my personal life. A shift. It first started when I met my now husband – an active duty Navy service member. I was still very active in my professional life – attending networking functions at all hours of the day and week, bringing work home, etc. But soon we were (shockingly) expecting our first child, a son, and everything I thought I knew about my life path and work-life balance was suddenly thrown out the window.
During the high-risk pregnancy, I continued to work 40 hours a week while on bedrest. I continued to hit goals and service my clients. The carpal tunnel in my third trimester showed that I was working more than I needed to. The premature delivery was also a sign. I took 8 weeks unpaid leave with my corporate job (luckily I was able to use short term disability for some income). Soon after returning from maternity leave, I knew without a doubt commuting and longer work hours were now out of the question. I was breast-pumping 3-4x a day from a supply closet and commuting close to 3 hours round trip on a bad day (which happened a lot), 1.5 – 2 hours on a good one. I tried to negotiate with my organization for remote opportunity based on my experience and it was met with the legal lingo of “no can do.” So the question in my head became “How can I still remain relevant in the corporate workforce (and be judged on my experience and performance, not on my home life) without sacrificing my role as a mother while my husband was out to sea?” So I shifted gears again. It became less about going up the ladder, and more about staying on the ladder.
So I switched organizations and had a 10-minute commute, and ability to feed at daycare or pump from comfort of home during breaks in my schedule. Things were going well, and I had found balance in our routine. I was regularly attending “Milspo Project” chapter meetings – an organization for working military spouses that was instrumental in helping me network and maintain sanity in my new space.
And then, the bigger shift happened. We received news we were going to blessed with another baby. Another shocker, indeed! There was a giant flood of emotions, as I had not even wrapped my head around (a) being a mom, (b) being a working mom, and (3) being a working mom with an active duty military spouse. Our son was less than one, I was now expecting a second, and we were facing our first deployment as a family which would take him out of the home for six months or longer. So how would I cope? I reached out to my friend and colleague Lindsey, who ran her own agency, and who I frequently “pitched to” while I was in media, but who also knew first hand what it was like to be a working military spouse.
And from that meeting an amazing thing happened. A divine intervention if I do say so myself. She took a huge load off of my shoulders and in a few words more than this, basically said “Would you be interested in working for me?” And all I could think was “Do these things really happen? Do people like this really exist – they see a nervous, stressed out, pregnant and possibly soon to be unemployed mommy with a deploying spouse and say “Yes, you’re a great fit for my company!”?
The answer is – they do exist. Since that meeting, I’ve been working with Lindsey and Germono Advertising Company as a Senior Marketing Coach – and was able to relocate during my husband’s deployment to have family support with my growing son (and the one in my belly). I’m a virtual coach – so I can literally work from anywhere. At flexible times. And earn the money I want to earn, should I take the time to earn it. And the best part? There’s purpose in the work. We work with military spouse entrepreneurs, small business owners, work-from-home moms and dads providing for their kids, businesses doing good in their communities. I’m no longer “selling” advertising based on one company’s perspective, I’m helping give these clients peace of mind by walking them through all their options, and helping discover the best path for their own business. I was lucky to find an employer that so closely aligned with my value system and regularly advocated for people just like me.
For me, “the corporate ladder” doesn’t exist anymore. It was a great concept when I needed it to be, but as a working mom (soon to be of two) with a deployed spouse – my time away from my family has to be full of purpose. As I head out on a second maternity leave at the end of November, I can’t believe how different it is from the first. I have taken steps to reduce workload leading up to it to ensure a healthy pregnancy. I will take 12-16 weeks to spend time and connect as a family. I will not have the added stress of being expected to immediately hit sales goals upon my return – because they don’t exist. And when I return, there’s helping grow this great small business I work for, there’s helping the client make the best decisions possible – and that’s it.
Shift happened to me. It was shocking, sometimes painful, but overall the best thing that ever happened in my life. Today it’s all about being there for my family in the best ways I can. The person in the photo above is educated, full of work and life experience, humbled, flexible, balancing work and life, and is purpose-driven. She can now work in her PJs while drinking hot cocoa and listening to podcasts if she wants to. And that, my friends, is something to be thankful for.
Nikki James Zellner is a Senior Marketing Coach at Germono Advertising Company. She has over 18 years experience in media development, sales, management and planning working in corporate media. She is a an active duty military spouse, boy mom and avid iPhone photographer.